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ICOTS8 (2010) Contributed Paper


improve as a result. Students in SQU study in English in their own country and very rarely use English outside classrooms. They suffer from all the difficulties mentioned above and their English does not improve as that of students living in an English speaking community. The majority avoids talking in classrooms unless they have to, resulting in very little teacher student interaction.


As we all know, Statistical concepts and methods are most effectively taught through real life examples that students understand and appreciate. Almost all the standard introductory textbooks are written with this in mind. Following the example of leading universities, SQU uses standard textbooks (mainly from USA) for Statistics courses and especially introductory ones. Most of the examples setting the scene for a topic in these books as well as examples and exercises are alien to the students. Students do not have a feel for baseball, golf, opinion polls, stock market shares, advertising research, dog sled racing...etc; and examples involving topics like belief in afterlife, abortion, pre-marital sex …etc are simply off limits. Discussions meant to motivate the reader tend to put these students off. As a result, they tend not to listen to what the instructor is saying, and do not read textbooks (Abdelbasit, 2010). At best they go through examples and assigned homework problems. The problem is worse in introduction to probability where games of chance are extensively used as illustrative examples. Because western children grow up with games of chance such examples are effective illustrations. Most of these games are not known to students in developing countries. The instructor can explain how a game is played, but can not make students play it to generate the intended effect. A good number of SQU students never touched a deck of playing cards, and some may be offended by discussing card games in a class.

The effect of all this is that students get bored with the subject and quickly loose interest. Since they have to pass their tests, their attention turns to the art of passing tests rather than acquiring the intended skills and knowledge. Because of language they face problems understanding the context of homework problems and thus go straight to the routine calculations of the required statistics. They end up learning the mechanics but missing the concepts. The task they hate the most is the interpretation of the results. This can hardly be the outcome hoped for especially by a country that invests heavily in its human resources by providing free university education with full board.

The burden of finding effective strategies to overcome these difficulties falls entirely on the instructor. It is easy to argue that the instructor’s job is to explain material in class and help those who ask in class or office hours, but the rest is the student's responsibility. Such attitude may comfort the instructor but is unfair to the educational institution, since students with limited knowledge of the language of instruction naturally need more from the instructor. An obvious way of dealing with the problem seems to be:

  • To write lecture notes using examples and exercises from the local culture for each course and use current textbooks as references.

  • Go slow in lectures and timetable many problem solving contact hours, requiring the instructor to spend much more time interacting with students.

This prolongs the students stay at university and requires a lot of time and effort from the instructor, at least at the start. In the case of SQU, a student normally takes five courses per semester and instructor’s teaching load is higher than usual. Faculty members do all the teaching in classes and tutorials as well as marking homework, tests and examinations. They are also required to serve on committees and participate in administration. So this may not be regarded as a feasible solution by either students or teachers.


  • Experimental studies need to be carried out to try and compare different approaches of dealing with the problem. Experimenting with teaching methods is unlikely to be welcome in developing countries. This is understandable with problems that are common to all, where studies and literature are usually available. For this problem studies have to be done

International Association of Statistical Education (IASE)


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