, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 285-311
Date: 18 Jan 2006

The Puzzle of Falling Enrolments in Physics and Chemistry Courses: Putting Some Pieces Together

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Abstract

This paper reports and discusses the principal findings of an Australian study exploring the decisions of high achieving Year 10 students about taking physics and chemistry courses (Lyons, 2003). The study used a ‘multiple worlds’ framework to explore the diverse background characteristics that previous quantitative research had shown were implicated in these decisions. Based on analyses of questionnaire and interview data, the study found that the students’ decisions involved the complex negotiation of a number of cultural characteristics within their school science and family worlds. Many of the students regarded junior high school science as irrelevant, uninteresting and difficult, leaving them with few intrinsic reasons for enrolling in senior science courses. The study found that decisions about taking physical science courses were associated with the resources of cultural and social capital within their families, and the degree to which these resources were congruent with the advantages of choosing these courses. The paper concludes that the low intrinsic value of school science and the erosion of its strategic value contribute to the reluctance of students to choose physical science courses in the senior school.