Resources and facilities for Teaching and Learning of Mathematics and Science School
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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.
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:
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.
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:
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 schools 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 Ugandas 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.
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:
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 daughters 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.
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 teachers 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.
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.
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
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.
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 principals office, if there is one, or in a teachers 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 schools 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.
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.