Background to the study
Social studies is a subject which is taught at various levels of education in Nigeria, It is taught at the junior secondary school, senior secondary schools and teacher training colleges as core subjects. Even at the lower basic level of education, that is, the primary school, social studies is taught under environmental studies, now known as citizenship education. All these point to the importance attached to the study of social studies in our schools.
The National Council for Social Studies divides social studies objectives into four categories: knowledge, skills, values, and participation (Barr, 1977). These four categories of the learning of social studies are also addressed in the objectives declared by the Nigeria Education Service for both elementary schools and senior secondary schools (Nigeria Education Service, 2007). Each of these categories provide the basis of curriculum development for senior secondary schools in Nigeria. Nigeria’s Ministry of Education state that “social studies at the senior secondary school level is concerned with equipping the students with an integrated body of knowledge, skills and attitudes that will help the student develop a broader perspective of Nigeria and the world” (Social studies syllabus for senior secondary schools in Nigeria, 2007, p.7). The subject probes the past and provides knowledge for the students to understand his or her society and be able to solve personal and societal problems. The subject has been divided into three sections each of which focus on the environment, government and stability, social and economic development (Ministry of Education, 2007).
Social studies curriculum is based on key concepts such as democracy, justice, rights and responsibilities, identity and diversity. Teachers use topical, political and social issues to bring social studies content to life. These content areas develop in students key citizenship skills needed for research, discussion as well as debate sessions (Bining & Bining, 1952). The social studies curriculum used in senior secondary schools aims at developing in students the ability to participate in their communities meaningfully and wider societies as informed citizens (Ministry of Education 2007).The purpose of active citizens is to teach students to work together and take practical actions using their knowledge and understanding in social studies to contribute to the better society locally, nationally and globally(Bath, 1983). For example, after learning about human rights, diversity and inequality, students might decide to set up a project to address racism in their school or local community.
Among the many agencies available for social studies education are the family, peer group, mass media, the church and the school (Cleary, 1971). Of all these, the school appears to be the most potent force in the Nigeria an society driving the course of social studies. For instance, because of the newness of democratic living in the Nigeria an system, one cannot guarantee that the various family units can efficiently inset the ideas of our form of democracy in the youth. Similarly, one cannot dispute the fact that most of the youth do not have access to the mass media. The same may apply to the church. On the contrary, almost every youth is expected by law to acquire at least basic education (Constitution of Nigeria, 1992). It is for this reason why Cleary, (1971) suggest that schools (senior secondary schools) are powerful weapon used to ensure that majority of the youth have a taste of social studies education in Nigeria.
The past 50 years have witnessed a number of studies that have attempted to understand why students either like or dislike social studies. These studies have tried to identify and measure student’s attitude about social studies and predict what influence their attitudes related to this area of the school curriculum (Corbin, 1994; Curry & Hughes, 1965; Fraser, 1981; Inskeep & Rowland, 1963; McTear & Blaton, 1975; McTear, 1978, 1979).
Through the years, on-going changes in curriculum design, teaching methodology, and administrative practices may have helped to improve students’ perception of social studies (Shaughnessy & Haladyna, 1985). However, most students still perceive social studies classes as dull, boring, and irrelevant to their lives. If the Social Studies curriculum is to continue to have support from school administrators, politicians, and the general public, it is desirable to have positive student attitudes towards the subject matter. This is important because it is quite possible that negative attitudes toward social studies could ultimately result in a sharp decline in the allocation of resources for this subject area.
Unfortunately, previous research indicates that young students are not positive about social studies and find it irrelevant for future careers (Schug, Todd, & Beery, 1982). Historically, when elementary and secondary school students were surveyed, the most dominant negative perception was that social studies was boring and had little relevance to their lives. Femandez, Massey, and Dombush (1975; 1976) conducted one of the earliest surveys regarding student attitudes towards social studies in the San Francisco Public Schools. They found that students in grades 9 through 12 ranked social studies last in importance when compared to other core subjects such as English and mathematics. The participants described social studies as confusing and having little relationship to their future.
From the above description of social studies education in both Nigeria and the world at large, one could attest to the fact that, an exploration into student’s attitudes towards the teaching and learning of social studies will be of great relevance to the development of active citizens. It is against this background that this study sought to examine students’ attitudes towards the teaching and learning of social studies in senior secondary schools.
Statement of the Problem
The advancement of “liberty and justice for all” as envisioned by our country’s founders requires that, citizens have to acquire knowledge, attitudes and values to guard and endorse the principles of constitutional democracy (constitution of Nigeria, 1992). The success of Nigeria’s growth and stability relies strongly on its educational system. Social studies is a major part of the school’s curriculum because it explores morals, values and provides students with the ability to understand the values associated with being a good citizen ( Ministry of Education , 2007).
The marginalization of social studies education in schools has been documented repeatedly. For instance, in the United States, Lawson, (2003) surveyed hundred tenth grade students and hundred twelfth grade students in order to determine their attitudes towards the various subject areas. In the study, English, mathematics and reading were ranked ahead of social studies. Participants described social studies as boring and far from anything they could relate to in their life. This situation may result in the poor performance of students in social studies. The researchers suspect that this apparent drift may be the result of ineffective teaching and learning of Social Studies content. This study therefore investigates the attitudes students in senior secondary School have towards the teaching and learning of Social Studies.
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