Science teacher preparation: an assessment of the opportunities to learn and their effects on pre-service teachers’ competence
Letloenyane, David Maleho
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Teacher education institutions are important because they are tasked with preparing teachers who will in turn prepare future professionals. Although these institutions have been preparing teachers for decades, the manner in which teacher education contributes to teacher competence is not thoroughly captured in the literature. Studies have been conducted in initial teacher education to link teacher education and teacher competence, but few scholars attempt to study the effects of teacher training holistically. The current study therefore investigated the relationships between opportunities to learn (OTL) that pre-service teachers (PST’s) are afforded in their teacher education programmes and aspects of PST’s competence. Specifically, this study sought to determine OTL that are predictors of multiple pre-service physical science teachers’ knowledge and belief bundles. The assumption is that these OTL may form the basis of effective science teacher preparation programmes and therefore, lead to competent novice physical science teachers. This quantitative study used a questionnaire which consisted of knowledge, beliefs and OTL sections to collect data from 112 final year pre-service science teachers from four universities in South Africa. The knowledge section of the questionnaire included content (CK) and pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Pre-service science teachers’ belief bundles were divided into five categories which were beliefs about (i) the nature of science (BLF1), (ii) learning science (BLF2), (iii) science achievement (BLF3), (iv) preparedness for teaching physical science (BLF4) and (v) programme effectiveness (BLF5). OTL that were considered included OTL tertiary-level physics and chemistry (OTL1), OTL school-level physical science (OTL2), OTL science education/pedagogy (OTL6), OTL through reflection (OTL9), OTL through teaching practice (OTL11, OTL12 and OTL14) and OTL in a coherent programme (OTL15). The self-administered questionnaire was validated using various methods including Cronbach alpha’s (α > 0.66) and the knowledge section was validated using Rasch analysis (reliability indices > 0.66). ANOVA tests, correlations and stepwise regression analysis were used to determine relationships between OTL and pre-service science teachers’ knowledge and beliefs. The findings suggest that there are significant differences in the knowledge, belief bundles and OTL mean scores of the four universities (p < 0.05). Analysis of the data suggests that the universities mean scores on beliefs and knowledge increase with increasing OTL scores although this link is not clear in some cases. Additionally, the mean scores of two universities lend empirical support to the notion that beliefs act as a filter when PST’s acquire and construct their knowledge. OTL that address similarities between the methodologies and strategies used by PSTs at schools and the knowledge they are exposed to at the university are predictors of knowledge (CK: β = 0.497, p = 0.00) and beliefs variables (BLF1: β = 0.319, p = 0.000; BLF2: β = 0.265, p = 0.013; BLF3: β = 0.184, p = 0.049). Similarly, OTL that address similarities between the methodologies used by mentor teachers at school and the knowledge that PSTs are exposed to at the university show some effects with multiple knowledge (PCK: β = 0.230, p = 0.005) and beliefs variables (BLF1: β = 0.432, p = 0.000; BLF2: β = 0.176, p = 0.099; BLF3: β = 0.319, p = 0.001). OTL that address links between courses offered to PSTs including sequencing of and links between courses offered in teacher education programmes also explain the variance observed in the mean scores of knowledge (CK: β = -0.264, p = 0.001) and beliefs variables (BLF3: β = -0.214, p = 0.004; BLF4: β1 = 0. 313, p = 0.000; BLF5: β2 = 0.199, p = 0.005). OTL tertiary level physics and chemistry is also a predictor of multiple knowledge (CK: β = 0.321, p = 0.001; PCK: β = 0.219, p = 0.023), and beliefs variables (BLF1: β = 0.192, p = 0.001; BLF2: β = 0.269, p = 0.000; BLF3; β = 0.159, p = 0.019; BLF4: β = 0.118, p = 0.030). The findings recommend that teacher education programmes could be based on the principle of coherence because of the possible positive effects on aspects of PSTs competence. The study therefore proposes that the design of teacher education programmes could be based on the OTL mentioned and they could also be emphasised in already existing teacher education programmes.
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