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Problems of Learning Chemistry in Secondary Schools

Problems of Learning Chemistry in Secondary Schools in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State

Abstract

This study investigated the problems of learning chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki local government area of Ebonyi State. The study adopted a descriptive  survery design. Structured questionnaire was administered to one hundred (100) respondents, from five (5) secondary schools in Abakaliki Local Government Area which were selected by simple random sampling technique. Five research questions and two null hypotheses were formulated to guide the study. The instrument used in collecting data was a

structured questionnaire. Mean and standard deviation were used to answer the research questions while t-test was used to test the hypotheses. The findings showed that the use of unqualified chemistry teacher, lack of science equipment, lack of interest by the student, heavy curriculum in chemistry, lack of teacher motivation posed problems to learning chemistry in secondary schools. Educational implications, recommendations were made.  

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Background to the Study

At the beginning of any course, students start their study with a set of beliefs about the nature of learning and what they intend to achieve (Biggs and Moore, 1993). There beliefs are derived from earlier school and learning experiences as well as their current goals and motives.

An understanding of how students learn can help teachers to device effective strategies for teaching that require that research into the learning process is made accessible (Clow, 1998). To facilitate the development of students’ view of knowledge, students need to be supported at the appropriate level so that a student, who strongly believes possible interpretation may not be confused and rather be helped.

Learning is one of the most important human characteristics. Children too acquire though learning some vocabulary as they grew, signifying that learning takes place from birth. Learning has been defined by many educationists and psychologists alike in various ways. A few example will suffice. Hilgard (1956:3), defined it as “the process by which an activity originates or is changed through reacting to an encountered situation, provided that the characteristics of the change in activity cannot be explained on the basis of nature response tendencies, maturation, a temporary states of the organism”. Kimble cited by Hergenbann and Olson (1997) also described learning as a relatively permanent change in behavioural potentiality that results from experience and cannot be attributes to temporary body states such as those induces by illness, fatigue or drugs (De Cecco 1968:431) seems to agree with both Hilgard and Kimble when he defined learning as “a relatively permanent change in behavioural tendency which results from reinforced practice”. Similarly, Marx cited by Chawhan (1996:117) defined learning as “a relatively enduring charge in behaviour which is a function of prior behaviour”.

From the above definitions, it is clear that learning has to do with a relatively permanent change in behaviour and although this change will not last forever but it will last for some time in the learner or learners involved. And these change are not attributes to maturation, growth, development, senescence (aging), drugs and inspiration. This implies that any acquired behavioural pattern that is not relatively permanent cannot be described as learning, in addition according to Pann (1987), the word behaviour is broadly used to include all the types of human activities, both observable and non-observable in the lives of learners.

Secondly, the change in behaviour occurs as a result of experience or practice. Experience here refers to any activity that results to change in behaviour. It could be reading, observations, repetitions, study or involvement in any other activity for the acquisition of skills, knowledge or the development of our effective abilities.

Therefore, learning is a relatively permanent change in the behaviour of a person or group of people “ascribable to a conscious interaction between the teacher and the learner or between the teacher and the learner or between the learners and learning experiences intended” (Gilbert, 2005:120). Interactions here imply both verbal and non-verbal communication learning involves training and constant practice, which leads to reinforcement. Thus, a good learner believes in rehearsals and practice, as this reinforces learning. In addition, learning is some change of enduring nature, which is expressed in terms of knowledge, skills and attributes. It is quite different from the kind of change that is attributable to nature. Rather, it is gradual and progressive, and leads to the acquisition of new knowledge, skills and attributes. And the learner is also expected to be actively involved in his/her attempt to learn.

Novel (1979) defined learning as the process by which an activity originates or is changed though responding to a situation provided the changes are permanent and are not attribute to growth or to contemporary state of the organism.           Igwe(2002) defines learning as a mental phenomenon which takes place when a person spontaneously acquires some general methodology, matches of will a motive and a learning task to produce a desired outcome. Learning therefore produce a permanent change in the behaviour of the learner which persists over a period of time. The hallmark of learning is achievement though practice and observation.

The defining characteristics of learning are therefore:

  1. Learning leads to a change in behaviour
  2. Learning comes by practice
  3. Learning is relatively permanent
  4. Learning is not directly observable, but can be inferred from performance.

Chemistry is one of the most important branches of science, it enables learners to understand what happened around them. Because chemistry topics are generally related to or based on the structure of matter, chemistry proves a difficult subject for many students. Chemistry curricula commonly incorporate many abstract concepts, which are central to further learning in both chemistry and other sciences (Taber 2002). These abstract concepts are important because further chemistry science concepts or theories cannot be easily understood if these underpinning concepts are not sufficiently grasped by the students (Nicoll, 2001). The abstract nature of chemistry along with other content learning difficulties (e.g the mathematical nature of much chemistry) means that chemistry classes require a high-level skill set (Tabar, 2002).

In his early study, Johnstone (1974) reported that the problem in the subject form the student’s point of view, which persisted well into university education, the most difficult topics being the mole, chemical formulae and equations and in organic chemistry, condensations and hydrolysis.

Chemistry by its very nature is highly conceptual. While much can be acquired by vote learning (this often being reflected by efficient recall in examination question), real understanding demands the bringing together of conceptual understanding in meaningful way this, while students show some evidence of misconceptions, rote learning and of certain areas of basic chemistry which are still not understood even at degree level (Johnstone 1988, Bodner 1991). What is taught is not always what is learned.

Some definite demands on the teaching and learning of science were made by Science Teacher Association of Nigeria (STAN). This means that there are some demands made of the teacher if he or she is to teach his or her course effectively. So also are some demands made of the students if they are to benefit maximally from the programme. Some of these demands, according to Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN) are as follows: Demand of the teacher are the quality of the teacher-skills and successfulness, teacher seeking new information on new teaching techniques, regular in service training, regular or frequent evaluations of the students, re-thinking of the teacher approach in the class to assess the class and be able to modify his teaching method if such an approach is not working adequately and how well equipped the laboratories are.

Demands made of the students are wrapped round aim and objective of the STAN. Some of these demands are: students should be able to recall, should be able to relate their experience to other subjects, should be able to communicate effectively, should be able to apply their knowledge to new situation and be active involvement in the learning of science.

The above listed demands constitute themselves into a number of definite problem in the classroom. Generally, the education of a nation is evaluated in part by the quality of it teachers. The quality of teachers itself depend largely on the kind of training they received both at the academic and professional levels. For these reasons, teachers of chemistry need good training to enable them meet a better requirement and enough academic information in a variety of the basic chemistry subject as said by (Bajah, 1982).

Ayodele (1999) stated that the problems of learning chemistry are inadequacy of textbooks, lack of learners’ interest, unqualified chemistry teachers and psychological fears of chemistry subject/equipments; textbooks are not adequately available. The ones that are available are written by foreigners with their language and cultural background, making it difficult for indigenous teachers to use. Teachers try to complement by writing textbooks of which most of their work lack standard, probably because they are hurriedly written just to bridge gaps without adequate research.

Most of laboratory are not will equipped, schools rely more on important laboratory equipped and operates and grants are never enough. Large class size in chemistry subject teaching and lack of incentives for teachers one teacher to 25 students are the recommended skill remains a dream in schools classes are over populated to the tune of 50 and above.

Inadequate chemistry teachers, approach to chemistry teaching, chemistry as an abstract course has made chemistry learning to be understood through practice. Some teachers do not put effort in improvisation of teaching aids and most importantly students attitude are negative to chemistry learning. Some students’ have made up their mind that they are not going to study chemistry therefore will not waste time on chemistry subject. Poor primary school background in science subjects is a problem of learning chemistry in secondary schools.

With these problems in mind the researcher decided to investigate empirically, the problems of chemistry learning in secondary schools in Abakaliki Local Government Area, Ebonyi State.

Statement of the Problem

Chemistry is one of the most important branches of science, it enables learners to understand what happened around them. Because chemistry topics are generally related to or based on the structure of matter; our world is made of matter. We study chemistry to acquire knowledge about matter, we perform experiments and learn to observe, record and make intelligent inferences studying chemistry gives us training in the scientific method. This knowledge and training will help us to become scientists in the field of chemistry such scientists are known as chemists. How have chemists helps to improve our life?

As a result of poor teaching method, poorly equipped to science laboratories over dependence on print materials, student performed poorly in science subject such as chemistry in Abakaliki Local Government Area.

Despite all the efforts made by the government to promote science/chemistry education in Abakaliki Local Government Area are coupled with several research works that has been carried out, the problems of learning of chemistry are still persisting. The problems are according to Bajah (1982) between 1959 and 1982 are lack of laboratory, lack of qualified chemistry teachers, and institutional objectives in chemistry teaching. The researcher is worried about all these. Hence, the problem of this study in a question form is ‘what are the problems of learning chemistry in Abakaliki Local Government Area, Ebonyi State.

Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of the study was to investigate the problem of learning chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.

Specifically, the study tended to investigate if:

  1. Use of unqualified chemistry teacher posses problem to the learning of chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
  2. Lack of science equipment posses problem to the learning of chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
  3. Lack of interest by the student posses problems to the learning of chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
  4. Heavy curriculum in chemistry posses problems to the learning of chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
  5. Lack of teacher motivation posses problems to the learning of chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.

Significance of the Study

The interest of this study will be beneficial to the students, teachers, curriculum planners, school administration and parents and future researches in the following ways.

The results of the study on problem of learning chemistry in secondary school would enable student to acquired and developed conceptual and theoretical knowledge in chemistry, developed an understanding of the nature of and methods of chemistry and awareness of the complex interactions between chemistry and society. The student can re-learn any portion of the subject matter as it is necessary for local mastery, guiding him by the type of choice, the result would help students individually or collectively on different chemistry concepts delivered by chemistry expects from different parts of the worlds using varied pedagogical approaches and resources. The result of the study would help the teacher to engaged in and developing expectise in scientific inquiry by using the methods and procedures of chemistry/science to investigate phenomena and solve problems help the teacher to improve through the use of appropriate thinking strategies through innovation intervention. The teachers also gains knowledge for course delivery in their various specifications for best results. The result of the study would help the school administration to collect data about a given situation in order to evaluate, synthesize and re-formulate them into a more meaningful manner before being presented to the school. The result would enable them to keep firm control of their work paying to a premium in term of time. It also enable them to expand their effort by redeeming the time spent on other chores and by shortening significantly these by making the expert available to a greater number. The results of the study would help curriculum planners to serves as a tool for thick operational decision making for curriculum changes, thus, enabling them to research to the solution of the student’s problem more quickly and more accurately than when brain is unaided. The results are also intended to provide enough information which would help curriculum planners to review the secondary school chemistry curriculum in order to make its learning more effective and efficient. The result will also help the curriculum planners to plan curriculum according to the students’ interest and to determine the point of the curriculum that the student find difficult and re-abject the part to suit student’s interest. The results will help the future researcher to know how to developed their research topic and derive topic from the result.

Finally, this result will also bring the parents challenged they could face as in for the idea of fighting examination malpractices.

Scope of the Study

This study is delimited to the problems of learning chemistry in secondary schools in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. The study made use of SS II students.

Research Questions

The following research question guided this study.

  1. How does the use of unqualified chemistry teachers pose problem to the learning of chemistry?
  2. How does lack of science equipment posses problem to the learning of chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State?
  3. How does lack of interest posses problem to the learning of chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State?
  4. How does heavy curriculum posses problem to the learning of chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State?
  5. How does lack of teacher motivation affect the learning of chemistry in secondary school in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State?

Hypotheses

The following hypotheses were tested at 0.05 alpha level.

HO1There is no significant difference in the mean responses of male and female students on the problem of learning chemistry in secondary school.

HO2:    There is no significant difference in the mean responses of urban and rural student in the problems of learning chemistry in secondary school.

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