Student Motivation in Science Subjects in Tanzania, Including Students’ Voices
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Fostering and maintaining students’ interest in science is an important aspect of improving science learning. The focus of this paper is to listen to and reflect on students’ voices regarding the sources of motivation for science subjects among students in community secondary schools with contextual challenges in Tanzania. We conducted a group-interview study of 46 Form 3 and Form 4 Tanzanian secondary school students. The study findings reveal that the major contextual challenges to student motivation for science in the studied schools are limited resources and students’ insufficient competence in the language of instruction. Our results also reveal ways to enhance student motivation for science in schools with contextual challenges; these techniques include the use of questioning techniques and discourse, students’ investigations and practical work using locally available materials, study tours, more integration of classroom science into students’ daily lives and the use of real-life examples in science teaching. Also we noted that students’ contemporary life, culture and familiar language can be utilised as a useful resource in facilitating meaningful learning in science in the school. Students suggested that, to make science interesting to a majority of students in a Tanzanian context, science education needs to be inclusive of students’ experiences, culture and contemporary daily lives. Also, science teaching and learning in the classroom need to involve learners’ voices.
KeywordsMotivation Science subjects Tanzania Students’ voices
In the 2014 Tanzanian Education and Training Policy (Sera ya Elimu na Mafunzo), education in science and technology is highlighted, and one of the policy’s aims is to ensure that an appropriate number of Tanzanian citizens acquire sufficient scientific literacy to support the development of the nation (Ministry of Education and Vocational Training [MoEVT] 2014). Scientific literacy might be helpful to the society by facilitating access to basic needs (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] 2009) and addressing other contemporary issues, such as environmental conservation (Osborne & Dillon 2008; UNESCO 2009). Hofstein et al. (2011) highlighted the importance of a science curriculum in imparting those aspects of science which might help students as future citizens. It is important that students find science curricula interesting so that they choose to continue learning about science formally or informally (DeBoer 2000). In order to support the students in learning basic scientific aspects which are relevant to contemporary society, schools need to improve students’ interest in science.
The main aim of our study is to reflect upon students’ voices regarding their motivation for science in schools with contextual challenges. Potvin and Hasni (2014) observed that the main constructs utilised in studies of students’ interest in science were interest, motivation and attitude. It seems that interest, attitudes and motivation are interrelated and sometimes used interchangeably in research. In this study, by motivation in science, we mean students’ willingness and interest to participate in science and its learning experiences. In this study, students’ interest in scientific aspects implies intrinsic motivation that can be indicated by students showing preferences among scientific topics that are taught in the classroom. Thus, we consider students’ interest in scientific aspects as an indicator of motivation.
What are the contextual challenges to learning science as expressed by students?
What makes learners interested in learning science in schools with contextual challenges?
Science for all is science education needed by all people to be able to control their own lives and the lives of society as a whole (Rollnick 1998). Science in an African context is perceived as a difficult subject, alienated from the context of the learner and only to be studied by a few; the majority of students have low self-esteem in science subjects (Anamuah-Mensah 2012). The same perception was observed in Tanzania, where students’ interest in science is low (Mabula 2012; Ndalichako & Komba 2014) and where science in schools is not linked to local scientific knowledge (Semali & Mehta 2012). In Tanzania, there are currently deposits of oil, gas and various minerals waiting for proper extraction for the sustainable development and well-being of the society. Critical knowledge is needed on how such resources in Africa can be exploited while maintaining the balance between the need to use such resources and the need to maintain the physical environment for future use (Asabere-Ameyaw et al. 2012). Asabere-Ameyaw et al. (2012) claimed that local people take good care of their local environments: nevertheless, resource exploitation resulting from globalisation and advancement in technology distorts the environment. People suffer drought, floods and abnormally heavy rains and lack sufficient food as a result of climate change, and they need knowledge on how to adapt to such circumstances. Likewise, appropriate farming methods adapted for climate change in Tanzania are very important.
In a similar vein, the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) equipment in the country, including mobile phones and internet services, are accessible to many people in Tanzania. Such tools, if well utilised, could serve the society in improving health, agriculture and keeping livestock—knowledge needed by the majority of Tanzanians. In contemporary Tanzanian society, eruptions of infectious diseases, including HIV, AIDS, cholera and malaria, need to be addressed for the well-being of the society. Hence, motivation and interest of Tanzanian students in science is important for the study of basic scientific contemporary issues. Nevertheless, the contextual challenges may play a role in student motivation in science and could limit the acquisition of scientific literacy in the country. Thus, it is important to study what motivates students when learning science in Tanzanian schools with contextual challenges.
Contextual Factors and Interest in Science
In the present study, contextual factors represent those related to the context in which teaching and learning is taking place. According to reviews, science teaching that is dominated mainly by lecture methods and transmission approaches or teacher-centred ways of teaching is unattractive to students (Potvin & Hasni 2014; Tytler & Osborne 2012). This implies that students’ involvement during science learning is an important factor in their interest in science. In the Tanzanian context, various classroom challenges have been mentioned that influence students’ interest in science, such as availability of resources, availability of teachers and teaching approaches (Mabula 2012; Ndalichako & Komba 2014). A mixed-methods study by Mabula (2012) reported that the poor quality of science classrooms in some schools in Morogoro, Tanzania, resulted from inadequate resources, including books, laboratories and lab equipment. Similarly, a participatory action research study by Semali and Mehta (2012) involving science educators, parents and practitioners revealed various challenges in science teaching (e.g. lack of laboratories, incompetent teachers and classroom science not linked to local scientific knowledge).
Learning through the use of a foreign language has been a barrier to meaningful science learning in most African countries (Rollnick 2000), including Tanzania (Ndalichako & Komba 2014; Wandela 2014). According to the Ministry of Education and Culture (MoEC 1995), Swahili—a familiar language for the majority of Tanzanians—should be used as the language of instruction for preprimary and primary education, while English should be used in secondary and tertiary education. The 2014 Education and Training Policy emphasises the use of both Swahili and English as languages of instruction at all levels of education (MoEVT 2014), but this policy has yet to be put into practice. When students are supposed to learn science through the use of a foreign language, they are forced to perform the double task of learning a subject and language simultaneously (Rollnick 2000). Thus, students learning science through the use of a foreign language may require specific supportive strategies to acquire meaningful learning.
Probyn (2006) explained that, to impart the understanding of scientific concepts to students who were learning science using an unfamiliar language, teachers applied code switching and provided diagrams and illustrations through the use of pictures and real-life examples. Likewise, teachers in Probyn’s (2006) study applied practical demonstrations and related the studied concepts to students’ daily experiences to support their understanding. Approaches suggested by Probyn (2006) are important to our present study, as they highlight strategies to lessen the language barrier and, thus, facilitate meaningful learning in other contexts. It is important to see the strategies applicable in Tanzanian contexts, where English (a foreign language) also is used for content learning.
Linking Science to the Learner’s Daily Lives and Interest in Science
According to Potvin and Hasni (2014), aspects of science which are relevant and applicable to the daily lives of the learners are more interesting to those learners. Scientific aspects which have no direct use in students’ lives are difficult for students to understand. Students’ loss of interest in science is caused, in part, by the failure of schools to link science curricula to students’ daily lives (Aikenhead 2006). Local knowledge (e.g. herbalism, local brewing, traditional astronomy, traditional ways of farming, traditional arts and crafts, and food preservation) seem relevant and important in Tanzanian and African contexts (Asabere-Ameyaw et al. 2012; Osaki 2004). Linking local scientific knowledge which relates the experiences of the learners to scientific knowledge in the classroom may make science both more meaningful and more useful (Asabere-Ameyaw et al. 2012; Osaki 2004). Commonly, science curricula fail to integrate the students’ cultures into classroom science, thereby separating students from their cultures (Aikenhead 2006). The learning difficulties related to the scientific content result from the fact that meaningful learning in science is rarely happening; science is not integrated into everyday life, which makes it irrelevant (Aikenhead 2006).
Reviews from Voices of Students Regarding Interest in Science
The relevance of science to the students’ contemporary lives is important to maintain students’ interest in science (Mavhunga 2011; Ndalichako & Komba 2014; Osborne & Collins 2001). The work by Osborne and Collins (2001) in the UK focused on students’ views about science knowledge and on the value of the science curriculum’s content. The study noted that relevance of the subjects (e.g. biology), tangible and observable aspects of chemistry and physics, as well as practical work and investigations were the aspects that were most interesting to students. However, the study was performed in another context than Tanzania and with different contextual challenges. Thus, our study from Tanzania will provide us with a greater understanding regarding students’ motivations in science in different contextual challenges than that of the UK. Using the Relevance of Science Education (ROSE) questionnaire, Mavhunga (2011) explored the views and attitudes of students from Zimbabwe about school science, the environment and science and technology in everyday life. While girls’ views in the study revealed more interest in issues about health, nutrition and the welfare of other people, boys’ views showed interest in more hands-on activities and how things work. Mavhunga (2011) also noted that real-life contemporary challenges in the students’ lives are of interest to learners when addressed through the science content. That study was performed through the use of a questionnaire; using group interviews in a Tanzanian context will enrich the knowledge from that study, which also was performed in an African country. A study in a Tanzanian context by Ndalichako and Komba (2014) investigated subject preferences of secondary school students. Arts subjects were preferred more by students in Tanzania than were science subjects. The study noted that subject preferences in the schools studied were influenced by circumstantial factors, such as limited resources. But the study did not reflect upon students’ voices regarding the interesting scientific aspects and what may need to be done to motivate students to study science in schools with contextual challenges. Thus, our study intends to fill this knowledge gap.
Studies exploring motivation in science subjects in schools with contextual challenges from learners’ perspectives are limited in science education research. In the Tanzanian context, challenges in secondary schools, such as limited classroom resources and insufficient science teachers, were reported to affect science teaching and students’ motivation (Ndalichako & Komba 2014; Semali & Mehta 2012). There is a need for more studies which focus mainly on motivation of students in science subjects under the contextual challenges in Tanzania. The main purpose of this study was to invite a selection of Tanzanian students to reflect on what motivates them in learning science and their suggestion with regards to improving students’ motivation. It is assumed that knowledge gained might inform teachers, researchers and policy makers on what may be needed to motivate students who are studying science in schools with such contextual challenges.
The review by Potvin and Hasni (2014) observed that, to study motivation in science, researchers used the terms interest, motivation or attitudes towards science as constructs. In our study, we define motivation in science as students’ willingness and interest in the process of studying science subjects. Motivation can either be intrinsic or extrinsic. Motivation to perform an activity that depends on the value of the activity to a person is intrinsic motivation, while motivation to perform a task that depends on external incentive is extrinsic motivation (Matsumoto & Sanders 1988). The value of an object or a task is the importance of the task to an individual (Eccles & Wigfield 2002). Intrinsically motivated individuals engage in an activity because they find it fun and enjoyable (Eccles & Wigfield 2002). Individuals who are engaged in an activity as a result of intrinsic motivation are becoming more motivated during the process of doing the activity, while those who depend on external rewards become motivated at the end of the activity but less motivated during the activity (Matsumoto & Sanders 1988). Intrinsic motivation is important in the learning process.
Various approaches have been suggested to facilitate the development of students’ interest (Anderman & Maehr 1994; Krapp 2002). Situational interest which can result from the factors in the learning setting can develop into permanent individual interest (Krapp 2002). This type of interest is triggered mainly by factors such as the teaching and learning situation or a fascinating presentation (Krapp, 2002). The content of the subject matter can awaken the learner’s interest for a subject in a shorter or longer period of time (Krapp 2002). Thus, according to Krapp (2002), external learning contexts can facilitate the development of the learner’s situational interest. Then, the situational interest can fully mature into individual interest (Krapp 2002). From this explanation, it seems that learning circumstances such as applying fascinating teaching techniques and teaching relevant content may be the sources of students’ interest.
Anderman and Maehr (1994) categorised factors that can facilitate the development of students’ interest in learning into individual factors and situational factors. Individual factors are those related to the person (culture, goal, prior knowledge and capabilities). These factors are not under the control of the teacher (Anderman & Maehr 1994). However, the teacher can control situational factors and enhance students’ interest. Hands-on activities, learners’ prior knowledge and their misconceptions, comedy, fiction and storylines, when integrated by the teacher into learning, may improve students’ interest (Anderman & Maehr 1994).
Another important factor for students’ interest in a subject or task is meaningful learning (Eccles & Wigfield 2002). Approaches that can support interest in learning if appropriately used also can enhance meaningful learning (Anderman and Maehr 1994). Meaningful learning in science refers to learning with understanding and being able to apply what is learned into different settings (Hofstein & Kind 2012). For instance, students who attain meaningful learning may be able to link science from the classroom to daily life experiences and to their culture. Link making (i.e. integrating concepts in classroom interactions) is essential for facilitating meaningful learning (Scott et al. 2011). Abstract scientific ideas need to be linked with real phenomena to help students understand the relationships between the scientific concepts and the real world (Scott et al. 2011). Meaningful learning will be inadequately attained if students are learning concepts in the science classroom as information detached from their real world. Class presentations that only focus on the scientific way of knowing may not be sufficient to engage students in meaningful learning, which is essential for students’ interest in science (Scott et al. 2011).
Studies have suggested various approaches that can facilitate meaningful science learning in a challenging setting (Chin 2007; Probyn 2006; Ramnarain & de Beer 2013). According to Ramnarain and de Beer (2013), the use of out-of-school investigations by students can facilitate students’ involvement in open practical work in less-resourced schools and in large overcrowded classes, as well as the requirement to cover huge content. In such investigations, students benefit more by taking an active role and controlling their own learning process, while the teacher becomes the facilitator (Ramnarain & de Beer 2013). When students are involved in the investigations by using context-relevant materials, they can attain meaningful learning as they link science from the classroom to the real world. Out-of-school learning resources can be beneficial also for well-resourced schools, as they provide more authentic learning contexts compared to traditional laboratory work (Braund & Reiss 2006). Out-of-school experiences can improve the integration of concepts, can provide prolonged and more authentic practical work, and can foster interest in science (Braund & Reiss 2006). Another approach that can support meaningful learning is questioning techniques. The use of teacher questioning techniques can support inquiry-based science teaching in larger classes (Chin 2007) and, thus, support meaningful learning in such contexts, which is important for improving students’ intrinsic motivation in the subjects (Eccles & Wigfield 2002). In such approaches, the teacher becomes the source of guidance and questions, and the students participate effectively in answering the scientific-oriented questions (Chin 2007).
This is a group-interview study from six purposefully selected community secondary schools in the Iringa municipality in Tanzania. Interviews were conducted from May to August 2015. Group interviews were more appropriate than one-on-one interviews because they created an environment with less stress and where the respondents were ready to express their views. As suggested by Krueger and Casey (2000), students were willing to express their genuine views, thoughts and feelings in a comfortable, permissive and nonjudgmental environment. After several visits to the schools and the consent forms were presented and signed by the heads of the schools and the students, the study was conducted. Participants included students from Form 31 and Form 4 who were peers in order to help make them feel free to interact. Nevertheless, this approach also may have some limitations, as students’ responses may be influenced by their peers. In a group, some respondents may talk a lot and dominate the discussion, while others may feel shy and not share their views. As suggested by Krueger and Casey (2000), to avoid that outcome, participants were informed that each of them needed to actively respond and have an equal chance to speak. Also, less-talkative students were encouraged to provide their views, sometimes by kindly reminding those participants who dominated the discussion to give others the chance to share in order to have various views from all participants.
Description of the Contextual Challenges in Studied Schools
We conducted our study in 6 out of 11 community secondary schools in the Iringa municipality in Tanzania. Three schools had laboratories (special buildings for experimentation) while the three other schools did not. The schools that did not have science laboratories were using science rooms and normal classrooms for students’ experimentations. But all six schools had limited resources, such as lab apparatus and reagents, science textbooks and science teachers (especially for physics) (Mkimbili et al. 2017). The language of instruction utilised in science teaching for all six schools was English, which is the second or third language for all students. Most students do not having sufficient competence in English language, as we noted in our coming paper (Mkimbili and Ødegaard forthcoming).
Sample and Sampling Procedure
The group interviews involved a total of 46 students (24 boys and 22 girls), who were between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. The students were at Form 3 and Form 4 levels of secondary education in community secondary schools in the Iringa municipality. We used a purposeful sampling technique at each school to obtain students; students responded to a questionnaire as a selection strategy. A mixture of students who responded very positively, moderately and more negatively on the questionnaire were selected in order to study their motivations in detail. As suggested by Draucker et al. (2007), in purposeful sampling, researchers must select data sources (i.e. people) who can yield rich and relevant data.
Respondents of the focus group interviews by gender
The Group-Interview Questions
The main focus of our interview questions was to reflect on students’ voices with regards to challenges learners encounter in science learning, incidences that make science interesting and strategies that motivate students for science learning in the context. We reviewed the interview guide together with other researchers to ensure its relevance. The research team discussed sample questions to ensure that the questions would yield relevant data in response to the research question. Inappropriate questions were rephrased to fit the research question. We translated the focus group questions into Swahili, the familiar language of the students, to help them better understand the questions. Each focus group question was proofread and cross-checked by a second person to ensure that the meaning was maintained. Additionally, before the interview guide was administered to the study sample, questions were tested on other students who did not belong to the study sample. As a result, the interview guide was modified. Not all questions asked were utilised for this study; some were asked at the beginning of the conversation to make students feel comfortable with talking (see Appendix). The interviews lasted between one and two hours and took place in the schools. A trained research assistant helped write the students’ responses. We also audiotaped the conversations and transcribed the recordings right after the interviews, matching the hand-written information with the recorded conversations.
Examples of categories and codes from students’ voices
Examples of quotes
‘No books, no lab, no resources’.
‘Physics has few teachers’.
Language of instruction
‘In Form 1, I did not understand all topics because I did not understand the language’.
‘We were copying notes from our fellows’.
‘Organic chemistry has many aspects’.
Helpful to the society
‘Helps to eradicate bad beliefs’.
‘We did a number of experiments’.
Useful in daily life
‘I like reproduction….It is about me’.
The use of discussion
‘Also, the discussion can make someone understand something in detail’…
Our results are organised into three major themes: (1) challenges in learning science expressed by students, (2) motivation factors in the process of students learning science and (3) what might need to be done to make science learning interesting in schools with contextual challenges.
Contextual Challenges to Learning Science
The main challenges the students expressed were lack of resources, theoretical science teaching, the use of foreign language in science teaching and the huge content to be covered.
Lack of Resources
The teacher was teaching other class units; as for us, we were taught just a few aspects and told to copy notes from our colleagues, so I failed to understand and dropped the subject. (Student IP2)
At that time, we lacked books, laboratories…. Now, they are doing experiments. We studied up to Form 3 without doing any experiment…. We were just hearing about experiments from others. (Student IP6)
Problems Posed by the Use of a Foreign Language
According to students’ responses in the interviews, the use of a foreign language in science teaching contributes to students’ failure to understand. Students expressed that difficult vocabulary resulting from the use of an unfamiliar language of instruction made their role in the classroom passive (i.e. just writing notes). Not being familiar with the language of instruction limited their participation in science sessions. Students commented that sometimes they knew the answers but they failed to express themselves in English. The language problem was more acute in the first year of secondary education, as stated by student KL2: “In Form 1, I did not understand. The language was unfamiliar; I was just cramming.”
Theoretical Teaching Approaches
Ionic theory and electrolysis … I could not understand. … The teacher was coming in the classroom with already-prepared notes and calculations. Our work was only copying notes and calculations. (Student TG1)
In some topics—for example, thermionic emission and radioactivity—I failed to understand; they were more theoretical, and we were only looking at the diagrams. (Student IP9)
Huge Content to Be Covered
Students claimed that some aspects in science subjects like chemistry have huge content to be covered. For example, some students identified organic chemistry as one of the topics with huge content. Such aspects were mentioned by students as difficult to understand. Also, some students stated that biology subjects have so many topics to be covered that it is difficult for students to fully learn what they are supposed to: “Organic chemistry is too long, in such a way that, when the teacher comes to teach next, I could have forgotten what we had learned before” (Student IP3).
Factors for Students’ Interest in Scientific Aspects
Activities in subject learning can play the part of external stimuli to awaken students’ interest in the lesson for a shorter or longer time (Krapp 2002). According to students’ responses in the interviews, topics taught by involving students in hands-on activities were mentioned to be interesting by most students. Most students who had an opportunity to perform experiments stated that that was one of the motivating factors in science learning. Students who did not perform hands-on activities as a result of insufficient resources disclosed that they could be more motivated in science if they could have the chance to engage in hands-on activities. Some students claimed that hands-on activities can facilitate understanding when learning using an insufficient language of instruction. The use of concrete and tangible materials is the aspect that makes hands-on activities more interesting. For instance, students elaborated that they were excited when observing colour change during chemical reactions like acid and base reactions and in food tests and when using an apparatus like a microscope. Student IP8 stated, “In physics, the light topic was interesting to me because we saw the apparatus like a microscope. It was hands-on, which make me more interested.”
Usefulness in Everyday Lives
Learning scientific topics which are useful in everyday lives also was expressed by many interviewees to be interesting despite the challenges posed by the use of a foreign language in learning and insufficient resources. Learning aspects that are linked to everyday life can make science learning meaningful. Meaningful learning in the subject may raise interest in that particular subject (Eccles & Wigfield 2002). Most students in the group interviews mentioned that they were interested in scientific concepts which were relevant and useful in their everyday lives. The aspects which were most frequently mentioned included those found in the context of the learner: things with which the students are familiar and concepts about their bodies and their health. Similarly, students mentioned that they are interested in scientific concepts which are applicable in different activities in their homes, like farming with locally available fertilisers. Students also expressed interest in the aspects of science which are helpful in preventing diseases. For example, Student IP14 stated, “I liked to learn about malaria, how to prevent malaria. I like it because I learned to use mosquito nets and to get rid of stagnant water.”
Another student commented on the interesting relevant scientific aspect; “In Form 3, I like the friction topic; friction helps us in various aspects. As we walk, friction acts as a source of energy. For instance, when you put dynamo in a bicycle during friction, energy is generated, causing light; even the car brake is the application of friction” (Student IP13).
Topics like genetics, diseases, reproduction and personal hygiene were identified by students and were linked closely to their daily lives. Such topics also were mentioned as interesting topics, as students applied them in solving health-related issues, problems associated with traditions and customs and in farming and keeping livestock.
The Use of Discussions
Asking and answering questions in classroom discussions were interesting to most students interviewed. Krapp (2002) disclosed that exciting instruction is one way of initiating students’ interest in a learning task. The students expressed that the questions posed by either the teacher or fellow students in the whole-classroom discussions facilitate students’ understanding of scientific concepts and raise their motivations. Students stated that, in discussions, they integrate their thinking experience and understanding, which make them active. When students integrate their thinking in the learning process, they may attain meaningful learning, which can also trigger students’ interest (Eccles & Wigfield 2002). Student IP12 stated, “I like photosynthesis. The teacher was asking questions when coming in class; he explained to us well how plants make their foods.”
Aspects That Are Helpful in the Society
Students interviewed mentioned that they value learning scientific aspects they consider helpful for other people, as they can use science from class for the welfare of the society. The content of the subject matter can act as external stimuli that can awaken students’ motivation (Krapp, 2002). Thus, students being interested in useful scientific aspects may result from the content which touched upon aspects students felt were important. Some students claimed that they were interested in certain scientific aspects which enabled them to educate the society on various issues, like family planning and cultural beliefs. For example, a cultural belief which was mentioned was albinism; students explained that some people in the society did not consider an albino as a normal persons, or that they are sources of wealth. Another cultural belief that the students mentioned is blaming the woman when she only gives birth to girls. These students were interested in genetics in the hopes that they would be able to resolve some of these conflicts associated with traditions and customs.2 During the interviews, students explained that they were interested in learning scientific concepts which will empower them to solve some problems in the society (e.g. helping people who have accidents like snake bites, preventing and curing diseases and taking care of a sick person). One student stated, “first aid, especially how to help a person who has a snake bite. I like to learn it because when we were young, I failed to help a person who had a snake bite, consequently, his leg was removed” (Student MW2).
I like genetics. I like it because what we learn happens in our society. For example, an albino child can be born from normal parents. It enables me to know how a female or a male child is obtained; in our society, we have problems, for example, blaming a woman when she gives birth to only female kids. If they would have studied genetics, there could be no blaming of the woman because she is not the only cause. (Student IP7)
Motivation from Teachers
Some categories in Fig. 2 (the use of formative assessment and use of real-life examples) have been put together in motivation from teachers because according to students they were done by teachers. Some interviewees claimed that the teacher’s use of approaches that involve learners were important for ensuring student motivation. Students expressed that the teachers who use interactive approaches ensure students’ understanding and encourage students to take an active role in the lessons and that the ones that ensure students that science is fun and easy make scientific aspects interesting. These approaches mentioned by students may make lessons exciting and meaningful. According to Eccles and Wigfield (2002), the lessons that are meaningful facilitate students’ interest in learning. The activities in the lesson which make the lesson exciting and fun can raise students’ interest in that particular subject (Krapp 2002). Thus, the motivation from teachers who apply interactive approaches and involve students in active learning may result in students finding the lesson exciting and meaningful, hence being interested. Another motivational factor from the teacher mentioned by students was the use of formative assessment. Students claimed that, when the teacher provides them with an assignment in science at the end of a subtopic or topic, the assessment supports their further understanding and, thus, improves their motivation in science leaning. For example, Student MW2 stated, “Our teacher is inspiring us; he ensures that we understand.”
Another technique that was applied by teachers which makes science interesting was providing real-life examples; students explained that some teachers make scientific aspects interesting to learners by linking science from the class to the learner’s real life. Students stated that this was done by teachers who provide real-life examples. Students commented that, when the teacher explains how the concepts (e.g. electricity, acid and base) can be applied or linked to the lives of students outside the classroom, the teachers make the concepts both relevant and interesting. Meaningful learning can better facilitate students’ interest in learning than superficial learning (Eccles & Wigfield 2002). Thus, when the teacher is linking science from the classroom to real-life examples, meaningful learning may take place and, thus, improve students’ interest. The use of real-life examples was mentioned to be useful in learning science with insufficient resources and making understanding easier when learning with an insufficient language of instruction: “In acid and base, our teacher taught us, when the soil is more acidic you may add ashes to neutralise it” (Student M7).
What Needs to Be Done to Make Science Learning Interesting in Schools with Contextual Challenges?
We also reflected on students’ ideas regarding the strategies to enhance students’ interest in schools with contextual challenges. Students were asked to assume the role of a science teacher and curriculum developer and suggest what they would have done to make science interesting. Students emphasised the same motivating factors as in the previous section, but here, they provided suggestions on how those approaches may be realisable in their schools. This section is organised using students’ excerpts from the thematic analysis.
“I Would Have Conducted Hands-on Activities More Frequently”
Students stated that learning science theoretically is difficult and uninteresting. Students explained that practical work in science subjects need to be done from the beginning to the end of their education and not as it was done in their schools, where they did not participate in practical work at lower levels. Some students said that, in Form 1, it was more difficult to understand due to the language barrier, and thus, the use of hands-on activities might solve the challenge. For example, Student KL6 stated, “I would have suggested practical work to be done from form one, I did not do any practical work in form one, practical facilitate understanding rather than only cramming.”
“Students Should Bring What They Know and I (the Teacher) Add to It”
Most students proposed the use of a discourse approach. Students mentioned that in the discourse during science lessons, they can easily learn from each other. In emphasising the benefit of discourse, asking and answering questions, a student commented when assuming the role of a science teacher:
My students would have asked questions all the time. I would have prepared groups for discussions, of all student types, fast learners and slow learners, so even if it is difficult to make myself clear, students would have been studying from each other. (Student MK1)
Likewise, some students commented that group discussions with teacher-prepared questions and plenary discussions were interesting. Students explained that, when they participate in discourse among themselves in science lessons and then present their answers for the whole class, they become more interested in the subject.
“I Would Have Conducted Experiments for Real Things Around Us”
Similarly, other students proposed the use of locally available materials as well as real-life examples to perform investigations and hands-on activities. According to students, such techniques boost both students’ interest and confidence in science learning. Students explained that they wished science teaching would change, not concentrating much on teacher talk and chalk, rather, making observations about their context and visiting the actual settings (i.e. study tours) which facilitate students’ investigation. Here is a sample comment from a student: “As a science teacher, I will use things in our surroundings for experiments. This would have made us prove the things we have learned theoretically” (Student IP2).
Students’ comments indicate that the use of materials in their environments may aid understanding, build interest in science and boost their confidence in the subject. This is an interesting finding because the schools studied are less-resourced schools; therefore, the suggestions put forward by students—to use what is present in their environments to make observations and investigations possible—may be suitable.
“I Would Have Used Examples and Things in Our Surroundings”
Students interviewed suggested that, as science teachers, they would involve students’ thinking, experiences and home knowledge into science lessons to make it more interesting. The interviewees claimed that the use of real things from their lives can make science more inclusive and interesting to the majority regardless of the contextual challenges. Students mentioned that making science inclusive of students’ lives is useful to improving students’ self-esteem in studying science, thus, reducing the stereotypic thinking that science is difficult and it should be studied only by intelligent students. Students expressed their wishes that science teaching and learning could be more active by involving students in study tours, where students are given chances to study real things in their environment rather than relying on abstract theoretical explanations in the classroom sessions. Students made the following suggestions:
As a science teacher, I would have built students’ confidence; I would have also used materials and examples which are really present in their environment. This would boost students’ confidence and ability in responding to questions appropriately. (Student IP4)
As science teacher, I would have varied the learning environment. Rather than every time sitting in the classroom, I would have taken students to study things outside the classroom under the tree. It would have been easy to remember what was taught. (Student TG1)
Besides what teachers need to do, we also asked students what curriculum developers need to do to make science interesting for students in schools with contextual challenges. Assuming the role of curriculum developers, students suggested the following.
“I Would Have Omitted Irrelevant Topics”
Some students suggested that there are some irrelevant aspects in the science curriculum, which make it have such huge content and cause it to be difficult to understand. They suggested that, as curriculum developers, they would ensure that only those aspects of science that are relevant are placed to the curriculum.
“I Would Have Provided Real-Life Examples in the Curriculum Materials”
Students also suggested that curriculum materials like textbooks and syllabi need to have real-life examples. Students expressed that textbooks with real-life examples facilitate understanding and also can be a source of motivation.
“I would Have Added More Science Teachers and Books”
Most students commented on improving resource availability. The resources students mentioned involve labs, textbooks and science teachers. Students commented that students’ failure in science subjects is largely caused by the lack of sufficient resources. Thus, students argued that the curriculum planners should ensure resource availability for effective science learning and student motivation.
“I Would Ensure the Use of English from Primary Schools”
Some students commented on the language problem. Students stated that the use of English as the medium of instruction in science at secondary schools needs to be planned. Students argued that the language to be utilised for content learning needs to be well developed from primary to secondary education, whether English or Swahili. Some students commented that, because Swahili is well developed from primary schools, it should continue to be used in secondary schools for science content learning.
“I Would Have Introduced Seminar to All Science Teachers”
Some students made comments regarding the improvement of teacher training, particularly with regards to the use of hands-on activities, curriculum content, ethics and how to deal with students’ behaviours. What follows are students’ comments with regards to what may need to be done by curriculum developers to make science learning interesting:
People are failing in science, but not much emphasis is put on the availability of resources like labs. They could make students motivated and pass science. Other schools do not have labs. How can students study science? So, I would have ensured that lab equipment is available. (Student Kl4)
I would have requested from the government that, as we have been studying in Swahili from primary, all subjects in secondary schools should be taught in Swahili, except English as a subject. Students fail to ask and answer questions as a result of the language problem. We cannot express ourselves well in English. (Student IP3)
I would have requested real examples in the syllabus for every topic. (Student Kl6)
Second Phase of Analysis
In this section, we link students’ voices with our theoretical framework. Students’ voices in our findings suggested that, to motivate students to learn science in schools with contextual challenges, science education needs to be inclusive. Students expressed that science education needs to include students’ experiences and daily life and should involve them in the learning process. Also, the approaches that are used in the classroom need to involve the learners.
Students suggested the use of discussions and hands-on activities as a way to involve learners’ experiences in the science classroom. Students expressed that, when they are involved in the discussions, they bring their misconceptions, which can be corrected by their teachers and peers. Correcting students’ misconceptions and experiences in the lesson can be a situational factor suggested by our framework which leads to students’ interest in learning (Anderman & Maehr 1994). The use of hands-on activities which involve students’ experiences are also situational factors useful in enhancing both meaningful learning and interest in science (Braund & Reiss 2006). Thus, the use of hands-on activities and discussions are important for enhancing students’ interest in science by involving students’ experiences, thus enhancing meaningful learning.
Students claimed that including students’ daily lives in science by involving those aspects of science that are useful in daily life and those that are helpful to the society make science interesting. Students mentioned aspects related to their culture are interesting. Factors linked to students’ culture and experience may act on individual factors in our framework (Anderman & Maehr 1994). Bringing real-life examples into science teaching and learning connects students’ daily lives to science in the classroom and enhances meaningful learning (Scott et al. 2011) and may touch upon individual factors for students’ interest in our framework, such as culture and experiences. Students in our study claimed that the use of tangible real-life examples from their context were useful for enhancing meaningful learning and helped boost their motivation. Thus, to enhance motivation in science for students’ learning under contextual challenges, science in school needs to include students’ daily lives.
Also, students expressed that they are more motivated to study science when they are involved in the teaching and learning process. Students explained that they were more involved by the teachers’ use of the participatory approach to teaching and formative assessment. Approaches that give the learner an active role in science learning, such as formative assessment and interactive approaches to teaching, are situational factors for students’ interest suggested by our framework (Anderman & Maehr 1994). According to students, the use of an insufficient language of instruction and limited resources denied students active involvement in the learning process.
The main purpose of this study was to invite a selection of Tanzanian students to reflect on what motivates them in learning science. In our review we have highlighted that insufficient resources (Ndalichako & Komba 2014; Semali & Mehta 2012) and students’ incompetence with the language of instruction (Ndalichako & Komba 2014) were the main contextual challenges for students’ science learning in Tanzania. We also noted scarcity research on what can be done to motivate students who are learning science in such contextual challenges as our knowledge gap. Our main contribution is therefore, students’ own conceptions of strategies that motivate them in learning science in schools with contextual challenges. Our discussions thus focus on this contribution by providing the strategies to motivate students in schools with contextual challenges and the importance of considering students’ own voices when learning science. As indicated in the framework (Fig. 3), inclusion of students’ voices by including them during teaching, including their daily lives, their culture and experiences is linked to both meaningful learning and interest in science.
Students in the present study expressed during the group interviews that science activity that is interesting to them is the one that includes students’ talk either in responding to questions or asking questions. Students commented that they need to bring in their thinking and their interpretations and, as well, integrating what they know with what others know, which can facilitate meaningful learning and interest in science. When students are engaged in answering an open question that allows for integrating their thinking and experiences with classroom science, they can be engaged in critical thinking skills (Mkimbili and Ødegaard forthcoming). Most students expressed interest in scientific topics in which they were engaged in responding and asking questions, and where they share some responsibility in the sessions like leading the discussions and presentations. Conversely, when the students were passive, only copying notes and calculation, they expressed less interest with the subject that was taught. Encouraging students talking in science classroom by the use of proper questioning techniques can be a way to enhance students’ motivation in science in less-resourced schools like the schools we studied in the Tanzanian context as well as in other sub-Saran African countries. Questions posed by the teacher in a guided whole-classroom discussion facilitate inquiry-based pedagogy for larger classes (Chin 2007). Including students’ voices in science teaching was also noted to be useful for students’ motivation in other contexts. For instance, Anderhag et al. (2015) noted that, to motivate students from low social economic status in science learning, students need to contribute in the learning process and their contributions need to be linked to scientific knowledge and being acknowledged. Engaging students in science talk is a situational factor for students’ interest suggested by our framework, as it can create a fascinating learning context (Anderman & Maehr 1994). When students bring their experience and thinking into the discourse, the individual factors for students’ interest from our framework (culture and experiences) can be captured. Meaningful learning is an important aspect for fostering students’ interest (Eccles & Wigfield 2002). Thus, we maintain that in less-resourceful schools with large classes students can still be engaged in meaningful learning in school science and link their prior knowledge, thinking and experiences with scientific knowledge by the use of science talk and discourse.
Students in the present study claimed that it is difficult for them to respond to questions and explaining their ideas when using English, which is an indication that it is difficult to have science students’ talk and discourse when using a foreign language of instruction that is not well mastered by the students. Students can be involved mostly in answering facts-based questions as they cannot be engaged well in responding to open-ended questions with unfamiliar language. Previous scholars in Tanzanian context note that the use of an insufficient language of instruction limits the use of teachers’ questions in the classroom (Vavrus et al. 2013) and students’ acquisition of critical thinking skills (Brock-Utne 2007; Mkimbili and Ødegaard forthcoming; Webb & Mkongo 2013). The problem of a language of instruction in engaging students in classroom discourse is not confined only in Tanzania and other Sub-saharan African countries, but also in other part of the world like Europe especially for minority immigrant students. For instance, a study by Ünsal et al. (2017) was conducted in Sweden for students with different minority languages and in which the teaching language was Swedish. The study reported that students were not having any language problems when answering facts-based questions in science class. Conversely, students had a problem in arguing, discussing and explaining their thinking and their interpretations in a foreign language. Students who are learning science using a foreign language need added resources to be engaged in meaningful science talk in the classroom, and students’ familiar or native language can be utilised as a resource for students’ translation and meaning making (Ünsal et al. 2016). Students in our study suggest that Swahili which is their familiar language can be utilised as a resource for students’ talk. They explained that they can present their thinking and experiences better when using Swahili. This suggests that in Tanzania context, Swahili can be utilised together with English to facilitate translations and facilitate students’ understanding. Students who cannot express themselves in English need to be allowed to speak Swahili to be able to argue and discuss scientific concepts. However, our forthcoming study revealed that some teachers cannot allow students to speak Swahili in science lesson because they think that students require competence in English which is essential in answering national examinations which are administered in English (Mkimbili and Ødegaard forthcoming). Thus an inclusive policy strategy may be required that can facilitate the integrating of both Swahili and English in content learning, and that can enhance students’ talk in science which is essential for meaningful learning and interest in science.
Students also suggested the use of locally available materials and examples from their real lives to facilitate students’ investigations and practical work. Students’ disclosed that the use of resources in their surroundings for science teaching can include their experiences and daily life in the learning process, and enhance their self-esteem in science learning. Students in less-resourced schools and overcrowded classes may still be involved in science investigations using commonly available inexpensive materials in their homes (Ramnarain & de Beer 2013). In our study, students also suggested applying study tours to give learners the opportunity to see real things and to connect theoretical explanations from the classroom to real-life phenomena as a motivating strategy. The use of locally available materials and interesting nearby locations for students’ investigations can be useful in involving learners from less-resourced schools in hands-on activities. The students in our study expressed that the use of hands-on activities is the most common factor for fostering students’ interest in science. By using materials from learners’ real lives for investigations in science lessons, teachers can link knowledge from the science classroom to real-life phenomena. In this way, students may experience that science is used in a meaningful way. Scott et al. (2011) states that, to make abstract scientific concepts meaningful and relevant, there is a need to link them to the everyday life of the learner. When students are performing investigations using resources from their contexts, they integrate their experiences in the science classroom, which is among the individual factors for students’ interest from our theoretical framework (Anderman & Maehr 1994). Hands-on activities, according to our framework, also play a role as a situational factor for students’ interest. Thus, the use of common available materials in students’ surroundings can be used as an alternative to provide students in schools who do not have a lab and lab equipment with an opportunity to perform investigations and hands-on activities, which can foster students’ interest in science.
Nevertheless, the use of out-of-school experiences for science learning also has been reported to bring confusion and problems (Mayoh & Knutton 1997). Thus, appropriate utilisation of these resources requires sufficient skills from the teacher to avoid this confusion. In an African context, Osaki (2004) noted that there are variety of forms of local scientific knowledge both in rural and town areas that can be utilised in science teaching. These varied resources may require proper research to determine which kind of material that can be relevant in science learning both in rural and town schools. Interesting examples are acquired by Fox and O’Donoghue (2010) that worked with local cases of learning and change and have developed a resource books around locally relevant knowledge resources and practical learning activities that related to an African context. The activities showed an interplay of everyday, heritage and institutional knowledge (O’Donoghue 2017). However, more research is needed in exploring context-relevant local scientific materials that can be useful for students’ science learning in Tanzania and other African teaching-learning context in general. In addition, not every aspect in hands-on science activities can be studied by using locally available materials. Some scientific aspects in the science curriculum require quality lab equipment and materials to be understood well by students. Thus, locally available materials cannot fully replace the conventional lab work: rather, they can be useful for supporting meaningful learning for both under-resourced schools and well-resourced schools and facilitating interest in science. Resources improvements in under-resourced schools still need to be the focus for students’ involvement in hand-on activities and attainment of scientific literacy.
Some students have disclosed that in learning of some scientific aspects their teachers’ preferred teacher-centred approach to teaching such as tasking students to copy notes, calculation and diagrams. Students claimed that when science teaching focuses mainly on conveying scientific facts it is difficult to internalise what is taught, which make students less interested in science learning. Our previous studies in the same schools disclosed that teachers cannot sufficiently involve students in science teaching due to inadequate resources, insufficient competence in the language of instruction (Mkimbili et al. 2017) and teachers’ inadequate understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge (Mkimbili and Ødegaard forthcoming). Inclusive approaches for science learning are emphasised by most African curriculum but there are no sufficient preparations for science teachers who can implement inquiry-based science teaching (Ogunniyi & Rollnick 2015). Well-trained and motivated teachers can involve students in active science learning even in presence of limited resources by utilising the available resources in their contexts. Thus sufficient teacher training on nature of scientific knowledge and the use of approaches to teaching, which include learners’ experience, thinking and prior knowledge, is essential for ensuring students’ motivation in science in Tanzania and other African countries.
Our theoretical model generated from the findings (see Fig. 3) of this study suggested that students’ culture and experience can play a part for both students’ interest in science and meaningful learning. Science learning in many science classrooms in Tanzania and other sub-Saharan countries is too abstract and not sufficiently linked to students’ culture and experiences (Anamuah-Mensah 2012; Semali & Mehta 2012). And even if there are aspects of culture that are linked to science teaching, students are not engaged sufficiently in discourse and investigation of the culture relevant aspects in science teaching. In the teaching and learning, the aspects of science that are linked to students’ culture can be utilised as a potential for students’ investigations. For example when students are learning the aspects like fermentation or distillation in science in the classroom which is linked to local brewing, follow-up tasks can direct students to explore such process in their homes and in their contexts and engage them in the discussions about their findings. Also those aspects of culture that were mentioned by students in our findings such as how genetics is linked to students’ cultural beliefs, such as albinism and child bearing, can be useful in engaging students in discourse and investigation, and act as a resource of meaningful science learning. In Tanzania and other African contexts, the local scientific knowledge, such as traditional farming methods, food preservation, herbalism, traditional arts and craft, traditional astronomy and local brewing, are relevant (Asabere-Ameyaw et al. 2012; Osaki 2004). Such aspects may need to be integrated into the science curriculum to make science more interesting and inclusive of students’ culture and experiences. That way a student can be engaged in a project work that links their culture and experiences into science curriculum and they can attain meaningful learning. The integration of culture relevant scientific knowledge into science curriculum can be utilised as a way of including students’ voices in the classroom and enhance meaningful learning as well as interest in science. Such tasks can involve students in investigation even in less-resourced schools. Further research is needed on various cultural aspects that have a link to science that is taught in the classroom in Tanzanian context and other sub-Saharan Africa countries and which can be utilised as a resource for meaningful science learning.
In our contribution of our present study, we have disclosed that to enhance students’ meaningful learning and interest in science in school with contextual challenges similar to those found in the schools we studied, science teaching and learning need to include students’ voices. To sufficiently include students’ voices in science learning as proposed by students, their experiences, culture, contemporary daily life, and familiar language can be utilised as resources. Based on this finding, we provide implication for science teaching and learning and venue for further research.
The science teaching may need to include students’ voices by being integrated more into the contemporary lives of students to motivate students to study science in challenging settings. An example of contemporary aspects of science that can be integrated into science teaching in Tanzania can be farming approaches to adapt to climate change. Students in our data material provided some examples from their science learning on how teachers integrated the topic like acid and base with contemporary aspects of students’ life such as proper techniques of local farming, like the use of local fertilisers that can be safer to the land. Therefore, during teaching and learning, aspects of science that linked to students’ life may need to be integrated.
Likewise, the preparation of curriculum materials for science teaching may need to use context-relevant examples to facilitate students’ understanding when using an insufficient language of instruction. In a Tanzanian context, for example, textbooks preparations need to include relevant materials in science content that are locally available in the context rather than always using abstract materials that are not available in students’ context. For example in our previous study at the same schools (Mkimbili et al. 2017) we noted that in the experiments one teacher related the experiment on uses of oxygen to the process of destructive distillation of wood that is done in students’ local context. Such learning resources can facilitate meaningful learning. Further research may be required for exploring local science materials that can be integrated into science teaching and learning and science textbooks to ensure students’ meaningful learning.
Teachers may require training to facilitate meaningful science learning in challenging settings, such as how to use locally available materials for students’ investigations, the use of questioning strategies and discourse and appropriate use of the foreign language for content learning. We argue that, to make science learning interesting for the majority in schools in Tanzania, and other sub-Sahara African countries, science education needs to be inclusive of learners’ culture, experiences and their contemporary daily lives, and science teaching in the classrooms needs to be inclusive of learners’ voices. Thus, our study can be utilised as a starting point for further research in examining how such approaches can be realisable in Tanzania and other sub-Saharan African countries.
According to the 2005 Tanzanian curriculum, which is currently operational, the formal education structure includes two years of preprimary education, seven years of primary education, four years of ordinary-level secondary education, two years of advanced-level secondary education, and a minimum of three years of university and tertiary education (MoEVT 2005, p. 19). At the ordinary level of secondary education, there are Forms 1–4. As stated in the curriculum, at Forms 3 and 4, students are supposed to study six core subjects—including biology and mathematics—and then select one or more elective subjects, such as chemistry and physics (MoEVT 2005, p. 21).
In some tribes in Tanzania having boys is favoured more than having girls. In such tribes, when the woman is having only female kids, she may be blamed by the husband and in-laws. Likewise, some witch doctors have made people believe that, when they kill an albino and bring parts of the body to the witch doctor, the killer may receive wealth.
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