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Balogun, T A

 

 

EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH AND QUALITY OF LIFE:
A SCIENCE EDUCATION PERSPECTIVE 

T.A. Balogun
National University of Lesotho, Roma, Lesotho.

Paper presented at the Seventh BOLESWA Symposium on Educational Research for Quality of Life, University of Swaziland, Kwaluseni, Swaziland, July 21-August 1,1997

 Abstract: It is posited that the goals of education everywhere are ultimately about quality of life. Science (pure and applied) education is particularly well placed in this regard, because its effects have, arguably, been towards the greatest improvement of the quality of life of humankind. Educational research is basically designed to discover accurate information that enables us to better describe, explain, control or distinguish the wood from the forest of the educational practice. The expectations are that its outcomes will lead to efficiency and effectiveness in education. However, discussion about "quality" involve the issue of relativity of values. In education, additional difficulties are about acceptable expectations and/or criteria or effects, and more especially - difficulty in linking differences in learning or changes in behaviour to instructional strategy/programme etc. Nonetheless, it will be generally agreed that variables that influence educational quality derive from the three major elements of any instructional system - the instructor, the instructee, and the teaching-learning environment. A qualitative educational outcome will include the greatest personal development, the best possible preparation for life, and the most satisfactory adjustment to social and cultural conditions. The paper will identify the types of educational research that can promote quality in science education and life.

The Mission of Education

To begin with, education is a pervasive process (informal, non-formal, and formal) and teaching is perhaps the most basic of all natural social phenomena. However, schools are a special creation of the community as distinct from the family in order to prepare its youth for present and future life in society. Therefore, it can be argued that the mission of the school is basically the same everywhere. In any event, it is suggested here that the major functions of the formal and indeed informal education everywhere fall into the following three categories:

I. Objectives of self preservation: These are about health and physical fitness; feeding behaviour and diet selection; and the command of the fundamental processes.

II. Objectives of self realisation: Here we are concerned with the development of rational thinking; learning and acquisition of knowledge and understanding of the world around us, structure of society and heritage from the past and of the present; ability to discriminate among values, aesthetic and spiritual experiences; development of creative activities, and leisure time activities (recreation); appreciation of the value of the environment and its control; and possession of a vocation.

III. Objectives of personal and group relations: These relate to reproductive behaviour (courtship, mating); family living (parental responses and responsibilities); citizenship (humans as political beings/animals); social behaviour (cooperation and competition); ethical behaviour (sensitivity to and respect for human circumstances/conditions).

In effect, we are saying that education is implicitly or explicitly about the general functions, dimensions, or aspirations of human beings which the school can help them develop effectively. 

Quality of Life

It is suggested that any education system or process which maximises the achievement of these objectives would enhance the quality of life of its products. In this connection, education in science is eminently suitable for enabling children acquire virtually all of the functions. It is in these circumstances that the fourth international symposium of the International Organization for Science and Technology Education was devoted to the theme of Science and Technology Education and the Quality of Life.

Specifically, the intellectual functions of science education include the development of knowledge and understanding of the world around us, the environment and its control, the structure of society, the heritage from the past and of the present; as well as the acquisition of scientific vocabulary and processes of thought. Also, a good science education provides children ability for proper functioning in the areas of nutrition, health, family planning; as well as ability to do minor repairs to gadgets like mending the fuse, how to avoid electrocution, chemical dangers, and pollution. In other words, it enables them to cope more intelligently and effectively in their day to day life; enjoy reasonably good health, mental, and physical fitness (Practical Functions). Similarly, it prepares the youth for jobs for example in agriculture, architecture, biological sciences and technology, chemical sciences and technology, engineering, medicine, and science teaching (Vocational Functions). Finally, it provides them with opportunities to acquire scientific attitudes (questioning, request for evidence, data gathering, etc), values (objectivity, impartiality, tentativeness, intellectual honesty - moral value, self-criticism, rationality), interests (hobbies, leisure time activities - recreation), appreciations (beauty in colours, symmetry, orderliness in nature, intricacies of forms and designs); and makes them less susceptible to superstitions and dubious folkways.

Then, there are the social functions/values: helping society meet the basic needs for water, food, basic health, shelter, energy, and education itself; socio-economic development and improved quality of life. Clearly, the use of scientific knowledge has led to the development of technologies that have generally resulted in improved health, agriculture, and nutrition; increasing life expectancy; decreasing mortality - especially infant mortality; provision of very modern transport and communication systems, among other things. Indeed, recently the United Nations Development Programme (1990) proposed a human development index which attempts to quantify human progress in terms of life expectancy, literacy, purchasing power to buy goods and services for basic needs, gender equality in education and income distribution, as well as the degree of democracy and human rights achieved by nations of the world. 

Educational Research

For our purposes here, educational research is a process of finding out facts, concepts, principles, generalisations, and even theories that enable us to rationally and somewhat reliably describe, explain, predict, exploit or maximise aspects of the educational enterprise for the benefit of all concerned. There are of course many different ways of categorising approaches to educational research. Suffice it to say here that it can involve the conceptual and methodological framework of academic disciplines like psychology, sociology, history, philosophy, and economics. Put in another way, it involves empirical inquiry using quantitative techniques and naturalistic observations, as well as the use of sociological, historical, and economic studies, and logical and philosophical analyses. Some have even argued that the philosophical approach is needed for every kind of educational research. Because we use conceptual analysis in all research activities in interpretation, explanation, development, and organisation of meaningful educational concepts (Scriven, 1988).

It is clear that the educational (and training) process involves multiple inputs and outputs, operating in a multivariate universe, in a multivariate way (equifinality). In all cases, however, there are certain environmental events and procedures that are ostensibly designed to guide the learner’s activities, as well as conditions that sustain learning activities. It is suggested that all of this, in a way, constitutes aspects of control and communication which are central to the instructional process, because teaching essentially involves the "manipulation" of the learning process. Further, teaching conceived as control of learning implies that the teacher has a model of the process - some idea about how human beings learn. Or else it is difficult, at least theoretically, to see how one can attempt to control it. This is one reason why it is useful to clarify classroom transactions - strategies for communication, specific activities for engaging pupils in meaningful learning - for teachers (more about this shortly).

Now, there are many possible models and control operations which span the variety of teaching techniques that researchers and theorists on instruction recommend (e.g. Joyce and Weil, 1989; Dunkin and Biddle, 1974) and teachers use. Of course, not all of these are of equal proficiency - at least for all classes of instructional objectives, instructional conditions, and learners (See also Eggleston et al, 1976). Therefore, one major objective of instructional research is to provide , where possible, information and understanding on how information is processed in educational settings.

However, the human being, regarded as an information processing organism, is a very complex system indeed. This complexity is at least in part reflected in the usually observed individual differences in perception, responding, learning styles, and differential achievements. Therefore, one other major objective of instructional research should be to be able to identify the relationships, if any, between individual (teacher/instructional agent and pupil) characteristics and learning conditions for various categories of learners. One ultimate objective here is to help find ways to satisfy the so-called law of Requisite Variety - which states that the variety in a control system must be as great as the variety in the system or parts to be controlled. Or as Ashby (1956) says, "Only variety can destroy variety".

Dimensions of Instructional Process

It is commonly said that variables that influence learning fall into three major categories. First, there are participants’ variables - teacher and learner input factors. Second, there are task variables; and finally method variables.

Broadly, we can look at the science instructional process from three main perspectives: (1) the input (antecedent) factors , (2) the process (transactional) factors, and (3) output (product) factors. Needless to say that these are not necessarily mutually exclusive categories. This would particularly be true of the input and output factors and between the various dimensions of the input factors (e.g. pupil, task, and the sociological aspects of the environmental variables).

Input factors

The variables here include the following:

1. Teacher variables: The major ones are qualifications, previous experience, motivation; sex/gender; perception of professional role and responsibility; professional goals and interests.

2. Pupil variables: The variables of concern are sex/gender; age; interest, attitudes, science needs; developing abilities/capacities; perception of science, level of aspiration for science; learning style; language skill and science learning; reading skills and science learning; geographical location (urban, rural, low land, foot hill, senqu valley, and mountains); religious background; socio-economic status; innate perceptual abilities (visual/auditory, olfactile, etc); physical characteristics (psychomotor, orthopaedic disabilities, non-disabilities); medium preference/appropriateness.

3. Task variables: The subject matter variables include their nature; interestingness, difficulty; dimensions of content-product/process orientation; organising centres (concepts, themes, etc); dimensions of organisation, etc.

4. Environmental variables: These variables are sociological and economic factors (admission policy/regulation vis-a-vis science teaching, regulating behaviour on the job, science teaching and social status, occupational mobility, economic factors, societal needs, values, demands and priorities); support systems (allocation of facilities, equipment and materials, management factors, etc).

Thus, the input components embrace the presage (teacher and pupil characteristics), the subject matter and contextual (environmental) variables.

Process factors

Teacher-based (Face-to-face) science instruction:

1. Method variables: The functional aspect involves organisation of the instructional experiences; verbal interactions; language games; logical and cognitive process; and questioning techniques.

2. Structural aspects: These relate to composition; spatial locations, pattern of address among actors/participants in the classroom; non-verbal transactions and communications.

3. Classroom climate: This is about management, and control classroom activities and their implications for a theory of science of instruction.

 Media-based science instruction:

1. Variety of textual materials: They include conventional and programmed texts of various kinds.

2. Non-textual materials: These will include media of information and communication technology - e.g. microcomputers in science teaching.

3. Internal organisation: This is about design, development and use of textual materials and other courseware that reflect various instructional strategies.

The instructional process is the sum total of a number of interactions that take place between the various participants in the instructional setting: between teacher(s) and pupil(s) (T-P), pupil and pupil (P-P), teacher and instructional media (T-M), and pupil(s) and instructional media (P-M). It seems fair to say that instructional research of all kinds relating to classroom behaviours is directed at studying one or more of these interactions.

Output factors

1. Cognitive outcomes: Here we are concerned with the cognitive and mastery levels of learner achievement; enquiry skills - ability to observe objectively, devise methods of solving problems or testing ideas, recognise variables and make their tests "fair", select and use appropriate measuring instruments, select or devise appropriate ways of recording observations and results, and draw valid conclusions from available evidence, etc.

2. Psychomotor outcomes: These are basically manipulative and perceptual skills, which involve the use of the process skills, acquired by the learner.

3. Affective outcomes: We might call these professional and social skills - values,attitudes, appreciations, interests, and beliefs acquired by the learner.

The point is that educational effects are multi-dimensional in nature and the achievement of some of them may be beyond measurement, and perhaps even beyond observation. Besides, there are positive and negative effects, direct and indirect effects, anticipated and un-anticipated effects, short-term and long-term effects. On the whole, however, quality in education is about effectiveness and efficiency of teaching and learning. Briefly, it is suggested that a qualitative educational outcome will include (1) the highest possible level of mastery of concepts and skills; (2) the greatest personal development; (3) the best preparation for life; and (4) the most satisfactory adjustment to social and cultural conditions.

Science Education Research for Qualitative Outcome

To the question what kind of science education research can promote quality of life, I propose that the research must cover the following areas:

1. Nature of Science Teaching

This involves theoretical and empirical study of:

1.1 Functional variables - organisation of instructional experiences, verbal interactions and science classroom language games, logic and cognitive dimensions of interactions.

1.2 Structural variables - composition, spatial locations, problems of address among actors/participants in the science classroom, non-verbal interactions and communications.

1.3 Classroom climate, management, and control and its implications for a theory of instruction.

1.4 Models of teaching and pupil achievement.

And so on.

 2. Nature of Science Learning

This involves theoretical and empirical study of:

2.1 Concept formation in science learning.

2.2 Principal phases in learning and the placement of curricular content in terms of the learner.

2.3 Hierarchies in pupil science learning.

2.4 Language, teaching, and science learning.

2.5 Pupil learning styles and effects on science learning achievement.

2.6 Intellectual differences and science learning abilities.

2.7 Interests and attitudes and science learning.

And so on.

3. Evaluation and Testing in Science Instruction

This involves theoretical and empirical study of:

3.1 Assessment dimensions of curriculum and instruction in school science.

3.2 Development of meaningful evaluation instruments and their application to science curriculum problems.

3.3 Assessment of achievements and aptitudes in school science.

And so on.

4. The Science Teacher

This involves theoretical and empirical study of:

4.1 Science teacher education and training curricula - preservice and inservice.

4.2 Competence-based science teacher education - analysis of desirable competencies at various levels of teacher education.

4.3 Professional responsibility, morale and effect on science teacher effectiveness and efficiency.

4.4 Descriptive and demographic data on science teachers.

And so on.

5. Nature of Educational Institutions

This involves theoretical and empirical study of:

5.1 Socio-economic context of science education and implications for human resources development and utilisation.

5.2 Impact of the socio-political environment on science education.

5.3 Descriptive and demographic factors and science learning.

5.4 Public support and understanding of science education.

5.5 Impact of science education on cultural and cosmological beliefs, values, lives, and lifestyles of people.

And so on.

6. Instructional Product Development and Research

This involves theoretical and empirical study of:

6.1 The logistics of producing quality science instructional materials for school use.

6.2 Identifications, measuring, and packaging of costs and benefits of different kinds of science instructional products.

6.3 The effects of interaction of science instructional materials with different types of pupils, teachers, organisational settings, and instructional climate.

6.4 New ways of using the environment as a science curriculum resource.

And so on.

7. Issues and Problems in Curriculum and Instruction

This involves theoretical and empirical study of:

7.1 Organisational dimensions of curriculum and instruction - relative values of various ways of organising curriculum programmes.

7.2 Content and process in science curriculum and instruction.

7.3 Promotion and the management of science educational innovation.

And so on.

The State of the Art

As already hinted, whatever their commitments, orientations, or perspectives, virtually all researchers and theorists on instruction are agreed that the ultimate goal of instructional research is to find way(s) of using antecedents (input variables) and transactional conditions (instructional process) to optimise outcomes. The point really is that a theory of instruction, to parody Gage (1963), should tell us how the learner and the instructional agent behave the way they do, and with what effects. The question is: How far have we gone, or where are we, down this road? In an attempt to answer this question here, I shall merely do a brief and quick run down of the types of researches that have been carried out in this connection, especially in the commonwealth countries.

In a recent review of educational researches that have been carried out in Africa, Naidoo (1995) identified the following as the areas covered in four numbers of the Journal of Science Teachers' Association of Nigeria between 1991 and 1993: Rural schools (1); improvisation (1); language of instruction (1); curriculum materials (1); student success (1); management and personnel of science education (1); attitudes of learners to science (2); teacher education (3); cognition and student learning (8); and assessment of learning outcomes (17).

Researches on the nature of science teaching and learning that relate to the functional approach - teacher intervention strategies and instructional systems that describe conditions of learning, like process skills, problem solving, etc include the Children's Learning in Science (CLIS) (Driver et al, 1985; Osborne et al, 1985) (CLIS, incidentally, is related to the constructivist view of science teaching.), Science Processes And Concept Exploration (SPACE) projects in the United Kingdom. In Africa, I believe that Putsoa (c.1990), for example, carried out a study on the use of processes by Swaziland students. Some studies relate to the cognitive/conceptual approach - concern with information processing (concept formation) abilities of our students and the role of language (semantics) in science education in Africa. Examples here include students' concept formation of biological concepts (Okeke, 1980; Dlamini, c.1990); misconceptions in physics (Ivowi, 1984 & 1986; Talukdar, 1997) and related to problem of misconceptions are those of learning difficulties which have been of interest in this sub-region (Thijs, 1988); concept mapping (Okebukola, 1992). The language ones include concept formation in a second language - e.g. a Ghanaian language (Collison, 1974), North Sotho (Rutherford & Nkopodi, 1990), Sesotho (Maruping,1997); and mother tongue, intellectual environment, and conceptual change (Rollnick, 1988).

Other related researches that looked at intellectual development include: Concrete/formal operations - placement of tasks and levels of cognition (Ehindoro, 1980a), language of instruction, levels of cognitive development, and achievement in science (Ehindoro, 1980b), developmental analysis (Ehindoro, 1982a), ecocultural factors and cognition (Ehindoro, 1982b), gender differences and cognition (Ehindoro, 1982c); enhancing intellectual development and Piagetian instruction (Shayer, 1996; Adey, 1997).This last study is known as the Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education (CASE) project.

The findings of these researches provide us with baseline data about the African students, for example the developmental analysis revealed that there is a developmental lag of about two years among Nigerian children which is useful information for the design of curriculum and instruction for these children. On the other hand, the findings of CASE showed that students taught by this approach became better thinkers, more effective learners, and higher achievers years after original intervention than children not so taught.

With respect to evaluation and testing, studies carried out on assessment dimensions of science curriculum and instruction have identified more appropriate science learning outcomes - variables to be evaluated, criterion measures/criteria of acceptable level of performance, and monitoring systems to use - evaluation for quality control and certification. Concurrently, appropriate instruments have been developed for assessment of science achievement. Notable studies in this area include Assessment of Performance Unit (APU), Graded Assessment in Science Project (GASP) (SEN 65:1); Cheshire Achievement of Scientific Skills in Schools (CHASSIS) (SEN 73:1), and Techniques for Assessment of Practical Skills in Science (TAPS) (SEN 77:5).Although Naidoo (1995) found that the majority of studies in science education were in this area, they have not been, in my judgment, that innovative. Now, studies in programme evaluation have provided baseline data and assessment of effectiveness of curricular efforts and/or instructional systems. This way, we have acquired useful information on science education, scientific literacy, problem solving skills, knowledge of scientific values, interests in science education, etc. The APU developed instruments for monitoring achievement in areas of science, technology, and mathematics (STM). There are attempts at setting up similar national assessment units in some African countries. Here, we must note the studies of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA).Recently, there was an attempt at doing similar thing for technology education by Pupil Attitude To Technology (PATT) project. PATT studies have not, as yet, reached the IEA stage, nor is it clear it wants to do so.

In the southern African sub-region, we can say that some work has been done on curricula for science teacher education and training both preservice and inservice as well as on the demography of the teachers as shown, for example, by the proceedings of the Namibia conference (Stoll & de Feiter, 1995). In West Africa, there have been studies on the professional goals and interests of science teachers. One interesting study on the professional responsibility and its effects on science teachers was carried out by Jegede and Okebukola (1992). The point is that we must find ways of attracting able personnel (teacher educators and student teachers) into teacher education and keep them in the profession. The critical teacher variables that affect teacher efficiency/effectiveness are qualifications (technical competence); motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic), voluntary efforts and professional commitment, needs for achievement, recognition, job satisfaction, responsibility and advancement (personal competence).More importantly, while technical competence is easily within the competency of teacher education, personal competence is largely a function of the environmental variables. All this is also about the quality of life of the science teacher.

This brings us to the nature of educational institutions - the social context and impact of science education. Studies here include those of Kent and Towse (1986), Ogunniyi (1988), Ogunniyi and Yandila (1994), and Spencer (1993). In 1983, there was an international symposium at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (Nigeria) on the cultural implications of science which tried to define, analyse, and identify appropriate methodology to use in this area. Recently, there was a regional conference on public understanding of science and technology at the University of Western Cape. Students’ perception of science and scientists and the perceived social significance of science are factors which are associated with and affect their attitude to science. In a report by the Royal Society of London, there was a recommendation for research into ways of finding out what understanding of science the public has. It also noted that salaries of science teachers were low in comparison to scientists working in other areas and recommended in their salaries (SEN 65:17).

In a study that was carried out about six years later, it was found that students still saw scientific careers generally as low paid and without status. Both students and the media blamed scientists for environmental disasters (SEN 95:9). It is in these circumstances that there is a world-wide interest in creating a scientifically literate society everywhere. One of such projects is the Unesco sponsored PROJECT 2000+ designed to study (1) the nature of, and the need for, scientific and technological literacy (STL); (2) STL for development; (3) the teaching and learning environment for STL; (4) teacher education and leadership for STL; (5) assessment and evaluation for STL: and (6) non-formal and informal development for STL (INISTE, 1994). Every nation of the world is invited to take part in this project.

Since the days of the African Primary Science Programme, there have been very little or no initiatives of the innovative kind, to my knowledge, in the area of instructional product development and research within and among the nations of sub-saharan Africa until the Harare Generator (Whittle et al , 1993). In any event, it would appear that textual materials are more readily produced in many countries of Africa than the non-textual ones. Indeed, the textbook generally determines the content and method of instruction in many places. Specifically, science teaching and learning have been tied to students’ textbooks. Therefore, in the attempt to discover ways of producing quality textual materials, there have been studies, for example, on readability indices and topic difficulties of science textual materials (e.g. Yoloye, 1975; Nomvete, 1979). I am not aware of any such studies in the southern African sub-region.

Studies in the area of issues in curriculum and instruction include the effects of predominant use of African languages on learning e.g. Ife Six Year Project which showed that some Nigerian children learned science more meaningfully and productively in Yoruba ( a major Nigerian language) than their peers taught in English. Another interesting topic in this area is that of equity and quality with respect to access of especially those that are dis-advantaged either by gender (Duncan, 1989; Erinosho, 1994), geographical location, socio-economic or physical circumstances (e.g. Balogun, 1981) to science education, and how this limitation/shortcoming can be overcome to the benefit of everybody.

 Conclusion

In this paper, we have sought to show that some science education research can ultimately lead to improvement in the quality of life of the learner. With respect to the orientations of the researches, they can be basic, applied, and developmental, providing "conclusion oriented" and "decision oriented" findings. However, the primary focus of all of them, is that they are about how to continually improve the quality of action (performance) and achievement in science education. In this regard, they will also address quantitative, qualitative, and equity issues in science education. The underlying assumption here is that changes in the effectiveness of instruction will, more often than not, follow upon the implementation of these findings. And this assumption has been based on the implementation of the findings of previous studies in these areas.

At this juncture, we touch on some of the issues involved in this matter. One of these is the fact that to assign "quality" to anything is to make a value judgement; and we should allow for some degree of relativity here. Furthermore, in education, additional issues include difficulties in (1) determining unambiguously product specifications (e.g. "competency" versus "humanism" debate - as if the two are necessarily in conflict with each other); (2) determining a range of acceptable expectations and/or criteria (cost effectiveness, efficiency comparison, etc) and effects; (3) linking changes in learning or behaviour to instructional strategies or programmes (problem of accountability). Consequently, there are "objectivist" and "subjectivist" views on the quality of education. Indeed, education has been defined as a field in which objective data are frequently lost in subjective debate. Nonetheless, we think that the position taken in this paper is a reasonable and tenable one.

One other objective of this paper has been to provide a conceptual framework for the selection of topic or problem for more purposive science education research, especially by our postgraduate students. It would be gratifying to us, if indeed it does do this, perhaps along with other things.

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Talukdar, A.H.U. (1995):Pupils' Opinions about Factors that Affect Teaching and Learning of Junior Science in Lesotho. School Science Review. Vol 77, No. 279, 107-111.

Talukdar, A.H.U. (1997): Students’ Misconception in Ohm’s Law: A Preliminary Investigation of the Pre-entry and the Agriculture Education Students of the National University of Lesotho. Paper presented at the Seventh BOLESWA Symposium, University of Swaziland, Kwaluseni (July 28-August 1).

Thijs, G.D. et al (eds) (1988): Learning Difficulties and Teaching Strategies in Secondary School Science and Mathematics. Proceedings of Regional Conference, Gabarone, Botswana (December 8-11).Free University Press, Amsterdam.

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Whittle, P. et al (eds) (1993): Innovative Ideas & Techniques for Science Educators in Africa, The Harare Generator, The International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU).

 

        

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