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Resources and facilities for Teaching and Learning of Mathematics and Science School

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Introduction
  • Research Methodology
  • Financing of Education
  • Teachers
  • Classrooms
  • Laboratories
  • Textbooks
  • Other Teaching Aids
  • Furniture
  • Conclusions and Recommendations

INTRODUCTION

Methods employed by teachers to teach Mathematics and Science subjects in primary and secondary schools are to a very large extent influenced by the kind of resources and facilities available in the school. The teaching methods, in turn, influence the level and quality of participation and performance in SMT by students, particularly girls. In general, where resources and facilities - teachers, textbooks, laboratories, chemicals, tools and equipment, teaching aids, stores, offices etc. - are inadequate, the teaching approach tends to be teacher-centred. This type of approach is heavily dominated by the teacher as he or she lectures on the subject, gives notes and demonstrates the practical aspects of the lesson. The students remain passive participants expected to listen and observe only. The teacher, therefore, is the sole source of knowledge for the pupils. This can be risky in the event that the teacher is inadequately informed on the subject or is not adequately trained in the art of communication. A teaching approach that centers on the teacher is bad for science teaching and learning and soon kills the interest of students in the subject.

But where facilities and resources are available, a qualified and motivated science teacher will deploy methods that center on the learner. Such an approach emphasizes practical activities and has the pupils experimenting, solving problems, discussing with each other and involved in practical hands-on-activities. This approach stimulates curiosity, imagination and critical thinking. It keeps the lessons exciting and captivating to the young people, particularly girls.

Knowing therefore the critical role played by adequate resources and facilities in effective teaching and learning of SMT, the Female Education in Mathematics and Science in Africa (FEMSA) project, in its pilot study of 4 countries: Cameroon, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, reviewed the status of resources and facilities available for teaching and learning of mathematics and science in a total of 100 primary and secondary schools selected for study in the four countries.

OBJECTIVES

In terms of the support materials available for the teaching and learning of Mathematics and Science, the project set out to find from the heads of primary and secondary schools selected for the study, the number of each kind of facility or resource that one would normally expect to find in a school:

  • financial allocation to SMT subjects
  • teachers (disaggregated by gender)
  • classrooms, offices, library, laboratories, workshops, bookstores, staff room,
  • percentage of students with textbooks (disaggregated by gender)
  • furniture
  • overhead, film and slide projectors; calculators, television sets, display boards, duplicating machines

The project staff also observed lessons in progress in selected primary schools to see the use of facilities and/or resources available and the effects of their unavailability.

METHODOLOGY

The study covered a sample of primary and secondary schools in the four pilot countries. The sample schools represented both rural and urban schools; high, medium and poorly performing schools; single sex and co-educational schools; and boarding and day schools. Altogether the selection covered a wide geographical and socio-economic region in each country. The secondary schools in the study sample comprised schools where students have to make a choice between Science and Arts options at some stage in the secondary years.

Data on resources and facilities was derived mainly from questionnaires to teachers and headteachers of the sample schools as well as group discussions and individual interviews with them. Additional information was obtained from classroom observations of lessons conducted in mathematics and science in selected primary schools within the study sample.

The sample of schools in Cameroon consisted of 12 secondary schools of which 7 were Francophone and 5 Anglophone; and 16 primary schools - 12 Francophone and 4 Anglophone. In Ghana, 18 headteachers and 130 teachers from 12 senior secondary schools (grade 10-12) and 12 junior secondary schools (grade 7-9) completed questionnaires and participated in group discussions and individual interviews. Tanzania was represented by 14 secondary and 12 primary schools and Uganda 10 secondary and 12 primary schools respectively. Full details of the sample of schools used in each country and the research methodology and instruments used are given in the booklet Background and Research Methodology of the FEMSA Project

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

In general, in all four countries, the study found great variations in the resources and facilities available for the teaching and learning of all subjects, but in particular, the SMT subjects. Although all schools in the study were government schools, sitting for the same national examinations within a country; and depended on their governments for the bulk of their finances, some of these schools were so impoverished, they did not have the basic necessities, such as sufficient classrooms, offices, desks, textbooks, functional toilets, not to mention facilities like laboratories, libraries, workshops, chemicals, science equipment or apparatus. The negative impact created by this inadequacy or total lack of resources/facilities on participation and performance in SMT subjects, particularly by girls; and recommendations given to alleviate these problems are the focus of this booklet.

Indeed, two important and priority recommendations emanating from all four studies, stress the urgency for governments in these countries to:

  1. Improve the equity of distribution of educational facilities throughout the country.
  1. Design subject and examination syllabuses taking into account the resources and facilities available in the country, so that no one school is unduly disadvantaged by struggling to follow set syllabuses that call for use of materials and resources that are unavailable in their school.
  1. Set examination papers which give all students an equal chance and in which performance is not dependent on the availability or not of the required facilities in their schools.

FINANCING OF EDUCATION

In all four countries, financing of education is mainly through the governments. The government is responsible for construction of all physical structures, provision of all curricular material and the payment of teachers’ salaries. Unfortunately, over the years, this responsibility is shifting more and more to the schools, specifically to the parents, due to lack of adequate funds at the ministry of education. Parents already bear the burden of school fees, cost of text books, equipment, uniforms and transport; in addition to contributions towards school’s building funds. The result, depending on the economic status of the parents, is that different schools vary greatly in the instructional resources and facilities they have. This leads to great disparity in students’ participation and performance, particularly in mathematics and science subjects. Not only is the learning of the subjects greatly affected, but students’ examination performance must be severely dependent on whether they have had the opportunity to see and handle the equipment, chemicals and specimens to which examination questions refer. This is especially so at the secondary level. It is understandable if the learning of science subjects becomes a rote memory exercise in a situation where no facilities are available.

To compound this, poor remuneration and what teachers see as a total neglect of their professional and social welfare by the government, have continued to erode the morale of teachers, and their contribution to the educational advancement of their students.

However, governments in the 4 countries continue to try to improve their education sectors by increasing their funding. The current education budget in 3 of these countries stands at:

Uganda: 23% of the national budget (1996)

Ghana: 25% of the national budget (1996)

Tanzania: figure not available

Cameroon: 10.4% of the national budget (1995)

But the cost of education each year, in all 4 countries, has continued to exceed the budgetary provision.

There are a number of innovations introduced by the governments to address the issue of access to education by all children of school going age without direct cost to parents. A good example is Uganda’s newly introduced Universal Primary Education (UPE). In this scheme, four children in a family (2 girls and 2 boys) are eligible for free primary education.

Ghana seeks to provide free and compulsory basic education for all its school going age children by the year 2005, under its policy on Free Compulsory and Universal Basic Education (FCUBE).

In Tanzania, a pilot phase for a Girls’ Secondary Education Support (GSES) scheme has been introduced. GSES supports academically able girls from poor families through secondary education.

Recommendations

  1. The study recommended further increase of the government budget allocation for education in all four countries.
  2. A recommendation from several of the focus group discussions is to exempt girls who excel in SMT subjects from paying school fees, as part of a broader recommendation to establish a special education support scheme for girls’ education in general.
  3. Lowering the educational financial burden on parents.

TEACHERS

Teachers are an indispensable resource in SMT teaching and learning but as the studies in the four countries revealed, they can be rendered ineffective by any one or a combination of the following factors:

  • large classes that overburden and overload the teacher
  • poor training, poor qualifications or inadequate in-service programs
  • lack of visual aids, textbooks, chemicals or needed teaching material

The study found out that there is a great shortage of mathematics and science teachers at the secondary school level, and the few there are, have to be shared by a large number of students which puts a heavy workload on the teachers. At the same time, the study revealed that most mathematics and science teachers are male. There are relatively few female teachers teaching SMT both at the upper primary and in secondary schools and hence girls and society at large lack what would be the most immediate female role models in SMT education. For example, of the 145 teachers in the study sample from 10 secondary schools in Cameroon, only 33 were females. In Uganda, of the 84 teachers that filled in the questionnaires from 10 secondary schools, only 14 were women. This problem is not unique to Cameroon and Uganda only but was observed in all 4 countries.

This shortage of female teachers, among other inconveniences, creates uneasiness in parents who fear to have their daughters in the company of male teachers for long periods because, traditionally among some tribes girls are not even allowed to talk among men except in very special cases. Modern parents harbor fears of sexual harassment or intimacies developing between their daughters and the male teachers, cutting short their daughter’s education.

The study revealed that most teachers at both primary and secondary schools are inadequately trained and almost never participate in any in-service training. Most lack creativity and initiative and will not improvise where there are no ready made visual aids. Most are ignorant of girls’ unique problems. Some lack competence in the use of equipment available in their schools and so such equipment remains unused. In any case, use of equipment in both mathematics and science lessons is viewed by both male and female students as a male domain, so girls as well as boys and even teachers, usually expect the boys to work with the equipment while the girls watch.

Practical work requires time to plan, try out, set for the class and remove and clear up after the lesson. Some teachers, being poorly motivated, find it difficult to spare time for such a process.

It emerged from group discussions with parents and students of both primary and secondary schools, that some teachers misuse school time on extra-curricular activities intended to supplement their meagre incomes. Private tuition in the evenings has become a significant part of school life. Parents complained that as a result, some teachers have no time for students from poor families.

In addition, many teachers complain that science syllabuses, mainly at the secondary level, are inordinately long and that there is not sufficient time to cover the syllabus adequately. This is often the pretext for skipping practical work, even where equipment is available, on the basis that practical work takes up too much class time. The unwillingness to engage in practical work is bolstered by examinations which test learned knowledge and not practical skills, or as in the case of Tanzania where there are no practical examinations at the end of Form 4.

Recommendations

  1. Science teachers should be evenly distributed so that they will not be concentrated in only a few schools while others lack them.
  1. Only qualified and experienced SMT teachers should handle primary school pupils in order to build a good and strong foundation for the pupils, especially girls.
  1. The training of teachers should emphasize methods of teaching of SMT that are more relevant to the everyday experiences of girls, e.g. measurements, weighing, farming, cooking, animal husbandry, etc.
  1. Teachers should be sensitized on the need to generate practical work in the laboratories in which girls play a major role.
  1. SMT teachers should have regular in-service courses to re-orient them on their teaching methodologies and acquaint them with the use of new chemicals and new equipment so that they sustain the interest of all pupils, in SMT subjects, particularly girls. .
  1. More female teachers in SMT must be trained to handle girls and act as role models.

CLASSROOMS

As a result of a shortage of schools, especially girls’ schools in rural areas, class sizes, especially in primary schools, are alarmingly large. The study found some classes to have up to 120 pupils. In secondary schools, a class can have as many as 90 students. This overcrowding hampers teacher’s movement and minimizes the possibilities of practical sessions or group work. The teacher, unable to cope with the large numbers, concentrates on a few bright students. There is hardly any individual help, especially for girls who are often shy and do not want to draw attention to themselves.

A strategy that has been used in most rural-based primary schools in the four countries, to cope with such large numbers in class is to use a double shift system, where one group of children come to school for half the day and a different group comes the second half of the day using the same facilities. While this method helps in providing access to school to a lot more children, these children are at a disadvantage compared to urban-based children who have longer contact time with their teachers for class work and for extra - curricular activities.

Another strategy, used in Tanzania, is to have boys’ boarding schools open up admission for girls from the community as day scholars. However, the study noted that the Tanzania innovation has introduced new problems for some of these girls. For example, some of them travel long distances to and from school, daily reaching school or home already too tired for any meaningful concentration. They would often be late for the early part of the lessons which are usually science or maths lessons and therefore find it difficult to catch up because the syllabuses of SMTs, particularly mathematics, are designed hierarchically, one concept building onto the previous one.

Moreover, in all 4 countries many of the secondary schools are day schools and are in urban areas. In an effort to secure places in the schools, some girls from rural areas have to stay with relatives away from home in dubious environmental conditions which are not conducive to learning. Others end up in boarding houses in small townships, exposed to all manner of harassment, leading to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, drunkenness and drug abuse and eventually they drop out of school.

The school environment poses another problem for such girls. Whereas their male colleagues stay in school in a good environment for studying, girls are expected to leave the compound immediately after classes depriving them of a chance to do their homework or conduct intellectual discussions with colleagues. These hardships discourage these girls and they lag behind in their academic work and easily drop out of school.

 

Recommendations

  1. The new schools being built should not be registered until the necessary requirements in terms of resources and facilities have been provided, e.g. sufficient classrooms, furniture, textbooks, laboratories, proper latrines, etc.
  1. More girls’ secondary and primary schools should be established in every region so as to reduce distances children have to cover. In Tanzania, the government policy now is that no new secondary school is currently being registered unless it is co-educational or a girls’ secondary school (except for Catholic seminaries).
  1. It is recommended that hostels to accommodate girls who are attending boys’ boarding schools as day scholars should be built, in order to reduce their exposure to dangerous situations and also to provide conducive environment for studying.

LABORATORIES

In all four countries, the majority of the schools, both primary and secondary, lack functional laboratories due to lack of equipment and consumables. Some schools have no laboratories at all and try to use classrooms which do not provide suitable settings for practical work. In such schools, equipment must always be moved to classrooms that are already overcrowded and the sloping desktops are inappropriate for some equipment. Most schools are unable to replenish chemicals and consumables regularly. In some schools, the study found unopened boxes of chemicals and apparatus that had remained unused due to fear by the teacher of students damaging the apparatus but also likely due to ignorance on the part of the teacher on how to use the equipment. In other schools, poor storage of chemicals had led to contamination. In any case, some countries like Tanzania have done away with practical examinations altogether, and teachers therefore do not see the need to spend time on practicals which are not going to be examined. A laboratory, therefore does not make much difference to their teaching methods. They concentrate on lecture method and use demonstration and explanation for the practical aspects of the syllabus.

Recommendations

  1. Well equipped laboratories enhance the teaching and learning of SMT subjects. Heads of schools should therefore strive to maximize the use of existing laboratories in their schools.
  1. Where there are no laboratories, the school system should strive to build and sustain a laboratory by seeking special funds from the government, from funding agencies or from the community being served by the school.
  1. Improvising by using locally available material should be emphasized to sustain activities in a laboratory

TEXTBOOKS

The study revealed that there is a serious shortage of textbooks in most schools in the 4 countries, with pupil/textbook ratio as low as 1:20. In Uganda, only 29% of the secondary school students have at least a textbook in science and mathematics. In some schools in Tanzania, one textbook is shared by six students. In Ghana, information provided by the heads of schools regarding percentages of their students who had books in science and mathematics is as shown below:

School level Mathematics Science Elective Math

Primary

43-100

30-100

-

JSS

70-90

68-100

-

SSS

50-100

100

8-100

The small supply of books that some schools have are considered so precious, that no student is allowed to take books home. Unfortunately they are not always kept in good condition. Some schools were found with books in disarray on dirty shelves, picking dust and mould yet students were not allowed to use them even during lessons.

In some schools, students have to provide their own books. Most rural parents cannot afford them. In any case, some villages have no outlets for the sale of textbooks, which forces parents to spend some of the much needed money on transport to towns to buy books.

Most of the SMT books available are gender biased with text and illustrations favouring boys.

Recommendations

  1. Promote a book policy which will enable every student to buy textbooks at affordable prices.
  1. Explore ways of ensuring students have access to some of the SMT books they need. In Ghana, a pilot study through the USAID Equity Implementation Project, provided free textbooks to every pupil in a number of schools selected for the project. The result was outstanding - a significant increase in enrolment and improvement in performance in subjects covered by the textbooks. In the same country, a textbook user fee introduced by the government resulted in withdrawal of children from schools, particularly girls. In Uganda a number of projects like Improving Educational Quality (IEQ), Support Uganda Primary Education Reform (SUPER) and In-Service Teacher Education Project (INSSTEP) are government projects aimed at increasing the supply of scholastic material to schools.
  1. Students should be allowed to take SMT textbooks home.
  1. Efforts that have started in all four countries to remove gender-bias from all aspects of the curriculum including stereotyping in textbooks at all levels should be intensified. This calls for an increase in female participation in the national curriculum development body and in the national examination boards.

OTHER TEACHING AIDS

The study revealed that most schools, particularly those that are rural-based, hardly have any teaching aids anywhere in the class during lessons, except some form of a blackboard, chalk and duster.

In the absence of doors and windows in some of these schools, no visual aids (maps, wall charts, specimens, equipment etc.) are left in the classrooms. These remain locked in the principal’s office, if there is one, or in a teacher’s house. With this inconvenience in accessibility, these aids are seldom used.

Teachers lack creativity, initiative and/or imagination which blinds them to the myriad of materials in the school’s surroundings that can be used as visual aids in SMT. In the spirit of the entrenched culture of dictating or writing notes on blackboards, teachers were observed struggling to draw sketches of plants or animals on the board as illustrations for the class, when they could quite easily obtain these things from the school surroundings. In the production of textbooks or teachers’ notes examples to be used for demonstration in class should provide instances of the use of everyday readily available materials.

The study revealed that some teachers, particularly male teachers, deliberately or out of ignorance, humiliate girls by using them to demonstrate body parts during biology lessons.

Recommendations

  1. Sensitize teachers to be alert, aware and innovative in the use of locally available material in the school and its surroundings for visual aids.
  1. Teachers should be sensitive to girls’ discomfort during teaching of topics such as reproduction and should never harass or embarrass pupils by using them as specimens for demonstrating body parts/functions.
  1. A variety of visual aids for teaching and learning of SMT can be fabricated by students under the guidance of their teachers for use in every-day lessons.

FURNITURE

Due to shortage or complete absence of desks, benches, chairs, etc., in some of the schools in the pilot study, particularly those that are rural based, pupils have to fight to get places to sit. The study observed that girls rarely fight in such situations, hence they are the ones who end up sitting on the floor or on stones. In that sitting position, balancing books and writing notes from a board becomes awkward and frustrating.

This, together with other daily inconveniences and struggles in the school, such as sharing of textbooks, lack of attention by teachers, taunting by boys, having to use latrines that have no doors etc., frustrate and discourage girls and they easily give up and drop out of school.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Despite being aware of the lack of adequate resources and facilities in some of their schools, parents and students, during focus group discussions and interviews with the project personnel, strongly condemned the methods teachers use to teach mathematics and science subjects. They saw this as the major cause for the poor participation and performance of girls in SMT. Teachers were blamed for their unimaginative teaching methods and for not using practical approaches for teaching SMT and for not relating the approaches to life experiences and the environment of the student.

The teachers, on the other hand, being aware that adequate resources and facilities are crucial for a qualified teacher to engage students in an exciting, captivating and enriching mathematics or science lesson, strongly recommended that the governments should make or enforce policies on the minimum physical facilities and teaching resources in all schools at each level.

The FEMSA Project staff, all the while, however, noted that although there appeared to be great goodwill from all who participated in the study towards finding solutions to the problems of facilities and resources facing most of the schools, the solutions they suggested were almost all pointing at the government or some NGO, who it was hoped would come to their aid. A change of attitude among teachers and headteachers was considered crucial for them to begin to seek their own solutions to some of these problems.

This booklet, Resources and Facilities for Teaching/Learning of SMT, is intended to provide an insight into the extent to which the availability and quality of Resources and Facilities for Teaching and Learning of Mathematics and Science in Schools can be a factor in girls’ participation and performance. Through this understanding, it is hoped that the school administrators - headteachers and officials in the Ministry of Education, as well as classroom teachers, will start to appreciate the schools’ intrinsic deficiencies that inhibit academic performance and will gradually develop a reasonable degree of alertness to needed improvements in their respective schools and enhance their innovativeness in deriving solutions to these problem areas. A school system that is consistently responsive to teaching and learning needs has a positive impact on the personal and collective efficiency and effectiveness of the teaching staff and ultimately high academic performance of its pupils.