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TEACHERS AND STUDENTS PERCEPTION OF DIFFICULTY IN SOME CONTENT AREA OF SENIOR SECONDARY SCHOOL BIOLOGY CURRICULUM
Background to the Study
The overall importance of science education and biology in particular in national development and sustainability cannot be over emphasized. No Nation can neglect science education at any level of its educational system and hope to thrive in any field of human endeavour. This is because science and technology education is significantly useful in mans daily struggle to control his environment and build a strong world (Osuafor and Okonkwo, 2013). Science education is essential for useful living in any society. It plays a vital role in socioeconomic, scientific and technological development of any nation (Egbunonu and Ugbaja, 2011).
Biology, according to Hornby (1994) is the science of the life of animals and plants. It also has to do with the studies of the inter-relationships between the living organisms and their immediate environment. In all spheres of human activity, biology plays a prominent role. It is indispensable in the fields of medicine, agriculture, brewery and petro-chemical industries and even in geology and mining. Because of the indispensability of biology, much emphasis has been placed on biology instruction especially at the secondary school level. This is to ensure full realization of the objectives of biology education as stipulated in the National Policy on Education (F.M.E. 2008).
Biology as a science has been providing many important innovations through specialized disciplines such as in genetics, biotechnology, molecular biology, micro biology and biochemistry.
Biology is taught both at the secondary and tertiary levels of the Nigerian educational system. The secondary school biology curriculum was derived from a draft developed by the Comparative Education Study and Adaptation Centre (CESAC),UniversityofLagosand presented to the National Critique Workshop in December 1984 (FME, 1985). Based on the experiences gathered over the years, a biology curriculum was proposed for the new (6-3-3-4) system of secondary education and presented to the National Critique Workshop which was further presented to the Joint Consultative committee (JCC) Reference Committee on secondary education in April 1985 for final review and recommendation to the JCC Plenary (FME, 1985). Since then it has undergone a number of reviews and modification to suit the emerging challenges of modern systems and environmental changes.
The focus of the syllabus was derived from the National Policy on Education (F.M.E 2008). The cardinal objectives of the syllabus are to prepare pupils to acquire:
(a). adequate laboratory and field skills in biology
(b). meaningful and relevant knowledge in biology
(c). ability to apply scientific knowledge to everyday life in matters of community health and agriculture; and
(d). reasonable and functional scientific attitudes
The new biology curriculum is designed to provide new biology courses while meeting the needs of the society through relevance and functionality in its contents. In terms of structure it adopted the spiral approach to sequencing thus providing for intellectual maturity as students progresses in their studies. In an effort to ensure continuity and smooth transition from the junior secondary science programme, the content of the junior secondary curriculum was assumed in such a manner that the six themes of the basic science curriculum have references to the themes presented in the new biology curriculum.
Although the biology curriculum for secondary school has been revised to ensure functionality, flexibility and smooth transition to higher specialized studies in biology, available evidence reveal poor achievement in biology at the secondary school level (WAEC, 2011; WAEC 2012; WAEC 2013). Reports from different examination bodies such as WAEC and NECO always report a decline on the yearly poor performance of students in senior school certificate biology examination. The chief examiner’s reports of WAEC (2008) reported the decline in performance of students in Biology especially on the theoretical part of the subject. The West African Examination Council (WAEC) Annual Report of 2007/2008 showed that out of 609 026 (92.27%), that 96 202 (15.79%) got credit and above (1-6), 142, 044 (23.32%) got pass (7-8) and 370, 800 (60.88%) failed (9). In 2008, out of 841,868 students that sat for biology, 31.29% scored credit and above (1-6) 34.08% got pass (7-8) and 34.62% failed (9) that continue to occur till date. The trend in poor achievement in biology has continued in that direction up till the year 2014.
A number of efforts were made to address the persistent poor achievement in biology. These includes quests for appropriate pedagogy (Umoke and Nwafor, 2014; Akili, 2007; Ashbough 2008; Baker, Wentz, and Woods 2009), conceptual reorientation (Ani, 2009; Berger and Luckman 1967) conditioning approaches (Dragoi and Staddon 1999), resource provision and utilization (Njoku 2013) and gender inclusive classrooms (Okeke, 2009; Akinola, 2005; Harding, & WhiteLeg 1997). The research recommendations with respect to pedagogy, conceptual reorientation and constructivist arguments, conditioning, resource provision and utilization have been addressed to a large extent in our secondary education system. A number of new instructional approaches are currently in use with numerous instructional resources in schools for effective implementation of the curriculum.
Although a number of precautions have been taken to remedy the trends in poor achievement in biology at the secondary school level, recent evidence has revealed that the poor achievement in school certificate biology still persist (WAEC, 2013, WAEC, 2014). Research efforts were therefore focused on the identification of the principal causes of poor achievement in school certificate biology.
During the UNESCO West African Regional Symposium held on the 19th August during the 56th Annual Conference of the Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN) of 2015 on the theme Effective Application of STEM Education Research: Views from various countries, the issue of science education being examination based rather that competency based was raised. This generated a pertinent curriculum issue in science education for Africa. The argument is that a number of teachers entrusted with science instruction lack the competency and technicalities in handling a number of topics in the science curriculum because of their restricted knowledge of new research innovations in pedagogy. In the same vein the incompetence of the teachers has spiraling effects on students who therefore tag a number of topics in science curriculum as difficult. The consequences of these are over memorization, loss of mastery and poor knowledge transfer. Professor Njoku appropriately tagged this syndrome “teaching and learning for examination purposes” rather than teaching for mastery and sustainable skill acquisition. It was generally agreed that remedial measures could be adopted if researchers could appropriately identify and isolate such topics that both teachers and students dread in STM curriculum.
Researchers in STM education were therefore charged with the responsibility of exploring the difficult topics in various science subjects with the view of developing effective intervention strategies for demystifying them. This will go a long way in ensuring effective instructional delivery, boost students and teachers interests and subsequently enhance achievement. Granted that detailed exploration of difficulty topics in science is indispensable for effective instructional delivery, researchers in STM education should not lose sight of the facts that a number of moderator variables such as gender and job experience usually comes into play with their accompanying interactions. Although there are a number of empirical evidence to back the influence of gender and job experience on concept mastery and instructional delivery ( ), such studies were not centered on isolated difficult topics in science. As such the influence of gender and job experience on topic difficulties for students and teachers respectively remains in doubt and requires proper verification. Most importantly, most recent studies on topic difficulties were carried out in chemistry, physics and mathematics thereby leaving researchers in biology education in doubts about areas of constraints in biology. It is therefore on this background that the researcher deems it expedient to explore the core contents of senior secondary biology curriculum with the principal focus of isolating the specific topics both teachers and students perceive as difficult.
Statement of the Problem
The persistent poor achievement of students in Senior School Certificate Biology Examination is an issue of great concern to the STM practitioners, the government and society at large. The West African Examination Council (WAEC) annual Report May/June (2007 - 2008), statistics shows that out of 609,026 (92.27%) 96,202 (15.79%) got credit and above in biology. In 2008, out of 841, 868 students that sat for biology, 31.29% scored credit and above 34.08% got pass while 34.62% failed. The scenario did not change up to 2012 because out of 5,135, 283 candidate that sat for biology only 31.81% got credit and above.
Although the recent Chief examiners reports (WAEC,2011; WAEC2012, WAEC 2013) made reference to curriculum contents and instructional resources, they were not specific about the topics that have constituted a major setback to both the teachers and students. While also the reports tends to suggest that emphasis be laid on some topics in the curriculum with special instructional measures researchers in biology education are still in doubt about the specific topics that attention should be focused on. The problem of this study therefore is to find out from the teachers and students the content areas of the senior secondary school biology curriculum they perceived difficulty.
Purpose of the Study
The main purpose of this study is to identify the topics in school certificate biology that students find difficult to learn and also the topics that teachers find difficult to teach. Specifically the study will seek to Identify:
1. Content areas in senior secondary school biology curriculum that teachers find difficult to teach.
2. Content areas in senior secondary school biology curriculum that students find difficult to learn.
3. Influence of gender of students on difficulties encountered by students in learning some contents of the school certificate biology
4. Influence of job experience of teachers on difficulties encountered in teaching some contents of the school certificate biology
Significance of the study:
With the increasing importance of biology in national development greater emphasis has been placed on effective teaching and learning of biology at the most crucial preparatory stage of specialist studies in life science. This underscores the need for proper isolation of difficult topics in secondary school biology to as to address the specific problems encountered by both teachers and students in the course delivery.
This study will be very significant to both the teachers, students, curriculum developers and the government. The study will isolate those topics the teachers encounter problems in teaching. This will inform the design and implementation of effective retraining program for teachers that will specifically focus on those identified topics. This will invariably strengthen the teachers’ competence especially in teaching those topics and this will obviously translate to enhanced performance of the students.
In the same vein the study will isolate the specific topics the students perceive as very difficult to understand. This will inform the teacher on areas of focus and also on the need to employ better pedagogic strategies in handling those topics so as to demystify the topics to the students and consequently improve on their mastery of such topics. This will also translate to improvement in students overall performance in biology.
The curriculum planners through the findings of this study will be understand areas both teachers and students find difficult. This will guide effective review of the biology curriculum to ensure that adequate provisions are made through sequencing and resource designs to ensure that such topics are broken down into understandable and comprehensible units. They will also be guided through the finding of this study on the need to ensure that concepts or topics are arranged in such a manner that each builds on the previous learning experience of the students.
The findings of this study will afford the government awareness of the need to ensure that the schools are well funded to acquire the necessary materials and facilities to improved teaching and learning of biology in the schools. This study will also inform government on the needs to encourage and sponsor in-service training, workshop, seminars and conferences for professional growth and knowledge development of teachers. The findings will guide the government on their design of in-service training and short term workshops for biology teachers.
Other future researchers would find the study as a good reference material for future studies. They will be guided on the areas that have been covered and further add to literature on content difficulties in sciences
Scope of the Study
This study is delimited to identification of topics in secondary school biology that teachers and students perceive as difficult. The study will cover the curriculum of SS1, SS2 and SS3 biology of the Federal Ministry of Education. The study will be conducted in Abakaliki Education zone of Ebonyi State.
The following research questions are formulated to guide the researcher in the study:
1. Which content areas in senior secondary school biology curriculum do teachers find difficult to teach?
2. Which content areas in senior secondary school biology curriculum do students find difficult to learn?
3. What is the influence of gender on difficulties encountered by students in learning some contents of the school certificate biology?
4. What is the influence of job experience on difficulties encountered by teachers in teaching some contents of the school certificate biology?
The following null hypotheses will be tested at 0.05 alpha level of significance:
HO1: Difficulties encountered by students in learning some contents of the school certificate biology does not depend significantly on gender of the students.
HO2: Difficulties encountered by teachers in teaching some contents of the school certificate biology does not depend significantly on the job experience of the teachers.