Fiji pre-service primary teachers' understanding of physical science : a cultural perspective

Taylor, Neil, (1997) Fiji pre-service primary teachers' understanding of physical science : a cultural perspective. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Science and technology are promoted as major contributors to national development. Consequently, improved science education has been placed high on the agenda of tasks to be tackled in many developing countries, although progress has often been limited. In fact there have been claims that the enormous investment in teaching science in developing countries has basically failed, with many reports of how efforts to teach science in developing countries often result in rote learning of strange concepts, mere copying of factual information, and a general lack of understanding on the part of local students. These generalisations can be applied to science education in Fiji. Muralidhar (1989) has described a situation in which upper primary and middle school students in Fiji were given little opportunity to engage in practical work; an extremely didactic form of teacher exposition was the predominant method of instruction during science lessons. He concluded that amongst other things, teachers' limited understanding, particularly of aspects of physical science, resulted in their rigid adherence to the text book or the omission of certain activities or topics.

Although many of the problems associated with science education in developing countries have been documented, few attempts have been made to understand how non-Western students might better learn science. This study addresses the issue of Fiji pre-service primary teachers' understanding of a key aspect of physical science, namely, matter and how it changes, and their responses to learning experiences based on a constructivist epistemology.

Initial interviews were used to probe pre-service primary teachers' understanding of this domain of science. The data were analysed to identify students' alternative and scientific conceptions. These conceptions were then used to construct Concept Profile Inventories (CPI) which allowed for qualitative comparison of the concepts of the two ethnic groups who took part in the study. This phase of the study also provided some insight into the interaction of scientific information and traditional beliefs in non-Western societies.

A quantitative comparison of the groups' conceptions was conducted using a Science Concept Survey instrument developed from the CPis. These data provided considerable insight into the aspects of matter where the pre-service teachers' understanding was particularly weak.

On the basis of these preliminary findings, a six-week teaching program aimed at improving the students' understanding of matter was implemented in an experimental design with a group of students. The intervention involved elements of pedagogy such as the use of analogies and concept maps which were novel to most of those who took part. At the conclusion of the teaching programme, the learning outcomes of the experimental group were compared with those of a control group taught in a more traditional manner. These outcomes were assessed quantitatively by means of pre- and post-tests and a delayed post-test, and qualitatively using an interview protocol. The students' views on the various teaching strategies used with the experimental group were also sought.

The findings indicate that in the domain of matter little variation exists in the alternative conceptions held by Fijian and Indian students suggesting that cultural influences may be minimal in their construction. Furthermore, the teaching strategies implemented with the experimental group of students, although largely derived from Western research, showed considerable promise in the context of Fiji, where they appeared to be effective in improving the understanding of students from different cultural backgrounds. These outcomes may be of significance to those involved in teacher education and curriculum development in other developing countries.

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ID Code: 36559
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Lucas, Keith & Watters, James J.
Additional Information: Presented to the Centre for Mathematics and Science Education, Queensland University of Technology.
Keywords: Primary teachers Training of Fiji, Physical sciences Study and teaching Fiji, Physical sciences Public opinion Fiji, Fijians Attitudes, Fiji, Indian, Fijian, matter, scientific conceptions, alternative conceptions, understanding, science education, traditional beliefs, pre-service primary teachers, thesis, doctoral
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Neil, Taylor
Deposited On: 22 Sep 2010 13:05
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2016 02:14

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