, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 317-347

Cultural factors in the origin and remediation of alternative conceptions in physics

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Over a wide range of subject areas students exhibit persistent conceptions contrary to the prevailing scientific concepts. The same alternative conceptions in physics are reported to exist across many countries, within a variety of cultural and environmental contexts. Also, many alternative conceptions show striking similarities with difficulties encountered in the historical development of physics. What is the reason for these similarities? Is intuitive science learned or triggered? And, if similar brain structures are responsible for common-sense theories, in what way then are cultural factors still important in the teaching-learning process? The influence of cultural factors will be discussed on the basis of literature available on this topic. Data collected by the authors in the Netherlands, Indonesia and countries in Africa are also taken into consideration. A distinction is proposed between alternative conceptions some of which may be universal and some dependent on culture. The same distinction is made regarding ways of reasoning and epistemology. It is suggested that the effectiveness of methods for the remediation of alternative conceptions is strongly influenced by cultural aspects of the teaching-learning process.