An investigation of the role of practical laboratory work in bridging programmes for chemical technicians in technikons in South Africa, with particular reference to Mangosuthu Technikon
Lafferty, Janice Theresa
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TOPIC: An investigation of the role of practical laboratory work in bridging programmes forchemical technicians in technikons in South Africa, with particular reference to Mangosuthu Technikon. This research considers the role of introductory practical laboratory work, in a bridging course, in the success or otherwise of vocationally orientated students at technikons in South Africa. Mangosuthu Technikon, on which the study focuses, provides mainlyfor students whose educational background has ill-prepared them for the demands of tertiary studies. Besides the disadvantage of studying through the medium of English, students in the Engineering Schools are further hampered in their studies by having inadequate practical skills for laboratory work. The need to redress the problem of access to tertiary education has resulted in the introduction and continued use of bridging courses for educationally disadvantaged students. Since the secondary education system does not appear to be improving substantially, it would appear that the bridging courses will remain a necessity for some time. InitiallyMangosuthu Technikon offered a school/discipline bridging programme (Pre- Technican Course) for aspirant Engineering students, which allowed disadvantaged applicants a second chance to access tertiary education. It was an intensive six months' course, comprising experiential learning in the integrated components of Mathematics, Communication, Physics and Chemistry. The latter two subjects incorporated a substantial practical component. In the interests of rationalisation, a general Access Course replaced the former course in 1994. The emphasis became largely focussed on theoretical rather than practical work. After initial research indicated that the role of practical laboratorywork inthe trainingof chemicaltechniciansintechnikonsin South Africawas of consequence, a practically orientated bridging course was reintroduced in 1995. This dissertation shows that an educationally disadvantaged student who aspires to becoming a chemical technician requires an holistic education, at the Mangosuthu Technikon bridging course level, which incorporates relevant theoretical and practical components, in order to procure, and succeed in, tertiary education. Such practical work is a prerequisite for aspirant chemical technicians ifthey are to satisfy the needs of tertiary programmes and the demands of their future employers. Findings throughout the dissertation show that practical work is of consequence. Technikon and Industry representatives confirm their commitment to the inclusion of practical work in bridging courses. The implementation and administration of practical bridging courses also play important roles in ensuring that disadvantaged students gain access to tertiary education. This study evaluates Mangosuthu Technikon's original Pre-Technician Course, its 1994 general Access Course and its subsequent Pre-Technician Courses, and finds that Pre-Technician Course (1989/1990) students performed well and that the majority of them were able to access tertiary education and cope with its demands reasonably well. The Access Course (1994) students, by comparison, performed dismally. Years subsequent to 1994 have seen an improvement in the pass rates, but not to the levelofl989/1990. The study, thus, concludes that practically orientated bridging courses impact significantly on successful performance in formal courses for technicians.