IMPACT OF REASONING ABILITY ON SECONDARY SCHOOL ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Education is frequently concerned about the need to improve students’ academic achievements. The large number of research on student achievement bears testimony to this concern (Babalola, 1979; Fakunle, 1986; Okoye and Okecha, 2008). This is not only because a higher achievement especially in the field of science is the foundation for technical skills which is in short supply, but also because higher achievement is particularly valued in a society which sets high premium on academic success as the stepping stone for entrance into more prestigious occupation. However, to be able to perform well in science subjects, students must possess sound reasoning ability. According to Piraksa, Srisawasdi and Koul (2014), “as scientific literacy is currently considered the central goal for development of the 21st century citizens, scientific reasoning ability is determined as an important factor for fostering student performance in science learning” (p. 486). Scientific reasoning ability is therefore, a skill of critical importance to those students who seek to become professional scientists.
The acquisition of new knowledge and its innovative applications result in a continuous transformation of our cultural, social, and political environments. Existing knowledge is being rapidly revised and, in some cases, becoming obsolete. It is therefore clear that the methods and processes by which new knowledge is acquired are of major importance in successfully facing the abundance of knowledge and its consequent technological applications (Valanides, 1997). This perspective presupposes a broadening of learning objectives beyond those related to subject matter and discipline-specific concepts. He further argued that emphasizing the development of students’ reasoning abilities and the achievement of procedural/operative knowledge is the only appropriate reaction to the current exponential increase of knowledge. A central purpose of education is thus to provide the conditions which will foster the development of students’ reasoning abilities. Hence, schools should do more than teaching collections of discipline-specific facts and concepts.
The Ministry of Education in Nigeria generally and Enugu State Ministry of Education in particular has gradually introduced, among other innovations, a new science curriculum where emphasis is placed on laboratory work and on the processes of science. The new curriculum and the corresponding teaching approaches are expected to enhance students’ reasoning abilities. This expectation is in line with research studies related to interventions to accelerate students’ cognitive development.
Some researches on reasoning abilities identified demographic, attitude and belief, and environmental variables as the factors influencing reasoning abilities (see for example, Jindal-Snape, Davies, Collier, Howe, Digby and Hay, 2013; Hyde and Mertz, 2009; Okoye and Okecha, 2008; Tempelaar, Schim van der Loeff and Gijselaers, 2007; Valanides, 1997). However, despite the results of these research efforts and the consequent outcomes of accompanying theoretical debates, interest in the investigation of students’ reasoning abilities and the process of their development will continue. These efforts have the potential to accumulate evidence which will enhance our understanding of how reasoning ability develop and- how curricula and teaching interventions can foster their development especially in a grossly underdeveloped educational system such as the one found in most schools in Nigeria (especially in the rural areas). Studying the factors that influence the reasoning ability of science students from a very underdeveloped academic background such as Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State will therefore provide the Ministry of Education in the state as well as teachers with a blueprint of what to emphasize to enable the students improve their reasoning ability.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
“…’To know’ science is a statement that one knows not only what a phenomenon is, but also how it relates to other events, why it is important, and how this particular view of the world came to be. Knowing any of these aspects in isolation misses the point. Therefore, in learning science, students, as well as having the opportunity to learn about the concepts of science, must also be given some insight into its epistemology, the practices and methods of science, and its nature as a social practice…” (Driver, Newton and Osborne, 2000, p. 297).
The field of science is rapidly expanding. As students choose a science major, they need and expect the course and laboratory work that will develop them into a scientist. This work includes the content knowledge and skills necessary to be able to design a solid experiment, analyse the results, and apply the findings to future work both within and across disciplines. However, without sound reasoning ability, it will be difficult for students to develop a successful career in science. Coletta, Philips and Steinert (2007) argued that student reasoning ability can be used to identify students who at risk of failing their exams. Furthermore, Lawson (2004) argued that scientific reasoning plays a central role in scientific literacy. Specifically, Okoye and Okechi (2008) also found that reasoning ability of Nigerian students correlate positively with their achievement in biology. Science students in secondary school are freshmen who are entering the career under-prepared both in content and cognitive abilities. In addition, the report by Ojerinde (1998) on the survey of the performance of candidates in science subjects in Nigeria over the years revealed a discernible decline. This perennial decline has remained a source of concern to science educators (Nnaka and Anaekwe, 2004). It is yet unclear whether demographic, attitude and belief and environmental factors influence the reasoning abilities of science students in secondary schools in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State, Nigeria.
An additional difficulty for science majors in secondary schools is simply staying with their declared major. One possible explanation for this ugly trend is that science is generally perceived as a difficult field of study. However, being deficient in one area does not necessarily imply that an individual is less intelligent (Pimsleur Approach, n.d). This therefore exposes the need to study the main factors influencing reasoning abilities.
Additionally, most science teachers believe that students need to be helped to understand how scientists make sense of problem situations and how they decide on the progress of the solution. As pointed out earlier also, students’ cognitive/reasoning ability need to be enhance in order to get them stay and continue their career in science. To achieve this end, the factors that influence reasoning ability needs to be thoroughly investigated. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, limited research has studied this key issue in Nigeria generally with no research project found to have explored this subject in Enugu State in particular. Hence, the need for this project. Furthermore, Solomon (2014) argued that due to the fact that reasoning skills have failed to take off in the majority of secondary schools students in Nigeria, fears are that development and recognition of the natural resources and the effective uses of these resources may be a pipe dream for the country. Given this scenario therefore, it is timely and necessary to explore the factors that influence the reasoning ability of secondary schools science students’ that interfere with their learning process especially in Ezeagu Local government Area of Enugu State, Nigeria.
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