Background of the study
Students enter the college or university with diverse skills and background knowledge. This diversity causes heterogeneity that poses challenges for college or university education, as differences in background knowledge have been shown to influence the quality of learning and student achievement in a significant manner (Dochy, 2006). Ultimately, the aim of higher education is to promote high-quality learning which can serve as a sound basis for individuals to build on later in life. High-quality learning and the factors contributing to it have been explored from various perspectives and theoretical standpoints over the years.
Background knowledge and its impact on learning and performance has been a focus of several studies in recent years. Interest in the influence of background knowledge is closely related to the constructivist approach to learning, which has become dominant in recent decades. Constructivism sees learning as cognitive activity in which students actively construct knowledge by interpreting new information in the light of their background knowledge and existing beliefs (Vygotsky, 2008). Hence, background knowledge in organic chemistry plays an important role in learning. Indeed, almost all studies on background knowledge conducted during the past decades have undisputedly shown that background knowledge is a significant variable influencing student achievement. As Glaser & De Corte (2004) state: “a key to developing an integrated and generative knowledge base is to build upon the learner’s background knowledge”. Dochy (2006) has stated that individual differences in the background knowledge base are a primary source of differences in student achievement. Therefore, the influence of background knowledge and the methods for assessing it should be a concern for educators promoting high-quality learning. Background knowledge interacts with many phases of learning, such as the way students are able to construct new knowledge.
Furthermore, a student with scant background knowledge in organic chemistry is unlikely to adopt a deep approach to learning, which has been found to be related to higher quality learning. In addition, difficulties caused by individual differences in the background knowledge base may result in difficulties in completing courses or degrees in the college or university.
However, Nigeria is a developing nation and the importance of chemistry for such a nation cannot be over emphasized. This is in line with the assertion that the prestige and political power of any nation reside in its level of scientific activities. The United States of American had undertaken reforms in its science curriculum development which led to Chemical Bond Approach (CBA), Chemical Education Material Study (CHEM STUDY) and the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) in conjunction with other physical sciences. Similar curricular reforms had also been carried out in other countries. The successes of these reforms in Britain and United States are often linked with the curriculum packages that had evolved. These packages adopted different approaches, and emphasis was laid on content and how the content could be commensurate with the cognitive level of the students.
In Nigeria, the need to re-examine both what to teach in science and how to teach it led both institutional and professional bodies to identify themselves with national efforts toward curriculum reform in sciences.
This curriculum is developed upon the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes, and learning experiences acquired by students in the Science Curriculum. There is a close connection between the topics in the Science Curriculum and the Chemistry Curriculum.
For example, the Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN) had taken initiative in the science curriculum development. Thus in 2008, the federal ministry of education and the Comparative Education Study and Adaptation Centre (CESAC), set up curriculum development committee in each of the following subjects biology, chemistry and physics. These bodies, including the National Education and Research Council (NERC) made immense contribution toward improving science education. All these have not only modernized science teaching, but stimulated interest among Nigerian youths, science educators and government in science related courses.
Thus the government tried to popularizes and encourage the teaching of sciences in schools through positive incentives like giving priority to science courses in scholarship and in-service awards, building and commissioning of science equipment production centers, special science allowances to science teachers and the building of universities of technology, colleges and science schools.
Students are seldom exposed to practical work, according to Anamuah- Mensah (2009). This lack of practical activities by chemistry students may have resulted in poor communication and observational skills. The absence of these skills gave rise to students’ poor performance in chemistry and organic chemistry in particular. The WAEC chief examiners’ reports have constantly raised issues of students’ poor performance in questions under organic chemistry over a decade now. It has often branded organic questions as unpopular to students and few students who answer questions perform poorly (WAEC, 2007; WAEC, 2008). Not many studies have looked at organic chemistry topics difficulty specifically, but studies by Tajudeen (2005) and Ampiah (2001); have shown that students find organic chemistry difficult to handle generally. Considering the fact that organic chemistry, being an important component of the study of chemistry, is broad; this study sought to investigate the perception of students in organic chemistry topics difficulty in understanding.
Statement of the Problem
This present study focuses on students’ perception of topics in organic chemistry in college Curriculum. Researchers have noted that some topics in organic chemistry are not too easy to understand by students due to its demanding and practical nature. This topics have the following characteristics: they are hard to understand by most students; they require more effort and skills before one can understand and solve/answer them; they exist in college or university syllabus only; such topics stimulate fear and anxiety on students; unfamiliarity with the ideas, confusing language, ideas too demanding, insufficient explanation and practical work, topics too mathematical and lack of interest among the students; they consist mostly of practical topics; they are usually found in college or university level only and these are usually responsible for the general poor performance in organic chemistry and if properly taught students will discover that they are not difficult as they suppose. It is essential that these organic chemistry topics should be identified so that the way of making them easy for students will be evolved. The study thus focuses on investigation of the problems highlighted and how to find appropriate remediation.
Purpose of the study
The general purpose of the study is to investigate students’ perception of topics in organic chemistry by the students study chemistry in college of Education, Ikere-Ekiti. Specifically this study sought to:
(i) identify organic chemistry topics in the chemistry Curriculum
(ii) find out factors responsible for the poor academic performance of students in organic chemistry in the college
(iii) find out the influence of school location on the perception of topics in organic chemistry curriculum.
(iv) find the effect of school nature on students’ perception in organic chemistry concepts.