A survey of life sciences teachers' understanding of the theory of evolution.
Magubane, Gugulethu Primrose.
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The theory of evolution is relatively new to the majority of teachers who teach Life Sciences in South African schools. It was introduced into the Grade 12 Life Sciences curriculum in 2008. The purpose of this study was to examine the subject matter knowledge of Life Sciences teachers regarding the theory of evolution. Furthermore the study aimed at finding out about the challenges that the Life Sciences teachers encounter during the teaching of evolution to their learners and how they deal with those challenges. This study also aimed to contribute to the field of research regarding Life Sciences teacher’s understanding of the theory of evolution in a South African context. The focus of the research was on the teachers who were teaching Life Sciences at Grade 12 level in 2008. This study was underpinned by the conceptual framework developed by Lee Shulman (1986; 1987). Shulman (1986; 1987) argues that the subject matter knowledge should be the foundation for teaching. The research was conducted within the pragmatic paradigm. The data was collected from the Life Sciences teachers under Vulindlela Circuit in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. The methods of collection included questionnaires and individual interviews with selected teachers. Quantitative data were analysed using SPSS while qualitative data were analysed using thematic content analysis. The findings indicated that the Life Sciences teachers who were enacting the new curriculum do possess some knowledge of the theory of evolution. However there were some gaps in their understanding of the concepts related to the theory of evolution by natural selection. Probably Life Science teachers will also increase their knowledge and levels of understanding of evolutionary concepts as they teach these year after year. This was evident from the scores of the teachers under the section of genetics. They scored high marks in this section because genetics was introduced into the Biology curriculum more than twenty years ago. Fossils, biogeography and natural selection were introduced in 2008, and teachers had much less knowledge about these topics than about genetics. This study also found that some teachers do encounter problems such as the views of students which contradict with that of evolution by natural selection. Teachers mentioned that they do not know how to handle such problems in the classroom during teaching in a manner that would not criticise religious beliefs of other learners. This study concluded that professional development of teachers in the form of workshops and in-service training should be an ongoing process within the Department of Education in order to help teachers with the ever-changing curriculum.