Teaching STEM Subjects in English: Experiences and Challenges of Secondary School Teachers Dumankhan Abdashim


Teaching STEM subjects in English in secondary schools within trilingual education policy implementation has become a priority after it has been announced in a number of policy documents (MoES, 2015; MoES, 2016). This raised the necessity to study the situation with how this reform is being implemented and how teachers as main agents of its implementation practice it. Lack of research on this important issue adds to this need. This study aims at investigating experiences, challenges of STEM (science subjects in Kazakhstani context, namely Biology, Physics, Computer Science and Chemistry) subject teachers in two secondary schools and factors impacting their teaching. Aiming to achieve this purpose a qualitative multiple-case study design was used as it allows obtaining an in-depth understanding of the issue.

The findings from ten secondary school teachers selected from two mainstream schools through homogenous sampling strategy revealed that majority of STEM teachers’ share common viewpoint that teaching in English improves English language proficiency and have common experiences of teaching STEM subjects in English involving terminology teaching techniques, code-switching and CLIL approaches during the lesson. The findings reveal a number of challenges that STEM teachers face with gender stereotypes and language barriers being the most common issues. Finally, this research revealed also that such factors as support of school administration, peer teaching and motivation to learn are important for the success in teaching STEM subjects in English in secondary schools in Kazakhstan. The research findings add knowledge to the existing literature in teaching STEM subjects English language in Kazakhstani context. 

Summary of Major Findings of the Research

This chapter presents the major conclusions of this research based on the research findings. It also provides implications, limitations of the study and recommendation for further research. The findings were categorized under three main research questions. Types of categories that teachers shared for teaching the STEM subjects in English were experiences, challenges and factors of success or failure, each category divided by three or four sub-themes.

Experiences of teaching STEM subjects in English. The findings revealed the importance of preparing the new terminology before the lesson and the ways how to distribute the new words. The findings also revealed that STEM teachers do pay special attention to memorization of terminology. The findings on teaching approaches are seemingly different in regard to the respondents’ work experience. Findings involve approaches as CLIL approach, interactive teaching and gamification of their subject and using code-switching during the lesson. The experience of teachers reveals the findings that show how the teacher representation is important in teaching STEM subjects. Moreover, being available to help students out of classroom time were the findings from the interviewees.

Challenges of teaching STEM subjects in English. Findings represent that there is an ongoing debate for the usage of group working and group division during the STEM lesson.

The majority of teachers agree that students should be divided equally mixed (equal number of high performers with low performers) in one group. Teachers experiencing terminology and linguistic issues in a lesson believe that by means of a STEM lesson they can increase the English language proficiency of students. Teachers believe that improving their English will help them succeed in their subject teaching. Results show that there exists gender bias towards female students regarding their ability to learn STEM at the same level as male students. Some of the responses even stated that in upper grades there are no problems with the mentioned issue. Teachers encountered various kinds of challenges regarding CLIL and PBL. In the first case (CLIL) only experienced teachers knew that they were using CLIL in their classes. Other teachers simply did not know that their approach was called CLIL. Regarding PBL teachers complained that they could properly conduct PBL as they had lots of other diverting tasks. PBL needed a long period to be implemented assessed properly.

Factors leading to success or failure of the STEM lesson. Support from administration, attending seminars, teacher-student interaction and motivation to learn are the key factors whether the STEM lesson will be successful or not according to our participants. Findings reveal that both psychological and financial support are the keys towards a successful STEM lesson. Results of respondents report that novice STEM teachers are highly encouraged to share and benefit their practice with experienced STEM teachers. Findings illustrate that teachers can encourage upper grades to teach younger grades, it is a unique practice that six out of ten teachers believe this affects the success of teaching STEM. The practise involves creating a competitive atmosphere among students and challenging them with examinations to check the knowledge gained. One suggestion proposed by the majority of teachers is that teachers should not teach ‘classically boring’ science lessons, instead teachers should relate STEM subjects to real life and make students engaged and motivated to the STEM lesson.

To sum up, these findings provided insights into the experience and challenges teachers have during teaching STEM subjects in English. Taken together, these results suggest that teachers, despite having different experiences and challenges, are mainly positive about teaching his/her subject in English. It was also important to mention that the results of face-to-face interviews cannot be generalized. For more insightful findings a long scale investigation is needed. The next section is the discussion part of the research.

Final Reflection on the Study

This study helped me to explore the issues connected with STEM teachers experience, challenges and factors that impact teaching science subjects in the English language. All ten interviewees reflected on their insights from STEM teaching. This helped me to understand the common aspects of STEM teachers in secondary schools in Kazakhstan. I still feel very curious about the implementing reforms in Kazakhstan, and in particular about teaching STEM subjects in English. The skills that I applied for my thesis will be very useful in developing future research on the topic. I have no doubt that such research should be regularly conducted in our Kazakhstan and that the investigations will lead to filling the gap on the existing literature, and hopefully, help Kazakhstan to step forward for a quality education.


MoES. (2015). Dorozhnaya karta razvitiya trekhyazychnogo obrazovaniya na 2015-2020. [Roadmap of Trilingual Education Development for 2015-2020]. Retrieved from http://umckrg.gov.kz/content/view/1/478.
MoES. (2016). State Program of Education and Science Development for 2016 –  2019.  Retrieved from http://control.edu.gov.kz/ru/gosudarstvennaya-programmarazvitiya-obrazovaniya-i-nauki-respubliki-kazahstan-na-2016-2019-gody.

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