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Exploring Mauritian upper secondary students’ conceptions of and approaches to learning biology.

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The low enrolment in science subjects, particularly biology, beyond the compulsory level (Grade 9) is a matter of concern to the Mauritian education authorities, teachers and other stakeholders, as it is a prerequisite to a wide range of university degrees and professional careers. Many studies have tried to explain the low enrolment in biology at secondary and tertiary levels, however, little is known about how conceptions of learning (COL) and approaches to learning (AL) respond to the issue. Conceptions of learning refer to students' or learners' views on their educational experiences and preferred methods of carrying out the learning process. Approaches to learning are the ways that students or learners learn or accomplish their academic assignments. Arguably, the existence of positive COL and AL in learning biology increases learners’ chances of achieving the intended learning outcomes and improved student performances. This invariably creates positive perceptions of the subject and possibly helps to attract more students to study biology at School Certificate level and consequently at Higher School Certificate level. Therefore, the aim of this study was to explore Mauritian upper secondary school students’ COL and AL. The approaches to learning and conceptions of learning theoretical perspectives informed this study. This study adopted a pragmatic approach with the assumption that using a variety of research methods would result in an informed grasp of the problem. An explanatory mixed methods sequential research design was used to first collect quantitative data, and then gather qualitative data to explain the quantitative results. Convenience sampling was employed with respect to the schools where the participants were drawn from. Quantitative data were collected from 497 Grade 11 biology students through survey questionnaires before purposely selecting 16 of them to participate in the face-to-face individual semi-structured interviews. Descriptive statistics were used to analyse the quantitative data, whereas coding, categorisation, pattern recognition, and inference were used to analyse the qualitative data. Analysis of the quantitative and the qualitative data identified COL and AL, much of which resonate with the theoretical framework that guided this study. The study revealed that Mauritian students had mixed conceptions and thus, adopted mixed or hybrid approaches to learning biology. The study also revealed that the students’ COL influenced their AL. The findings of this study have significance for curriculum designers, resource people, and secondary school educators who want to improve biology instruction.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.