South African teachers' concerns and levels of use of practical work in the physical sciences curriculum and assessment policy statement
Oguoma, Enid Caroline Nalubega
MetadataShow full item record
In many countries across the world, a notable portion of the science curriculum involves learners conducting practical work. The physical sciences Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) of South Africa (2011) advocates for a scientific inquiry approach where hands-on practical activities are used to develop explanations and predictions of events in the environment (Department of Basic Education, [DBE], 2011). CAPS (ibid) further argues that investigative skills in addition to process skills such as classifying, measuring, formulating models, hypothesising, communicating, analysing conclusions and recognising and monitoring variables should be developed in learners. One of the recommended formal assessments for the FET band (grades 10–12) is for learners to have the opportunity to perform one or more practical tasks during the course of each term. The demand to teach practical and inquiry skills would be a tall order for most teachers under any circumstances. The South African context, as a developing country with limited classroom resources, adds a further complicating dimension in relation to the implementation of practical work in the curriculum. Furthermore, the change in the focus of the curriculum, as embodied in CAPS with its emphasis on problem-based practical activities, represents a new challenge for many teachers in South Africa who may be used to a more content and information loaded curriculum. These teachers may also have limited experience with practical work in their own teacher preparation programmes. Many teachers are therefore likely to have various concerns with the new focus on doing increased amounts of practical work in the physical sciences CAPS curriculum, even as they try their best to implement it as required by the authorities. This study used the concerns-based adoption model (CBAM) to uncover and track teachers’ concerns and levels of use of the new practical requirement of the physical sciences CAPS in one district of South Africa, namely the Motheo district in the Free State. The study used a mixed-methods research approach with questionnaires, semi-structured and focus group interviews as well as lesson observations as data sources to understand the concerns that physical sciences teachers have regarding CAPS practical work and the level at which this component is implemented. The findings are reported in two articles that address different research questions. The first article, which is quantitative in nature, explores the concerns that physical sciences teachers in the Motheo district of South Africa have regarding practical work. The findings suggest that teachers’ concerns are inclined towards management issues by focusing on overcoming time constraints and the lengthy curriculum. Furthermore, teachers place low importance on the effects of practical work on learners’ performance, with limited attempts for improvement. Respondents have management concerns that mainly constituted dealing with demanding day-to-day organisational tasks regarding CAPS practical work. Teachers have a desire to collaborate but this is not significantly evident. This suggests that despite the challenges experienced by teachers with practical work, circumstances are minimally improved. The second article is qualitative in nature and examines the extent of implementation of CAPS practical work by physical sciences teachers. The findings uncover the level at which physical sciences teachers implement CAPS practical work according to CBAM. Findings show that teachers operate significantly at the mechanical and routine levels, while the refinement level is at a less significant degree. This revealed that while participants employ teacher-centred methods during practical work, learner engagement is limited. Learners only watch what the teachers do and no active participation was observed. Teachers do not seem to implement CAPS practical work as intended by policymakers. Teachers are faced with a shortage of time and resources. Limited content and pedagogical content knowledge also contribute to nominal implementation of CAPS practical work. Moreover, teachers use traditional teaching strategies when carrying out practical work. This leaves them with little room for innovation with the objective of engaging learners. With the application of triangulation, the results of this investigation show that teachers’ concerns affect the implementation of CAPS practical work. It was important to triangulate the research instruments and data to ensure validity and reliability as well as compare and verify the data. The study recommends that physical sciences teachers need to collaborate more with one another. The results presented here may facilitate improvements in the professional development of physical sciences teachers concerning experimental work. Recommendations include effective teacher collaboration, introduction of laboratory assistants, appropriate professional development and quality planning. An implication for education managers is the need for active monitoring, evaluation and support of practical work.