Part I: The Shortcomings Of H2 Chemistry
Ask most ex-JC students about their studying life, and they’ll all mention the intense academic rigour of Singapore’s A-Levels. With Singapore’s education standards being arguably the most academically challenging in the world, along with increasingly rigorous STEM education to prepare Singapore for the future, the stakes are at an all-time high for students in our competitive society.
O-Level graduates and IP students each face different challenges as well. The huge jump in difficulty from the O-Levels puts pressure on the former group to cope with complex concepts, while the discipline for constant studying and clarifying doubts with tutors that the A-Levels requires is often less honed in the latter, leading to a constant struggle to play catch-up.
Being the gateway to enter into prestigious universities both locally or abroad, the A-Levels sees students seeking every advantage to outperform their peers. Many students enroll in classes beyond school lessons, signing up for H2 Chemistry tuition and other subjects like Mathematics, Biology and Physics. Students learn and refine core principles that they struggle with, or push themselves further with supplementary classes that enrich their knowledge and test their understanding.
As one of the most challenging sciences in the A-Levels syllabus, Chemistry has an intimidating reputation amongst students. Yet, it is essential not just for Singapore’s future, but the world’s. We see the critical need for pharmaceuticals and vaccines in this period, and the constant importance of petrochemicals and food manufacturing to drive the global economy. And yet, the number of students who go on to study chemistry in tertiary education is falling across the globe.
We discuss some issues in Chemistry education; and how the involvement of online chemistry tuition and committed tutors can reignite students’ passion towards chemistry – beyond an academic subject to seeing its presence all around us.
Part II: Concerns About Chemistry
We consider some factors that make Chemistry a difficult subject to grapple with, along with the challenges that students face as they attempt to pursue excellence in their studies.
2.1. A Difficult Subject
One of the hardest things that Singaporean students face is the intuitiveness of Chemistry. Compared to other ‘hard’ sciences such as Biology and Physics, Chemistry remains in the realm of abstract and theoretical demonstrations, especially as one graduates towards advanced concepts that also involve mathematical calculations. This makes it difficult for students to reconcile these concepts with their general understanding of their world.
For example, you can analyse microorganisms under a microscope, or see laws of motion in action through various experiments. As one goes more in-depth into biology and physics, there is still a constant link back to what one one is learning; from the application of laws to solve engineering problems, to understanding cell receptors that facilitate immune responses.
However, while secondary school chemistry still conjures images of test tubes and vibrant chemical reactions, H2 Chemistry focuses heavily on organic chemistry, especially in the latter half of JC education. While students broadly understand the importance of organic chemistry, the rigour and deep learning that it demands make it difficult to internalise.
For the unfamiliar, organic chemistry refers to the study of various properties, compositions and structures of carbon-containing compounds. Within the H2 Chemistry syllabus, students are expected to understand the chemical pathways to derive various molecules, learn about chirality and isomers, along with the various types of reactions and to draw out resultant products.
Beyond intense memory work and understanding numerous reactions and molecule types, organic chemistry is also difficult to intuitively grasp. Students are expected to memorise the IUPAC nomenclature of naming organic compounds, draw arrows to signify electron movement across various reactions, and draw isomer shapes and complex resultant molecules – a very stark contrast to the balancing of equations and drawing atomic bonds that they learnt previously.
All this combines into the belief that chemistry is a sophisticated and symbolic subject, requiring its own unique representation, formula and explanations for strange phenomena. Unsurprisingly, many students question the purpose of learning this knowledge and how it has relevance to their lives, beyond a good grade. Especially at the tender age of 16-18 years, many JC students have yet to consider future careers and aspirations, making Chemistry an exceedingly hard topic to apply to their own lives.
A study on chemistry majors who enrolled in an introductory chemistry course in university focused on the factors that made learning chemistry a difficult affair. Students attributed it to lacking expertise with scientific jargon, a lack of motivation and interest, as well as inadequately grasping scientific reasoning. They also explored other related learning difficulties, ranging from feeling overloaded with course material, unable to clarify doubts with tutors, and tutors having no particular strategy when teaching.
This reflects the existing state of many A-Level Chemistry tuition students in Singapore. Faced with a complex subject and the pressure to excel and score, many students simply grit their teeth and work their way through sheer practice and memory. Sadly, this comes at the expense of their motivation, time allocated for their other subjects, and missing the point of learning. It also creates a feedback loop – some students see their efforts being frustrated and consequently put in less effort, leading to a spiral of stress and falling grades.
Students frequently turn to various chemistry tuitions in Singapore to help alleviate this issue, especially since the densely packed JC syllabus does not give them ample time to digest and understand these concepts. Experienced tutors give them the time and space to clarify their doubts and de-mystify chemistry as a whole.
Both H2 chemistry teachers and tutors play an important role in helping to bring students out of this cycle of low motivation and grades – through engaging teaching, meaningful exercises and pointing them to the practical purposes of what they are learning.
2.2. A Gradual Build-Up
While all sciences share the principle of building upon knowledge learnt in previous academic years, chemistry in particular requires a well-established foundation as one progresses in learning.
For example, the A-Level syllabus for H2 Chemistry has an elaborate list of core subject content, starting with basic fundamentals of elements before progressing to bonds, balancing chemical equations and then organic chemistry. Many of the expected learning outcomes have their building blocks rooted in secondary school chemistry, and it is automatically assumed that all JC Chemistry students are adequately familiar with them.
For Singaporean students who scored poorly in their O-Level Chemistry or switched to H2 Chemistry from other subject combinations in secondary school, this is a particularly difficult hill to climb. While seemingly easy at first glance, in reality JC Chemistry often finds even diligent students hitting the ground running; with the entirety of secondary school chemistry being recapped in the starting few weeks of introductory lectures. To make matters worse, there is rarely time to go through previous topics, since tutors are on a tight schedule to teach the chemistry syllabus on a weekly basis.
A study on Grade 12 students overseas (the equivalent of J2 students locally) examined the causes of difficulties experienced in learning chemistry. It found that students found certain topics more challenging, such as chemical bonding, thermodynamics and chemical equilibrium, amongst others. It also cited the challenge of understanding the mole concept of measurement – a key foundation that is taught in Singapore’s secondary school chemistry syllabus.
This is relevant to Singapore’s context since many of these topics, such as the mole concept and balancing chemical equations, are introduced in secondary school and further expanded upon in the H2 Chemistry syllabus. The study showed that without a solid foundation, students would struggle significantly with more advanced concepts, as well as lose the motivation to push themselves to improve. In addition, new J1 students are still finding their balance between their rapidly mounting workloads, acclimatising to a new school environment, forming bonds with new classmates and friends, and venturing into new CCAs.
This is particularly so for secondary students who scored exceptionally well in the O-Level stream and secured a place in a JC offering the Integrated Programme.Thrust into a new environment and comparing themselves against their IP peers, who frequently step into JC already possessing friendships and study support; students from the O-Levels stream may grapple with a sense of inferiority, despite their already excellent academic and all-around performance.
Especially in the current period where physical lessons are minimised, online chemistry tuitions play an essential role for students in strengthening their fundamentals. With consultations in school being harder to arrange, online tuition classes give students the freedom to clarify previous doubts that school lessons may not have adequately covered, especially if the topic was taught in the past or in secondary school. In addition, the flexible hours allow students to arrange for online consultations at their own pace, allowing them to handle their workload and achieve a stable balance of studying and recreation.
2.3. A Lack Of Practicality
As mentioned above, chemistry remains a very theoretical science compared to biology and physics. The career paths for these two are laid out to most laypersons – from being a doctor or medical researcher, to an architect or engineer. Rarely do you hear someone aspire to become a chemist, with most careers in chemistry aimed towards applied fields, such as pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals and food manufacturing. Even so, it is not often that students set out from young to pursue those fields, and more often a decision that’s undertaken prior to choosing a major in university.
Linking back to how chemistry is taught in schools, students are expected to memorise various facts starting from secondary school; from the attributes of elements in the Periodic Table to various reactions of specific chemicals with one another. As they progress to H2 Chemistry, they continue intense memory work with the various classes of organic molecules, the flow and steps of organic reactions and the reagents that facilitate them.
All one needs to do is to ask graduates from the A-Levels science stream what things they recall from their studying. While most would be able to recall laws in physics and what they entail, or how cells replicate themselves in the body; many would have forgotten about organic chemistry, even though they spent the better part of a year learning it.
With Singapore constantly focusing on the importance of STEM industries for our future, it’s essential to ensure that this trickles down early on to students from an early age. For example, more efforts could be made to increase awareness of the various science industries, exposing students at a younger age to the available opportunities and what they entail.
At reputable JC Chemistry tuition centres, tutors put extra emphasis on not just seeing students excel in their subjects, but to also emphasise the importance of what they learn. Be it a direct application of learned chemistry knowledge into future chemistry-related fields, or simply the honing of analytical and logical skills for broader disciplines; capable chemistry tutors ensure that their students leave with an enriched understanding of their subject – even offering free trial classes for students to experience before committing.
Part III: Catalysing Chemistry Education
Noting the areas where students struggle with Chemistry is just one part; we should consider how to improve upon this trend. We cover practical approaches that educators can adopt, advocate for greater awareness and understanding of practical chemistry careers, and share more on the role that JC Chemistry tuitions play in facilitating this.
3.1. An Educator’s Approach
While students bear the weight of learning and improving, the onus also falls upon teachers and tutors, and their pedagogy of educating students. In the studies mentioned above; besides listing out internal factors that they faced with chemistry, students also pointed out external factors such as tutors’ ineffective teaching strategy, and a lack of proper feedback to their concerns.
One major issue that’s not just limited to H2 Chemistry is the traditional framework of lectures. Many studies across various disciplines have shown that lectures are not the most optimal method for the transfer of knowledge. While they provide a cost-effective and efficient manner of teaching large groups, they often come at the expense of individual learning.
This is where school tutorials and chemistry tutors come in. With smaller class sizes and the ability to directly engage students and respond to them, this gives the opportunity for students to raise questions and clarify doubts. Chemistry tuitions shine because they provide ample time and a smaller class size, allowing students to learn faster and with more flexibility compared to the fixed slots and larger class sizes for school tutorials.
With the growth of digital teaching methods during this period, online chemistry tuitions provide a safe and personalised learning space for students to learn in the comfort of their home. Besides learning in a conducive environment, students also have all their notes on hand, can submit tutorials and quizzes online, as well as arrange for 1-to-1 consultations to clarify doubts.
Besides the format of teaching, the way educators teach their content is important as well. While the H2 Chemistry syllabus is fixed, educators can and should go the extra mile to help students see beyond studying merely for good grades. Instead of rote learning and memorisation, educators can tie content to daily living and instill their relevance to help the subject come alive.
For example, organic chemistry isn’t confined to theoretical diagrams, but present in numerous products we use daily, such as shampoos, perfumes, vitamins and cosmetics. Educators can encourage curiosity and interest by delving into the science behind aromatic compounds, the smells they give off, and the process of making them.
Educators can also teach about chemistry in cooking, especially in a foodie nation such as Singapore. Overlapping into culinary science, educators can expose students to the involvement of enzymes, caramelisation of sugars and what makes food crispy, all while tying it back to the H2 Chemistry syllabus.
3.2. Chemistry And Society
As mentioned above, one way to bring H2 chemistry concepts to life is through real-world applications, such as cooking and cosmetics. It complements another push that education should take – exposing students to the varied opportunities and careers in Chemistry. Three examples of careers in chemistry include petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and food manufacturing.
The petrochemical industry is an established one in Singapore, refining oil and natural gas, as well as producing chemicals for the biomedical industry, another booming industry in Singapore. Besides being a lucrative career, it is a hub of R&D, synthesising thousands of novel products to benefit society; from high-grade plastics to industrial solvents and fertilisers.
Singapore’s pharmaceutical industry has also grown over the years, with big names such as GSK and Pfizer having manufacturing plants locally. As a biomedical science hub in Asia, Singapore manufactures many essential medications and constituents for vaccines – a particularly essential business in this period. It also conducts extensive research into new drugs – an applied career of organic chemistry.
Less high-profile than the other two industries, food manufacturing is a big business in Singapore too, contributing $4.3 billion to Singapore’s GDP in 2017. Food manufacturing focuses on innovating new food products to consumers, transforming both livestock and agricultural products into mass consumption for society. As global demands for quality food rises, this industry is slated to grow in capacity, requiring skilled innovators with chemistry expertise to create new foods and processes.
H2 Chemistry tutors can value-add to their students’ learning experience, collaborating with industry experts to learn more about unique processes and distilling the basic concepts in their lesson content. By doing so, students are introduced at an earlier age and can make a more informed decision for their future, as well as better appreciating Chemistry’s presence in everyday life.
3.3. Chemistry Tuition’s Vital Role
Many parents and students see H2 chemistry tuition as ‘filling in the blanks’ that students have, or as supplementary lessons to gain an edge over their peers. But beyond helping students improve their grades and grasp of content, chemistry tutors instill numerous understated benefits in their students.
During chemistry tuition classes, tutors are able to focus their attention towards slower learners or students who require different styles of teaching, such as a more hands-on style with visuals on tablets. This is a major contrast with school settings, which feature a larger class, fixed timetables, and the onus being on the student to arrange a time after school hours for a consultation.
Private tuition classes can also be arranged, so that students can make full use of their tutor’s time and expertise. This removes the pressure of some students who compare themselves against their peers’ performance, allowing them to learn without distractions and with constant reassurance and feedback. With the rise of online chemistry tuition, this is more convenient than ever before.
For enrichment classes, chemistry tutors also have more leeway outside the H2 syllabus to teach advanced concepts that can prepare students for more challenging topics beyond the A-Levels, such as those covered in university classes or used in various industries. This encourages students to think beyond their existing state of academics and links back to the relevance of what they learn in JC.
In addition, outside the classroom setting, students enjoy a less competitive atmosphere, allowing them to learn effectively, form friendships and study groups, and push each other to do better. Over time, as students grow in expertise and familiarity with Chemistry, it builds up their confidence and readiness to tackle the mounting academic pressure as their A-Levels draw nearer.
Regardless if a student decides to embark on a chemistry career, another scientific field, or something else altogether, tutors should strive to instill and inspire a lifelong sense of learning and eagerness to explore new realms and concepts. And it starts with teachers and chemistry tutors themselves – especially the manner in which they convey their passion for educating the next generation of people who will change the future.
H2 Chemistry is undoubtedly a challenging subject, but it doesn’t have to be an arduous affair. With a better understanding of where students struggle, educators can make a concerted effort, along with parents and industry figures, to better meet students’ needs and improve their learning experience – not just for Chemistry but across all subjects.
Looking for an affordable and skilled online A-Levels Chemistry tutor during this period? Contact us today.