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In recent times there has been a growing anxiety about the teaching and learning of science in Mauritian schools. A number of studies were conducted with a view to assessing the status of science of technology in Mauritius, in general, and more specifically, in the educational sector. The findings of these studies call for concern, as increasingly science is becoming less attractive in the schools. As a result, fewer than 30% of 'O' level students would actually opt for science in the secondary schools. Studies showed that large numbers of students seem to learn very little science at school, learning tends to be by rote and students find learning of science to be difficult. The quality of science teaching and learning has also been questioned over time by parents, science educators, and the general public and even by the government. Science teaching in Mauritian schools has been criticised because of the poor performance of Mauritian students in science subjects relative to their counterparts in other countries.
According to a study conducted by the Mauritius Research Council (2004), it was found that science is perceived as difficult and is meant only for bright students. It was also found that there is the perception that there is a lack of career opportunities for students opting for science subjects. The number of students opting for science at 'O' level was 30%, 20% for those studying computer studies at 'O' level and about 5% for those opting for computer studies at 'A' level. Extremely fewer girls were attracted to Physics and the science curriculum was not locally relevant.
A number of factors have been identified to be responsible for these poor performances in science from the various studies conducted in Mauritius. These include the lack of motivation for most teachers, poor infrastructural facilities, inadequate textual materials, attitude of students to learning, lack of teaching skills and competence by science teachers, and lack of opportunities for professional development for science teachers.
Other studies mentioned that poor classroom organisation, lack of management techniques and poorly co-ordinated student activities also reduced the quality of science teaching and learning also found the shortage of funds for equipment and materials for fruitful practical work; especially in view of large class size in most schools is a problem. Some other researchers also attribute the low percentage of students who pass examinations in science, to dissatisfaction with the syllabus, teachers' qualifications, workload, experience and disposition, general lack of teaching skills, and the ineffective style of delivery of subject matter.
The MRC made certain recommendations so as to tackle problems related to science education with a view of promoting science teaching and learning at the secondary level. It was recommended that a compulsory science subject be introduced for all students up to Form V. The syllabus content of this new subject will be locally relevant so as to prepare youth to be scientifically and technologically literate. It was also recommended that more active learning approaches to science teaching be employed to develop inquisitiveness, reasoning and problem solving skills amongst learners. Other recommendations include group practical work to form an essential component of science teaching as from Form 1, laboratories to be adequately and properly equipped, the recruitment of qualified laboratory technicians, regular, frequent and quality in-service training programmes be organized for science teachers to develop their confidence in teaching science for the promotion of scientific and technological literacy, teachers to be trained in conducting group practical work including group assessment and teachers' guided to be produced to support teaching of science.
Statement of the Problem
The current situation of science teaching and learning in Mauritius is a concern to all including government and the society at large. Research indicates that many students found science to be difficult, boring and not interesting to them. Large class sizes, inadequate funding, insufficient curriculum resources, poor teaching skills and lack of supports for teachers among other factors further limit the quality of science teaching and learning in Mauritian schools. To solve these lingering problems one needs to develop a realistic picture of what is currently happening in the teaching and learning of science in Mauritian schools and also to identify the factors that are limiting the quality of science education. Furthermore, one needs to develop a reasonable ideal picture for which the nation can strive towards within the existing resource limitations.
Rationale for the Study
From the range of evidence in the science education literature, it is very clear that science education in Mauritius is faced with numerous problems that need to be addressed so that the goal of equipping students to live effectively in our modern age of science and technology will not become a daydream. It is, however, believed that if appropriate steps are not taken to address these lingering barriers to reform, the citizens will not be able to develop scientific literacy useful for coping in the modern scientific and technological world. Efforts at developing scientifically literate citizens by improving the quality of science teaching and learning in schools is a laudable reform that should preoccupy the mind of the policy makers and all the key stakeholders in science education in Mauritius.
It is imperative for the issues involved to be examined empirically in the context of science education in Mauritius. Gaining the support of the key stakeholders in exploring and revealing what is actually happening in science teaching and learning in our secondary schools and for them to formulate a realistic ideal picture of science teaching and learning through which recommendations for closing the gaps between the actual and ideal could be developed, is necessary to improve the quality of science education for Mauritian secondary students. This is the motivation for conducting this study.
Significance of the Study
In an effort to improving the teaching of science in Mauritian secondary schools and make the learning of science more attractive to students, this study makes the following important contributions to knowledge and education.
Firstly, this study provides science educators, science curriculum planners and government with detailed information about the actual picture of science teaching, science learning, and educational practices in Mauritian schools, and realistic, cost effective ways of improving the situation. This in turn can help in planning and formulating further policies for science education in Mauritius.
Secondly, this study engages key stakeholders in science education in revealing the actual and ideal pictures and gaining their support for recommendations for closing the gap. This in essence informs them about the features of quality science education and gains their support for improving the recommendations of the study.
Purpose and Research Questions
The purpose of this study was to investigate and describe the status and quality of science teaching and learning secondary schools in the Education Zone 3, Mauritius with the intention of comparing an ideal picture of science teaching and learning with actual practices. More specifically, the study will address the following research questions:
What is a realistic ideal picture of teaching and learning of science in Mauritian secondary schools as perceived by teachers?
What do science teachers perceive as the nature of teaching and learning of science in Mauritian secondary schools at present?
What factors do teachers perceive as militating against quality of teaching and learning of science in Mauritian Secondary schools?
How can these factors be addressed to improve the quality of teaching and learning of science in Mauritian secondary schools?
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
This chapter is a summary of national and international research literature and reports that are relevant to this research about the quality of secondary science education in Mauritius. In this chapter, an attempt will be made to define the historical background of science education in Mauritius. We shall also discuss the importance of scientific literacy. An overview of the quality of teaching, learning and assessment practices in science education is also sought.
Historical Background of Science Education in Mauritius
Mauritius, before independence, was a British colony. The country was mainly dependent on Agriculture and as such there was the need for unskilled labour. At that time, the emphasis was more on forming people to work in the Agricultural sector. Even after independence, with the expansion of the EPZ sector, there was still the need to have unskilled and semi skilled labour to meet the needs of the country. Science was not one of the priorities of the educational policy.
But with the different reforms that took place in the educational sector, it became more and more obvious that the country needs to gear its development towards a more technological and scientific sector thereby encouraging the teaching and learning of science subjects. It was then that science subjects like Chemistry, Physics and Biology became much more important. These subjects were later followed by the introduction of Computer Studies in secondary schools.
Even though initially many students opted for these subjects for their "O" level and "A" level examinations where they fared well, yet in recent years there has been a drastic fall in the number of students opting for those subjects. It is also to be said that even if students do choose science they do not do well in these subjects, which became a major cause of concern for educators, policy makers and parents at large.
A notable problem was that the science curriculum was modelled on British syllabi, with content and activities in science that were beyond the experience of the Mauritian students and culturally inappropriate. Also, the science taught in secondary schools reflected the British requirements and aspirations rather than those of Mauritius.
It was also noted that the teaching and learning of science was classical and emphasised rote learning of unrelated laws, definitions and concepts, and also teachers rarely conducted practical lessons in science for secondary students due to the lack of funds for laboratory facilities. These unfavourable conditions led to high failure and attrition rates in science subjects and a drift to arts subjects by most students because they perceived science to be very difficult to learn.
Currently, the teaching and learning of science is being limited by a number of factors. A national survey conducted by the Mauritius Research Council identified gross under funding, overloaded classrooms, shortages of qualified science teachers, and poor teaching strategies among other factors as contributory to students under achievement in science. These reports are disheartening and concern teachers, science educators, curriculum planners and other key stakeholders including government.
Purpose and Goals for Secondary Science Education
Mauritius is an island with a growing population of 1.2 million. The country does not possess any natural resources. The only resource available to the country is its manpower. The country needs to be at all times improving so as to have a competitive edge over other countries so as to boost its exports sector. That is why there has been much emphasis for the population to become a scientifically learned population. Many researches (Bajah, 1988; Cobern, 1994; Oversby, 1988; UNESCO, 1994) have tried to define the purpose and goals of science education to include
The development of creativity in learners.
The improvement of scientific literacy and technological literacy of the population
The preparation of the population to become an active contributor towards their own culture
The inculcation of the spirit of scientific thinking in the learner.
Bell, Blair, Crawford and Lederman (2003) argued that an understanding of the nature of science can be considered as the main instructional purpose of science education. According to the Queensland School Curriculum Council (1999), science can be described as part of the human endeavour for understanding and wisdom. The study of science is a way of knowing, a way of doing which can help students reach deeper understandings of the world. The knowledge of science is primordial for making important decisions on everyday issues and problems. It also helps people to become capable of taking personal actions to find solutions that work for them to any issue. (Shamos, 1995).
An understanding of science concepts and principles is important for the development of science literacy and also to help for valid and productive careers in science as more and more jobs nowadays call for people who have the capability to learn, reason, think and make decisions, and deal with problems as well as engaging in scientific discussion. (American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS 1989, p.13)
This further supports the fact that having a sound understanding of principles and concepts of science would help learners to
Enjoy the richness and excitement of knowing about and understanding the natural word.
Make decisions based on appropriate scientific knowledge
Be more able to participate in scientific and technological discussion
Improve their economic productivity by using skills and knowledge of scientifically literate people throughout their careers.
People who are scientifically literate have the ability to think, ask questions and provide coherent and logical answers to issues of their day to day living. It follows that students who is scientifically literate has the capability to develop high order cognitive thinking to identify and evaluate issues, to make proper decisions and also have the ability to provide for a range of acceptable solutions for those issues ( Craven & Penick, 2001; Hurd, 1993; Resnick, 1992). It is therefore necessary to understand the nature of science and scientific inquiry to foster learners' ability to develop scientific literacy. This is what should be the purpose and goals for science education.
The meaning of Scientific Literacy
According to AAAS (1993) and Lederman (1999), students need to understand the nature of science and scientific inquiry in order to develop scientific literacy. Science education helps people to understand their own environment, their health and well being and to become scientifically literate (Hackling and Rennie, 2001). Scientific literacy for all the citizens therefore is acclaimed as the primary purpose and goals for science education (AAAS, 1989; Bybee, 1997; Goodrum, et al., 2001; Millar & Osborne, 1998).
Different science educators and researchers have had individualized perspectives about scientific literacy and as such it remained an elusive concept (Bybee, 1997; Hurd, 1988). According to Rascoe, Chun, Kemp, Jackson, Li, Oliver and Tippins (1999) scientific literacy is associated with content knowledge, thinking patterns and knowledge and understanding of facts, concepts and processes. Scientific literacy can also include individual's intellectual ability or accomplishments in building socially informed, competent and responsible citizenship in a democratic society (Bybee, 1997). An understanding of the meaning of scientific literacy is fundamental for improving the quality of science teaching and learning and for developing scientifically literate citizens.
According to the OECD programme for international student assessment (OECD, 1999), scientific literacy can be defined as the ability to use knowledge, to identify issues and to draw evidence based conclusions so as to understand and help make decisions about the natural world and the alterations made to it through human activity.
Scientific literacy can be described as " an evolving combination of science-related attitudes, skill and knowledge that students need to develop inquiry, problem solving and decision-making abilities, to become lifelong learners, and to maintain a sense of wonder about the world around them" ( Ryder, 2001,p. 5). According to Hackling, Goodrum and Rennie (2001) scientific literacy will help people
To understand and be interested in their environment
To be actively engaged in discussion about science
To be inquisitive about claims made by others concerning scientific questions
To be apt to identify issues, investigate and draw evidence based solutions
From these numerous definitions, it's clear that scientific attainment encompasses developing interest in science and its applications; the scientific processes of asking queries, investigation and drawing evidence-based conclusions; and, associate understanding of science ideas, principles, theories, and processes, and also the interrelationships between science, technology and society.
Scientific proficiency can consequently be pointed to as the ability of people to:
1. Secure science learning, standards and facts.
2. Comprehend discriminative notions and techniques.
3. Distinguish science concerns, explore and reach confirmation-based determinations.
4. Take part in discriminative talk and settle on determinations about self and the indigenous
5. Give to national economic development and improvement.
Importance of Scientific Literacy
As of late, experimental education has been recognised as a universal instructive destination for all nationals in a planet progressively shaped by science and innovation (AAAS, 1993; Bybee, 1997; Lederman, 1999; NRC, 1996). The location of the United Countries Instructive, Exploratory and Customary Organisation's Head-General at the starting of Task 2000+:
'Scientific and Innovative Education for all' (UNESCO, 1993) obviously underlines the significance of improving deductive education when he attests:
Efforts to achieve "Education for All" must therefore be closely linked to a worldwide drive to raise levels of scientific and technological literacy. In practice, this means ensuring sound numeracy, a grasp of the fundamental concepts and methods of science together with the development of elementary problem-solving skills and associated decision-making capabilities. All are required in a world in which political, economic, social and ethical considerations have become inextricably linked with the consequences of science and technology advanceâ€¦â€¦.. in a world increasingly shaped by science and technology, scientific and technological literacy is a universal requirement, if people are not to be alienated in some degree from the society in which they live, they are not to be overwhelmed and demoralized by change, if they are to have the basic knowledge and understanding to make those multifarious political, environmental and ethical choices with which scientific discovery and its consequences are confronting us allâ€¦ (p. 1).
The above statement reflects the imperativeness of investigative ability and that ability in science and engineering is essential for all nationals in determining situations which make exists unsustainable in the up to date time period characterized by science and technology.
Written works in science instruction and analysts (AAAS, 1993; Ringer et al, 2003; Bianchini & Solomon, 2003; Bybee, 1997; National Research Chamber, 1996; Rascoe et al., 1999) case that exploratory education encourages the nationals to:
1. have personal satisfaction.
2. enhance and support national economic productivity.
3. develop the aptitudes required for determining situations facing mankind.
4. assess the value of science qualified information.
5. settle on day to day decisions.
Basically, scientific literacy is a must for all citizens to contribute to the scientific and technological growth and development in the modern age of science and technology. Failure to improve the literacy of citizens in science and technology could be detrimental to social, political and economic growth and development of the nation.
Quality teaching and learning of science
The concept of quality in education is a rather new concept. Quality can be literally defined as the appearance of something. According to Harvey (1995), quality can be defined as the quest for excellence in the pursuit for the goals of education. It must also be consistent, has a fitness for purpose status. Quality must also provide value for money. Quality must also have a transformational purpose; it should bring about positive changes in people. Quality is a concept which is difficult to grasp, in different context and settings, the definition of quality will tend to change. But for this study, we shall define quality to be the continuous improvement in the teaching and learning process so as to meet the expected desired goals of education.
Emphasizing on the quality teaching of science is important for the development of scientifically prone citizens who can contribute to the economic productivity taking into consideration sustainable development (UNESCO, 2000). According to Darling-Hammond (1999), focus on quality teaching will help to enhance students' performance and this will improve the general public view about the importance of science education in schools. Quality teaching can be defined as a set of ever changing processes and attempts of educators with the aim of improving the quality of learners' comprehension. It also helps educators to achieve personal satisfaction (Adegbamigbe, 2002).
For quality teaching to take place, educators need to be adequately equipped through appropriate knowledge, skills and competence together with effective classroom management. There should also be proper assessment tools for assessing students' learning (Polland and Tann, 1993). According to Vant Hoooft (2005), quality teaching needs to comprise of prior preparation by educators, active class participation and continuous improvement.
Quality teaching needs to involves educators who are knowledgeable about the subject matter, have a good pedagogical background, know what are the needs, the strengths and the weaknesses of the learners. They must be able to produce the necessary environment for the proper delivery of the content knowledge. Educators need to provide support, indulge in participative classroom practices, collaborate with other colleagues, and opt for improving their knowledge. They must also from time to time, reflect on their teaching methodology and embark for continuous improvement (National Commission on Teaching and America's future, NCTAF, 1997).
According to the OECD (1994), quality teaching can be defined as those procedures followed by educators to help them better deliver the content knowledge, by being creative, by using reflective and critical teaching strategies. They must also be able to put themselves in the shoes of the learners and understand their internal frame of mind. Educators must also use all necessary resources be it within or outside the school context so as to facilitate the learning of students.
Quality teaching can thus be clarified as those factors that will help the educators to improve their delivery for the betterment of the students. This will only help for the improvement of the performance of the learners.
According to reports of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (1999) in the United States and the Standards of Professional Practice for Accomplished Teaching in Australian classrooms (2002), educators who aim for quality teaching must
Have sufficient information about how learners construct their knowledge; the educators must be able to cater for the different learning styles of the learners by using differentiated learning strategies keeping in focus the desire for quality teaching and learning.
Be able to create the appropriate learning environment conducive for the teaching and learning of science, there must be the provision of adequate learning activities. The educators must be able to motivate students. They must also be keen to participate in seminars and collaborate with other colleagues to find means and ways to facilitate learning.
Seek for continuous improvement of their pedagogy by going for in-service courses and other courses to deepen their knowledge and improve their teaching practices. The key concern need to be lifelong learning.
Work in collaboration with all the other stakeholders in the educational field such as policy makers, curriculum developers, social service providers, parents and the community at large to understand the learner so as to be able to cater for the overall development of the students. They should do all their best for the benefits of the learners.
Quality teaching of science must thus include educators who are knowledgeable, know what teaching and learning of science requires. The educators must also understand learners as forming an integral part of the system. There should be active and participative teaching and learning. According to Shulman (1986), to be able to provide for quality teaching, educators need to be knowledgeable about the subject matter and also possess the necessary pedagogical skills, a comprehensive whole which he calls "Pedagogical Content Knowledge". He further pursues that quality educators need to possess
Appropriate subject knowledge; have the competence needed for their teaching.
Pedagogical knowledge, which includes teaching strategies and classroom management.
An understanding about what is expected to be taught to the learners based on the prescribed curriculum.
A combination of content and pedagogical knowledge.
The ability to understand how learners construct their knowledge, their level of understanding and how they should cater for the students and motivate them accordingly.
Knowledge of how the school environment and the community at large affect the learner. The educator must also be aware of the aims and goals of education as defined by the policy makers.
Quality teachers must be competent, have pedagogical knowledge and skills, knowledge about have learners study and they must also know what the curriculum prescribes (Gess- Newsome, 1999). He further argues that an educator must be knowledgeable about the nature of science, he must know about the relevance of science, how to integrate science in his day to day life. He must have a lot of enthusiasm when dealing with scientific matters and he must also possess the necessary quality and patience so as to devote enough time for the preparation of effective science teaching strategies. He also asserts that such educators must be curious by nature, inquisitive and have a wide range of scientifically based problem solving skills. In short, quality science educators are those who include science in every aspect of their life. When deciding upon whether or not to do something, such educators will look forward for the scientific evidence that supports what he endeavors to do.
According to Gess-Newsome, a quality science educator must be able to plan, implement and assess students learning of science in a way that is meaningful for the learner. He should have a large variety of activities which are pro active and lively to be able to develop the inquisitive nature of the learner. The educator must build his teaching on the prior knowledge of the learner, from what is known to the learner to what the educator wants the learner to achieve. The educator must be able to identify the zone of proximal development of the learner and capitalize on that.
He also defines knowledge of students as comprising of the knowledge of the learner's development as well as the specific knowledge the learner possess. This will help the educator to build on the student's motivations and interests. The educator could thus tune his teaching according to the knowledge of the students and to clear any misconceptions that the learner may have about science.
He finally defines what he calls the knowledge of the curriculum whereby the educator is flexible about selecting and adapting the necessary materials to meet students' needs. He must also be able to understand how to use these resources to build up a comprehensive whole to meet what is prescribed in the curriculum.
Shulman argues that an educator must be able to combine their knowledge of the subject matter and their knowledge of pedagogy thus giving rise to pedagogical content knowledge. According to Clermont, Krajcik and Borko (1993), the educator must be aware of the students' background like his prior experience, his age, social and economic background and all necessary information that may impact on the learner. The educator must also be aware of the resources available to him that will help him to ease the understanding of the learner of new topics. He should be able to bring about the desired changes in the students' behavior through active interaction and engagement.
Pedagogical content knowledge can be defined as a way of thinking and not just a package of different definitions of the subject matter (Wilson, Shulman and Richert, 1987). Clermont et al., 1993; Wilson et al., 1987 defines pedagogical reasoning as the ability of educators to simplify subject matter into a form which is teachable and understandable. This can only be achieved if the educators are properly motivated, have a creative and critical approach towards the teaching of the content matter (Berliner, 1986, Feiman-Nemser and Parker, 1990; Leinhardt, 1986; Shulman, 1986, 1987; Wilson, et al., 1987).
According to Darling-Hammond and Ball (1997) argue that the educators knowledge and skills will affect his teaching. Also, whatever the educator understands of the content and students' behavior will influence how successful he is in choosing the appropriate materials and methodology to be used in classes. It is only when the educators have a sound knowledge of the content then they will be able to understand students' progress and hence be more equipped to properly assess and interpret students' achievement.
Quality teaching in science will therefore include the ability of educators to analyze the needs of the learners', diagnose their needs, strengths and weaknesses and devising ways and means to help students understand the scientific contents and to help them make the desired progress. It should also include prior preparation to make the teaching process more meaningful for the students (Elmore, 1995; Goodrum and Hackling, 2003).
We shall for this study define quality teaching as the ability of the educator to use his knowledge of the content matter to facilitate the learning of science. It will also include the ability of the educator to understand the pre-disposition of the learner, to understand the disposition of the curriculum, his classroom management style and his pedagogy as a comprehensive whole to facilitate students' learning of science.
Constructivism in Science Teaching and Learning
Even the most knowledgeable educator cannot just transfer knowledge from their head to the heads of the learners. It has rather been found that it is constructivism that can help to develop scientific literacy (Mathews, 1997; Richardson, 1997; Tyler, 2002). Constructivism can be defined as a theory of learning and an approach to education that lays emphasis on the ways someone construct his knowledge.
According to Duffy and Cunningham (1996) learning cannot be transmitted from one person to another. Learning rather involves the process whereby someone construct knowledge based on what he gather from his environment. Emphasis should be on constructing knowledge rather than on acquiring knowledge. Most learners do agree that when they see they forget whereas when they do or participate in the process they remember every step of the process.
According to the Queensland School Curriculum Council (1999), learning takes place only when the learner construct knowledge based on his prior knowledge and using this knowledge as a basis to accommodate new things. Tyler (2002) believes that if we expect a learner to construct knowledge, then we must see to it that the learner is exposed to a variety of situations which require the use of some science insight. Students need to be able to apply their new knowledge to a range of situations which will only make their learning meaningful.
Constructivism needs to be a process whereby educators can understand how the learner constructs knowledge. This process will in turn gear the teaching practice of the educator.
Constructivism has for long been prescribed for effective teaching and learning of science. There are some constructivist models that have been acclaimed. These are the generative learning model (Cosgrove and Osborne, 1985; Osborne and Wittrock, 1983), the interactive learning approaches (Biddulph and Osborne, 1984) and the 5 Es instructional model (Bybee, 1997).
The generative learning model (Cosgrove and Osborne, 1985; Osborne and Wittrock, 1983) consists of four phases about how children learn and how to teach them. The first phase known as the preliminary phase is whereby the prior knowledge of the learner is sought so as to build on relevant part of this knowledge to facilitate the learning of new topics. The second phase consists of all the activities which will make the learning of the new topics meaningful to the learner. The challenge phase takes place when the students compare his new knowledge to his own set of thinking and to the thinking pattern of other students through group discussion. The application is where the student determines which portion of his new knowledge can be integrated and applied into his daily routine.
The interactive learning approach (Biddulph and Osborne, 1984) consists of the preparation phase whereby the teacher assess the prior preparation work done by the student on the topic to be discussed and uses this as a basis to organize resources together with the students for learning to take place. The second phase, explanatory activities, is whereby students are encouraged to discuss among themselves to have new insight about the topic. Each student will share ideas he has gathered about the topic with his peers and each and everyone will gain from this. The students' question phase is about asking and clarifying the questions of the students. The student's investigations phase is whereby the educator will help the student to choose the relevant resources which will actively help the student to construct his knowledge. The final phase is the reflection phase whereby the learner evaluates and reflects on the results of his experimentations based on the strategies used. This phase is also for further discussion and sharing of results.
The third model, the 5Es instructional model (Bybee, 1997) consists of the Engage phase whereby the curiosity of the student is aroused and this will increase his interests and motivation for further investigations. The Explore phase is where the student is exposed to a range of inquisitive experience which will further enhance the curiosity of the learner, helping him to investigate and ask questions. The Explain phase is where the student explains and shares his findings with others. It is during this phase that the educator introduces the relevant scientific explanations about the particular problem. The Elaborate phase allows students to apply their new knowledge to a range of situations. Finally, the Evaluation phase is about assessing the understanding of the students. There is also the self reflection dimension to it.
Tobin and Dawson (1992) argue that educators will seek for the prior knowledge of the learner and use this to scaffold his teaching. Constructivist educators are facilitators and not merely transmitters of knowledge. Brooks and Brooks (1993) further assert that educators in a constructivist classroom will recognize the personality of the student. He will recognize the prior knowledge of the learner and put forward a range of activities which will allow the learner to be an active participant in the discussions, providing time for the learner to construct relationships and be curious.
Students' views, ideas and questions are acknowledged in a constructivist classroom and this is used to influence the curriculum and future planning (Yager, 1991). Taylor, Dawson, and Fraser (1995) argue that in a constructivist classroom, students are given the opportunity to share their findings based on the nature of science. Students are also provided with the opportunity of self reflection and to apply the assessment criteria to their environment. The classroom environment must be conducive for the teaching and learning of science.
According to Taylor (2002), in a constructivist classroom, students participate in the activities, they develop meaningful understandings, there are linkages between sciences and the real life environment and events, there are meaningful assessment tools for formative purposes. Also the classroom needs to be linked with the broader community.
Constructivism can therefore be defined as an approach whereby educators and learners engage in activities with the aim to generate and produce new knowledge. But for constructivism to be effective there must be the concern for continuous improvement for educators.
Educators' roles in quality science teaching and learning.
For a country to produce scientifically literate people there must imperatively be the provision of quality teaching of science. The learning of science is largely influenced by the way the students are taught. It is therefore obvious that without the provision of quality teaching through competent and dedicated educators, there cannot be high level achievements of students. Quality educators are those who are attentive to the needs of the learner and the community at large. According to Shulman (1986), quality teachers are committed, have the required competence knowledge, have the appropriate skills, display emotions and empathy, have proven organizational competencies, have the ability to adjust and modify their teaching according to the needs of the learner, participate in inter department group discussion, indulge in in-service courses, collaborate during workshops and have a strong sense for continuous improvement.
Abell and Pizzini (1992) further assert that the educator's role is changing. He is no more a transmitter of knowledge. He is rather a guide and a mentor who only helps the learner to develop his full potential and to empower him to use rational, critical and creative thinking strategies as well as lifelong problems solving skills.
Quality educators are those who are facilitators, constructors of knowledge, have a broad view of the purpose of science teaching and learning. They must also be collaborative, participative and act as mediators between what is happening inside the classroom and the policy makers, so as to better plan and if need be modify the curriculum to better suit the needs of the learners. They must above all else be very competent in their field, be committed and love what they do (Association of California School Administrator, 2000). Quality educators are those who can challenge and channel students to use their skills to promote the learning of science which is meaningful to them.
Factors Inhibiting Quality Science Teaching
According to Darling-Hammond (1997), the main concern of many countries nowadays is how to achieve quality teaching and learning of science in order to have scientifically literate citizens. Several studies in science education have made attempts to identify the causes of low achievement in science among students (Darling-Hammond, 1997; Goodrum et al., 2001). In Mauritius, according to a research conducted by the Mauritius Research Council (2004), it was found that
In the primary sector
There is no policy as to when should science be introduced in the curriculum, at what age should science be introduced.
The science curriculum is not locally competent and needs to be reviewed.
Science is taught in an abstract manner.
Primary school teachers are not properly trained and do not possess the required skills and pedagogical competence for the proper teaching of science.
There is a total lack of practical work. No group learning is done.
Use of technology to teach science not implemented. No science laboratories in schools.
Whereas science should be fun and attractive, students rather find science as being dull and boring.
In the secondary sector
Science is perceived as difficult. Most parents do not encourage their children to opt for science at the Form 4 level.
Parents perceive science as a stream which lack career opportunities.
Less and less students opt for science and computer studies at Form 4 level.
Extremely few girls choose Physics. They would rather choose Biology and Chemistry with another subject like Food and Nutrition to the detriment of Physics.
There is lack of the proper infrastructure for the administration of science teaching. Lack of training and recruitment of Laboratory Assistants.
Practicals and field work not meaningfully relevant.
Some schools do not offer science as an option.
The curriculum is not locally relevant. The curriculum is often seen as a puzzle.
Among other factors it was found that if the learner is taught science in a language that he already knows then the learning of science will be easier for him. But it is to be pointed out that since the medium of instruction is English in the Mauritians schools, students having problems with English will not do well in Science. The English language being imposed on the learner will only lead the learner to be confused.
In developed countries, it was found that educator quality is the most important reason inhibiting science learning in schools (Darling-Hammond, 1997; Darling- Hammond and Ball, 1997). The same study suggest that the priority of developed countries is only to address the problems of shortages of science teachers whereby people without the required competence are taken up for the job while the concern for quality is not at the concern of policy makers. No induction courses are offered for those who have just joined the profession. Professional development is practically inexistent. There is no proper forum where educators can meet and discuss about their shortcomings and learn from others. Many educators enter the profession with inadequate training.
According to Goodrum et al. (2001), large class size, lack of resources, no preparation time, lack of collaboration limit the quality of science teaching in secondary schools.