An exploration of biology teachers' practice with regard to practical work and how it relates to the NCS-FET life science policy document.
When democracy was achieved in South Africa there was a need to create an education system that served the needs of all South Africans. An education system which would produce literate, creative, critical and productive citizens. This led to the introduction of OBE, Curriculum 2005 and the National Curriculum Statement policy document. The principles on which the current South African education system is based has been borrowed from countries like Canada, England and Scotland. Although there are educational changes, the legacy of apartheid continues to be felt in the education system. There still exists an unequal distribution of resources both physical and human. Many previously disadvantaged schools do not have laboratory facilities nor qualified biology educators. This unequal distribution of resources impacts on teaching and learning. The successful implementation of the NCS-FET Life Science Policy Document hinges on teachers. Teachers are expected to through their teaching espouse the philosophy of the NCS-FET Life Science Policy Document. The majority of teachers teaching in South African schools had their training in a "content era," where it was amiable to transfer as much content knowledge as possible to learners, with little inquiry and the accompanying practical work. The NCS-FET Life Science Policy Document embraces the idea of learner centredness and emphasises the development of basic and integrated science process skills, in its first learning outcome. These educational changes imply a re-examination of the ways in which activities may have been conducted in the past, and at present. The context in which practical work is done in South Africa is different from the context in which practical work is done in countries like Canada, England and Scotland. This study uses an open-ended questionnaire and focus group interview to investigate teacher conceptions of practical work, the types of practicals teachers use to teach science process skills. The purpose is to get a deeper insight and understanding of teacher practices within a South African context, taking into account the effects of the legacy of apartheid. The study also highlights the possible challenges the teachers face in embracing the NCS-FET Life Science Policy Document.