Background of the Study
The chapter contains information on the background to the study, statement of the problem, the purpose of the study, educational significance of the study, and the research questions addressed by the study. Also presented are the limitations and delimitation of the study. The chapter ends with the presentation of the operational definitions used in the study as well as a description of the organization of the research report.
In all the history of education, science has held its leading position among all school subjects because it is considered as an indispensable tool in the development of the educated person. Educators give special recognition to biology among the sciences because of its educational values, its close relation to man as a living organism, its peculiar field of experimentation and interrelationships with the other sciences (Akinmade, 1987). As a result of this, biology occupies a relatively pivotal position in the natural sciences and it is one of the requirements to professions such as medicine, pharmacy, agriculture, dentistry and many others. It is for this reason that Bibby (1964) advocated for adequate biology education for every child in the contemporary world dominated by science.
The importance accorded science, and for that matter biology, in the school curriculum from the basic level to the senior high level reflects accurately the vital role played by the subject in contemporary society. The importance of the subject is not restricted to the development of the individual alone but for the advancement of the social, economic and political goals of countries all over the world.
In Ghana, biology as a subject is known to have the highest number of student enrolments in recent years in senior high schools. Research findings of Abdullahi (1982) have indicated that student enrolments in biology from 1977 to 1989 have always surpassed the combined enrolment in other science subjects. These high enrolments in biology figures indicate that biology is popular among the other sciences. However, this number does not match the students’ achievement in the subject.
Since the inception of the senior secondary school (SSS) programme as one of Ghana’s educational reforms in 1987. The Chief Examiners’ Reports from the West African Examination Council (WAEC) have consistently indicated poor performance of SHS students in the science (WAEC, 1994; 1995; 1996; 2002; 2003; 2004; 2005). Most students fail or get low quality grades in biology more than in the other science subjects such as physics and chemistry.
The Chief Examiners’ Reports show that more students fail in biology because they do not perform creditably in paper 2, which is a practical paper. The biology paper 2, tests skills in drawing, identification and classification, analysis of some processes and interpretation of biological data. This gives the impression that the students were either not taken through practical work or were not serious with the practical work. Some weaknesses identified by the Chief Examiners over the years (1994-2005) for biology are as follows:
(i) Candidates’ answers show that they had not been taken through adequate practical lessons.
(ii) Students’ answers indicate that they had not done any practical work along the lines of the tested questions.
(iii) Candidates wrote unobservable features. Thus they answered the practical questions from the theory they had learnt.
(iv) The standard of students’ drawings was poor. This indicated they did not practice biological drawing as required by the practical examination.
With these weaknesses in mind, the way the biology practical works are organized is of great interest and is worth investigating. To investigate biological phenomenon effectively it is required that students posses the requisite skills of observation, critical thinking and appreciation, perform experiments competently and record data accurately (Bremner, 1967). Akinmade (1987), reported that on the average 78.8 % of the students that sat the West African Schools Certificate Examinations (WASCE) fail biology and the situation has not improved with time. For this reason, in recent times there has been public outcry on the declining standard of science education, especially in the area of biology.
In modern life, the rule is absolute, that any country that disregards the study of science is doomed to obsolescence (Ogunniyi, 1988). The rise of Japan into the status of an economic giant today (Evans , 1991) as well as the emergence of Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia recently into economic miracles have all been attributed to the heavy investments these countries made in the science education of their citizens ( Ranis ,1990) .
According to Anamuah – Mensah (1989), by having knowledge in science education the economy and social –cultural status of the nation will be transformed. This implies that science education and for that matter biology is important in producing the required human resources needed for harnessing the natural resources of the country.
The current approach to science teaching and learning in most SHSs is most often based on classroom and laboratory work which are intended to meet examination requirements. Unfortunately, the examination- driven mode of biology teaching and learning has limited the biological (science) and technological scope and perspectives of the students. The approach also tends to make the study of biology and for that matter science uninteresting, boring and unenjoyable. Students find it difficult to relate the theoretical knowledge with the practical realities of life and the use of manipulative skills. There is also very little orientation for problem -solving, inculcation of investigative skills and counseling on biology career opportunities. For this reasons, this research is to investigate how practical activities is done in the various schools. Biology is an activity -based subject and as such students must be made to participate fully in the teaching and learning process of the subject, so that they can understand the concepts involved better. One way of causing students to fully participate in activity-based work is through group work during practical lessons.
Practical work is viewed as an essential component of studying the natural sciences. The “hands- on” approach has the potential to stimulate students’ interest in the subject matter, teach laboratory skills, enhance the learning of knowledge, and give insight into scientific attitudes and objectives. Practical work gives students the opportunity to learn and practice all the activities involved in the inquiry processes of science.
Practical classes in animal diversity, ecology and behaviour offer students opportunities to handle preserved specimens of animals and to see the external and internal structures of animals first- hand. The practical exercises allow students to review the lecture content and to fully understand the functions of the various structures. Students are arranged on benches in small groups. This gives them the opportunity to discuss concepts together. The teachers are available to identify structures and to interpret what they see in terms of their functions. All these benefits are lost if biology lessons follow literary approaches. Although there is some concern about the lack of biology practical activities in the senior high schools (Okoampa, 2003), no study has been conducted to investigate the issue in the study area. Hence the need for this study.
Statement of the Problem
In spite of the numerous policy provisions and other efforts by the government of Ghana to lay emphasis on science education as the engine of development to the country, its advancement has not been up to expectation (Anamuah-Mensah,1995). The biology syllabus advocates for the use of practical approach in the teaching and learning of biology but most of the teachers employ the lecture method. This is supported by a study conducted by Serwaa (2007),”the status of science Teaching and Learning at the Upper Primary Levels”. This is probably due to non-availability of biology practical materials/chemicals for the designed activities in the syllabus or teachers own ways of teaching. Refusal to perform activities during teaching and learning of biology will affect the performance of the students negatively.