The relationship between life sciences teachers' knowledge and beliefs about science education and the teaching and learning of investigative practical work.
The advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994 resulted inter alia in the transformation of its education system. Revision of the school curriculum was an important component of the total transformation of education. The resulting National Curriculum Statement (NCS) required not only a change in educational or subject specific content, but also a change in educational processes. The ultimate purpose or goals of education are the Critical Outcomes (COs) and Developmental Outcomes (DOs) which reflect the beliefs, needs and aspirations of the people of South Africa. Learners are expected to relate to and use the knowledge and skills that they acquire in everyday life. Also, the learner is expected to use cognitive and social strategies such as reasoning, researching, collaborating, and expressing opinions and debating. The learning environment required to achieve the COs and DOs therefore necessitates active learners as well as teachers who use various strategies to promote learning that will result in understanding. In South Africa reform in Life Sciences education is articulated via a policy framework referred to as the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) for Life Sciences in Grades 10 – 12 The NCS asserts that investigations as part of inquiry teaching and learning should feature prominently in science teaching and learning. This is an attempt to ensure that scientific content is not the only focus of science teaching and learning but that some understanding of the methods or processes of science are also involved. In order to accomplish this in the South African Life Sciences curriculum investigations feature as part of the prescribed practical work. It prescribes two types of practical work as part of the continuous assessment (CASS) or school-based assessment (SBA). Practical activities can take the form of ‘hands-on’ and/or ‘hypothesis testing’ tasks for the purposes of formal assessment. The ‘hands-on’ type of practical work is highly structured with a sequence of step-by-step procedures laid out by the teacher or text book to be followed by learners while the ‘hypothesis testing’ type of tasks has a leaning towards authentic, open-ended inquiry with minimal guidance and is learner directed or driven and was the subject of this study. Within the context of this study the ‘hypothesis testing’ type of activity is referred to as investigative practical work (IPW). IPW is an example of inquiry-based teaching and learning. Many teachers do not readily appreciate the implementation of inquiry teaching and learning because of the many challenges or barriers that they encounter. One such challenge is teachers’ beliefs about vii classroom management that interfere with learning about ‘doing’ inquiry. Another is their knowledge base for implementing inquiry. Hence, this study focused on establishing the relationship of teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about science education and the teaching and learning of IPW in the Life Sciences. A qualitative, multiple case study approach was followed in executing this research. Data was collected through a questionnaire, a structured interview, lesson observations and study of documents which included tasks completed by the participating teachers, teacher and learner artefacts, as well as the different South African Biology and Life Sciences curricula. The findings of the study shows that there are consistencies as well as inconsistencies between teachers’ knowledge and teachers’ beliefs regarding some aspects of teaching and learning. It also found consistencies and inconsistencies between knowledge and practice and between beliefs and practice. The strongest influence on teachers’ practice is their previous experiences and knowledge, which have resulted in deep seated beliefs about the practice of IPW. For the successful implementation of the transformed curriculum and more especially, IPW several recommendations have been provided. These recommendations involve strategies to be implemented from a micro (school) level to the macro level (National Department of Basic Education). If teachers’ knowledge and beliefs are not taken into account, efforts to reform science education will have difficulty in succeeding.
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