Advancing Practical Physics in Africa’s Schools

Babalola, Femi (2017). Advancing Practical Physics in Africa’s Schools. PhD thesis The Open University.



In countries with a long tradition of laboratory based teaching, practical work is seen by many teachers as an essential aspect of their practice. It is widely accepted that practical work not only enables skills acquisition but also leads to greater conceptual understanding. However, whilst there has been much research into the factors that affect teaching and learning of practical science across the economically developed countries, there has been little research into the existing conditions and the factors which affect teaching and learning of practical physics in African schools. This study provide the description of the present position and an analysis of possible beneficial interventions to the teaching and learning of practical physics in African secondary schools. The issues are relevant to all educational sectors.

Qualitative and quantitative data were collected from four countries in Africa. Surveys were carried out with 550 final year secondary school students and 44 secondary school physics teachers. Qualitative data were gathered from focus group discussions with the students and semi-structured interviews with; physics teachers, heads of science departments, school principals and ministry officials. Other key stakeholders including physics curriculum planners, physics educationalists from the tertiary institutions and voluntary Institute of Physics coordinators were also interviewed. The survey data were analysed numerically to produce descriptive statistics while qualitative data were transcribed and coded to provide easy retrieval of the themes that emerged.

The findings from the study reveal that there is a wide gap between practice in developed countries and the countries studied. This gap is attributable to many factors, some of which are predictable, e.g. various resource constraints. Other factors include ambivalent or negative teacher and pupil attitudes with prioritisation of ‘theory’ and a limited interest in or awareness of the importance of inquiry. These factors underlie the lack of practical physics assessment in some countries in Africa which is a further disincentive to practical physics engagement.

Based on the findings of this study, nine recommendations were made. Countries wishing to improve practice should undertake a broadly based audit of existing practice taking into account the full range of barriers and drivers. The physics curriculum should be reviewed to explore reduction of content to allow teachers spend time on practical activities. Initial training and continuous professional development of physics teachers should prioritise teaching of practical physics. Assessment of practical skills should be required for qualification and used formatively. Government funding should be allocated to build, equip and maintain adequate school laboratories. Physics teachers should be encourage to adopt the use of learning technologies and open source software in the teaching and learning of practical physics. Physics teachers across Africa should be encouraged to use social media to develop a closer association that will spread effective practice. Teacher motivation should be enhanced by recognition of success in the delivery of practical physics. Students should be encouraged and motivated to learn practical physics by placing employability and relevant inquiry in the foreground.

This single study could only provide limited data on teaching across the continent. Further investigation is required before the conclusions could be generalised with complete confidence.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions