Zambian Grade twelve pupils' experience s of biology practical work during school certificate examinations : the case of Kabwe High School
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This thesis discusses first hand experiences grade twelve pupils at Kabwe High School, in Zambia, had in ordinary level school certificate biology practical examination for the year 2005.The reported research utilized qualitative case study methodology. Data was collected through; I) clinical interviews, I) participant observation, iii) focus group discussions and iv) written narratives that formed a major source of data. Central to narrative inquiry are stories that inform and draw us into understanding the experiences of learners so that we, as science educators, can inform and transform our practice. As a high school science teacher, I decided to listen to my students as a way to better understand the multidimensional nature of the BPE and learners' success or failure. In seeking to understand the general reality of sitting Biology practical examinations (BPE), the following questions guided the research: What was the nature of pupils' experiences of biology practical work during School Certificate Examination (SCE)? Secondly, what factors contributed to the type of experiences manifested? Did both boys and girls encounter similar (or different) experiences during BPE? And lastly, what were the implications of these experiences on academic performance in the practical paper? Five pupil- respondents' written narratives (which were not tampered with when typing) have been presented in the report. Furthermore, a substantial number of excerpts from narratives were used in the analysis of data with a view of preserving the voices of the respondents. The study revealed, to an extent I hadn't realized before, the depth of pupils' lack of conceptual development about BPW, the damaging effect of concentrating studies on a perceived leaked paper, the lack of confidence and autonomy in pupils' problem solving, the debiliting effects of limited facilities and the more often than rare teacher ethical transgressions. Broadly then, the results of the study showed that the main experiences Grade 12 pupils had in sitting BPE could be classified into i) content, ii) conceptual, iii) process skills, iv) psycho-physiological and v) contextual embedded related experiences. The various constraints learners experienced during BPE at Kabwe High School were caused by a 'faulty' teaching-learning period and the highly unsupportive examination situation. Learners lacked practical exercises and therefore they found practical work, during the examination, new. In some cases the stage at which biology practical exercises were introduced was late and so the various skills necessary to tackle practical work remained undeveloped. In the examination room, limited facilities and unprofessional conduct of invigilators compounded the problem further. The conduct of invigilators often led pupils, especially the less confident ones, to lose concentration. Inadequate provision and hence the improvisations of materials sometimes led to overcrowding and wrongful observation on the side of pupils. Clarity of examination items and unfamiliar biological terms threw up additional barriers for pupils. Furthermore the study has established that girls, in general, were far more disadvantaged than boys in as far as the examination-situation was concerned. The respondents felt that various issues, especially those often taken for granted, caused numerous obstacles to quality academic performance in the BPE. It also came out clearly that some of the respondents took advantage of the examination situation to raise their scores. These results, if robust, suggest that at the time of the study in the year 2005 respondents' true levels of attainment in the practical component of biology were highly distorted. Arising from the findings of this research I wish to argue and put a thesis that the many barriers pupils met are a clear indication that the biology practical examining system in its present form, at Kabwe High School and probably in other school where the recorded experiences are commonplace, requires considerable improvements. The examining system has remained rigid despite many variables that have changed over time. For instance, at Kabwe High school, the number of candidates has risen from about 165 in 1995 (before it was converted into a high school and the intake at Academic Production Unit were still minimal) to 534 in 2005. The change in numbers, which has not been followed by appropriate 'reforms' in the examination system, has impacted negatively on the examination-taking situation. Improvements in the examination system are long over due. Should this area of the education system remain unattended to, then, efforts being made in other areas such as the teaching-learning process will go to waste. The failure rate will continue to rise year in, year out. In many matters there comes a point in time when it is obvious that some action will have to be taken. I think that we may have reached this position with pupil achievement in school biology. A lot of recommendations and implications could be drawn but it is, perhaps, more useful to merge those into a single idea- to get the teaching-learning objectives, the processes and assessment system right and then the academic performance in BPE (and school biology as a whole) at SCE will take care of itself.