The Real Aims that Shape the Teaching of Practical Physics in Sub-Saharan Africa

Babalola, Femi E.; Lambourne, Robert and Swithenby, Stephen (2020). The Real Aims that Shape the Teaching of Practical Physics in Sub-Saharan Africa. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 18(2) pp. 259–278.



Practical work is widely seen as an important element of the science curriculum. However, there is a long-standing debate about the educational aims of practical work and about why it is important. Aims suggested include the contributions that practical work can make to understanding, to the acquisition of professional and personal skills, and to motivation. However, several authors have argued that the actual contributions made are minimal and there is ongoing pressure to justify the continuing inclusion of practical work in a period when greater cost efficiency is required from all those involved in education. Such pressures are extreme in countries that face resource challenges. This study examines current views on the aims of practical physics teaching in sub-Saharan Africa. Data were gathered from staff and students in four countries across the region through surveys and interviews. A context was provided by observation of practice and inspection of background documents. The overt educational aims of the staff are consistent with previous analyses though there is a heightened priority given to the improvement of content knowledge and understanding. However, there are additional drivers of behaviour that, to a large extent, define the observed practice. These ‘pragmatic aims’ concern mainly the practicalities of running schools with limited material and staff resources but also arise from cultural expectations and societal needs. Although the formal data is derived from the secondary sector, it is of relevance to all educational levels.

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