Natural Sciences teachers' conceptualisation of 'science and society' in South African curriculum documents

Austen, Karryn Lynda
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The potential for South African science teachers to become powerful agents of transformation needs to be explored. Speaking of Fensham's (2002) term “educo-politics” Aikenhead (2010) argues that, "all science teachers are constantly engaged in ‘educo-politics'” (Aikenhead, 2010:615). In this study I attempted to uncover some of the socially critical aspects of science and society related themes. This study investigated how science and society themes outlined in the Natural Sciences Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) (Department of Basic Education [DBE], 2011) are understood and valued by teachers. The study provides an account of how science teachers under the direction of the curriculum statement conceptualise the pedagogical use, and social value, of Specific Aim 3 in their regular teaching of Grade 9 Natural Sciences. The Science-Technology-Society- Environment (STSE) currents presented by Pedretti & Nazir (2011) provided a theoretical framework from which this inquiry was conducted and structured. This was a qualitative, small-scale study limited to 32 participants. The theoretical foundation of this study was influenced by the ideology and pedagogical frameworks which underpin science and society philosophies and movements in science education. An evaluation of the Natural Sciences CAPS (DBE, 2011) using such frameworks informed the development of the two research instruments used. A questionnaire was administered to 32 Grade 9 Natural Sciences teachers from government schools in the Johannesburg-West and Johannesburg-North districts in Gauteng. Three of the questionnaire participants were then interviewed using a semi-structured interview schedule. The participants varied in age, race demographics, distribution of home languages, professional qualifications and years of teaching experience. The schools where participants teach were varied in terms of demographics and available resources. The study found that participants did not communicate a clear understanding of the principles which form science and society in the Natural Sciences CAPS. Time constraints, deviation from science content and limited usefulness for science learning were commonly cited to justify limited science and society practices. Furthermore, participants regularly made statements which communicated their belief in the superiority of science in terms of its explanatory value. In this regard participants showed insensitivity to the cultural barriers students may experience when learning science. This study has contributed to our understanding of how South African science teachers conceptualise and use science as society themes as outlined in the Grade 9 Natural Sciences CAPS. The findings of this study confirmed that the effects and consequences of the prescriptive elements and nature of the Natural Sciences CAPS (DBE, 2011) need to be critically evaluated. Although curriculum reform in South Africa was intended to empower teachers in their decision-making about what and how to teach, over-reliance on work schedules and Learning Support Materials (LSMs) results in the constriction of teacher agency (Stoffels, 2008). Such tendencies were observed in this study and hence it is suggested that this aspect of teacher agency be explored in further research. KEY WORDS Science and Society Scientific literacy Humanistic science education Curriculum Teachers Science-Society-Technology Science-Society-Technology-Environment Socioscientific Issues
A research report submitted to the Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science. Johannesburg, 2017.
Austen, Karryn Lynda (2018) Natural Sciences teachers' conceptualisation of 'Science and society' in South African curriculum documents, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, <>