Quality of the Grade 12 life sciences curriculum : perceptions and possibilities for lifelong learning
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The emergence of a highly competitive and integrated international economy, rapid technological innovation, and a growing knowledge base will continue to have a profound impact on the lives of communities. In recent years there has been an international movement towards educational reform, particularly in science education, to meet the need for a sustainable environment, economy, and society. Science education is a key element in developing scientific literacy among today’s and tomorrow’s youth. Recent decades have seen an exponential growth in scientific applications, and one would expect an accompanied increase in science interests in the classroom, as well as an increased understanding of basic science ideas and ways of thinking will follow. However, research has shown that this is not the case. In this study, the researcher, through the research methodology, took an in-depth look at whether the curriculum reform in the Life Science curriculum was forthcoming to lifelong learning. The key questions guiding this study are as follows: (a) What are the perceptions and expectations of grade 12 learners regarding the quality of the Life Sciences curriculum in respect of lifelong learning; (b) What are the perceptions and expectations of grade 12 learners regarding the their Life Sciences educators; (c) What are the perceptions of the grade 12 Life Sciences educators of the relevance of the grade 12 Life Sciences curriculum with a view to lifelong learning; (d) How does the grade 12 Life Sciences curriculum impact on lifelong learning of learners. This study falls within the realm of mixed methods study. Mixed methods encompass both a quantitative and a qualitative study. The study was conducted in the district of Pinetown because in 2013 this district produced the best results in Kwa-Zulu Natal in the National Senior Certificate Life Sciences examination. This study used simple random sampling to obtain the learner participants. The researcher conducted the study in 16 schools and 25 learners from each school were randomly selected. The educator sample comprised 75 grade 12 Life Sciences educators. The SERVQUAL questionnaire was administered to the 400 learners that were randomly selected while; the educator questionnaire was administered to the sample of 75 educators. The findings of the research revealed that educators experienced many challenges which hindered the successful implementation of the Life Sciences curriculum effectively. The quality of the Life Sciences curriculum itself did not that hinge on lifelong learning. It did not have very much relevance to the lives of the learners and as such the learners were learning about things that were abstract to them. Another finding was that educators found it challenging to relate the grade 12 Life Sciences curriculum to the everyday experiences of the learners because time was a limiting factor. The exam driven nature of Life Sciences had resulted in rote memorisation of scientific facts by the students without any or very little attention being paid to analysis and application of knowledge. The inability to evaluate the process of curriculum implementation by curriculum developers could have serious consequences for the learners and communities at large. For any qualitative change to occur in Life Sciences education, the curriculum must undergo a paradigm shift. To encourage schools and teachers to implement this paradigm shift, fundamentally there needs to be an overarching reform of teacher empowerment. In essence, what is needed from the national educational policy makers is a shift towards more evolutionary policy planning which aims to improve the fit between the intention of the curriculum and the conditions on the ground, to blend top-down policy initiative and bottom-up participation and to promote continuous interaction between all policy actors.