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STUDENTS’ PERCEPTION OF THE CLASSROOM LEARNING ENVIRONMENT IN BIOLOGY EDUCATION

STUDENTS’ PERCEPTION OF THE CLASSROOM LEARNING ENVIRONMENT IN BIOLOGY EDUCATION

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ABSTRACT

Beginning from the initial use of classroom environment, the field of learning environment has undergone remarkable development and growth.  Learning environment has been used as a source of dependent and independent variables in a rich variety of research applications spanning many countries. This research has made available a variety of economical, valid and widely-applicable instruments for assessing students' perceptions of their classroom learning environment. In   Oke- Afa high school Ejigbo Lagos, the study investigated factors influencing elective science students’ perception of theirBiology classroom environment in low and high academic achieving senior secondary schoolsin Nigeria. Data were obtained using the Biology Classroom EnvironmentQuestionnaire (BCEQ). This was after the senior secondary schools that offer elective scienceprogram had been categorized into low and high academic achieving schools based on theirperformance in Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination/West Africa SeniorSecondary School Examinations for five years. Two third-year intact classes were randomlyselected from four schools under each category. Data analysis includes Sample and sample technique.  From the questionnaire administered that four factors influence elective science students’ perception of their Biology classroom environment. The findings further suggested that elective science students in both school categories had a low perception of their Biology classroom environment but significantly different in favor of the elective science students in low academic achieving schools in teacher support, cooperation,

and equity. Implications of the study are discussed and recommendations given.

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1    BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY

The classroom environment as applied to educational setting is viewed as a place where learners and teachers interact with each other and use a variety of tools and information resources in their pursuit of learning activities (Fout & Myers, 1998; Mucherah, 2008).  Classrooms are specific places in schools where results of education, that is, understanding and application of knowledge in our lives are expected to be achieved, and these places have lots of influence on students in respect of achieving these noble goals (Fraser, 1981). Creating favorable classroom environments should therefore be of great importance to science educators since evidence suggests that classroom environment influences students’ learning. Perception as noted by Teh (as cited in Ampiah, 2006) influences human behavior in science related issues and this has been found to exist worldwide. An individual student’s perception of the class as a whole, as distinct from a student’s perception of his/her own role within the classroom. For example, males could find a class less difficult than females. Yet males and females still could agree when asked for their opinions about the class a whole. Student have a good advantage point to make judgments about classroom because they have encountered several learning environments and have enough time in a class to form accurate impressions. One of the major aims of education is the development of wholesome personality. Family is the socio-biological unit that exerts the greatest influence on the development and perpetuation of the individuals’ behavior. Next to home, school is the most important experience in the process of development of children. Both the environments, share influential place in child’s life and also contribute to the development of the children. Classroom learning environment is the second home to students. Teachers and parents have greater responsibility to foster mental health status of the students. At times in adverse conditions the classroom may also substitute the home situations and meets the emotional needs of those neglected in the home. Students’ perception or attitude towards the classroom environment has got considerable influence over their mental health. Classroom atmosphere, includes favourable attitude towards teacher, co-students, Curriculum, method of teaching, facilities available in the classroom and teacher-student interaction.

In the school system, Classroom learning environment is the most vital one for the transactional business going on between school and the society. The uniqueness of the classroom is due to the type of membership enjoyed by its members. The membership is not only mandatory but members are also more or less similar in age and achievement level. As a work group, the classroom group assembles together for the purpose of learning which is held deliberately and in a planned manner. Naturally in that teaching learning situation, there is social interaction. The main theme behind the formation of any group occurs compulsorily as well as accidentally. The process of social interaction implies that type of relationship between persons where the behavior of one is the stimulus to the behavior of other thus it becomes reciprocal. Students’ immediate environment is the classroom. Classroom is a place where unique face-to-face group marked by interpersonal relationships among its members. These interpersonal relationships essentially include teacher-student relationship and peer relationship. The general atmosphere within the academic activities that take place influences the social relationships. Two types of social interactions occur in the classroom. Teacher-students and students-students. First one is the most referred one in educational context. However, the interaction going on amongst students is equally significant from a psycho-social view point. The success or the failure of the students also depends on the quality of classroom’s social climate. The classroom learning environment aid the development and effective achievement of student

Socially, the student is the product of environment. The type of classroom leaning environment is dictated by the way majority of the students perceive their experiences in the classroom. These perceptions or experiences may be negative or positive, pleasant or unpleasant. When the environment is conducive, it is perceived to be stimulating, pleasant, peaceful and exciting; there is good moral, solidarity or cohesiveness among the students. The students feel that they belong to the class and are recognized by their mates and teachers. They are enthusiastic to take part in the class activities because of communication in the class is good and encouraging. Student does not feel embarrassed, guilty or ashamed to say something in the class because no matter what one says, whether it is stupid, clever, correct or wrong one is made to feel he has contributed something. There is firmness from the teacher to make everyone work when it is time to work, play and laugh if necessary. In such learning environment student are encouraged to learn and they eagerly do so. When the learning environment is not conducive it is perceived to be hostile, tense, unpleasant, and loose without direction. In a tense punitive hostile classroom student may learn out of fear, for the punishment they may receive. The students do not feel free to express themselves. They are afraid to give wrong answers because they may receive punitive remarks from their teachers. Slow learners in such a classroom fall off because instead of being encouraged, they are discouraged. The teacher who is found to be democratic tends to produce a conducive environment which is exciting and pleasant and stimulates students. Learning while autocratic teacher may create a rigid, tense environment with too much direction to scare students from being themselves. If the classroom is able to create a congenital, pleasant and favourable climate for learning, the student is likely to enjoy the schooling experience. A supporting institutional learning climate is likely to create a positive attitude and facilitate learning. Whereas a non-supportive climate is likely to create a negative attitude and impede learning. To facilitate effective learning and to avoid social problems that may arise out of failures, it would be expedient to include the development of a positive and healthy attitude in students towards classroom and learning. It is important therefore to investigate the way students perceive their Biology classroom environment because of its effect on their achievement in the subject as has been reported in the literature (Taylor, 2004). Classroom environment which are found to be conducive tend to enhance the development of positive attitude towards Biology and thereby leading to higher achievement in it. The classroom learning environment, which include the classrooms, libraries, laboratories, teachers’ quality, school management, teaching methods, peers, etc are variables that affect students’ academic achievement (Ajayi, 2001 and Oluchukwu, 2000). Asiyai(2006) defines physical facilities as the entire school plant or educational facilities such as classrooms, staffrooms, laboratories, library, audio-visual aids, electricity, water, desk, chairs, tables, storage space and others which school administrators, teachers and students may need and utilize for the smooth and efficient classroom learning environment.  Hence, the school environment remains an important area that should be studied and well managed to enhance students’ academic performance.

The issue of academic performance of students in Nigeria has been of much concern to the government, parents, teachers and even student themselves. The quality of education not only depends on the teachers as reflected in the performance of their duties, but also in the effective coordination of the classroom environment (Ajao 2001). Classroom learning environment which include instructional spaces planning, administrative places planning, circulation spaces planning, spaces for conveniences planning, accessories planning, the teachers as well as the students themselves are essential in teaching-learning process. The extent to which student learning could be enhanced depends on their location within the school compound, the structure of their classroom, availability of instructional facilities and accessories. It is believed that a well planned classroom will gear up expected outcomes of education that will facilitate good social, political and economic emancipation, effective teaching and learning process and academic performance of the students.

Relating this study to international occurrences are the assertions of Williams, Persaud, and Turner (2008), quoting Marsden (2005), which reported that safe and orderly classroom environment (aspect of instructional space), School facilities (accessories) were significantly related to students’ academic performance in schools. The three researchers, also quoted Glassman (1994), asserting that a comfortable and caring environment among other treatments helped to contribute to students` academic performance. The work on the relative effectiveness of cooperative, competitive and individualistic goal structure stands out because the volume of studies completed (Johnson 1991). Although many past studies of student achievement is illustrated by cooperative learning is more successful than either competitive or individualistic learning, the evidence is not always consistent.

 The physical characteristics of the school have a variety of effects on teachers, students, and the learning process. Poor lighting, noise, high levels of carbon dioxide in classrooms, and inconsistent temperatures make teaching and learning difficult. Poor maintenance and ineffective ventilation systems lead to poor health among students as well as teachers, which leads to poor performance and higher absentee rates (Frazier, 2002 Lyons, 2001; and Ostendorf, 2001). These factors can adversely affect student behavior and lead to higher levels of frustration among teachers, and poor learning attitude among student. Beyond the direct effects that poor facilities have on students’ ability to learn, the combination of poor facilities, which create an uncomfortable and uninviting workplace for teachers, combined with frustrating behavior by students including poor concentration and hyperactivity, lethargy, or apathy, creates a stressful set of working conditions for teachers. Because stress and job dissatisfaction are common pre-cursors to lowered teacher enthusiasm, it is possible that the aforementioned characteristics of school facilities have an effect upon the academic performance of students. Previous studies have investigated the relationship of poor school environment including problems with student-teacher ratio, school location, school population, classroom ventilation, poor lighting in classrooms, and inconsistent temperatures in the classroom with student health problems, student behavior, and student achievement (Crandell & Smaldino, 2000). Over the past two decades, considerable interest has been shown internationally in the conceptualization, measurement, and investigation of perceptions of psychosocial characteristics of the learning environment of secondary schools. The use of student perceptions can be contrasted with two other major approaches for assessing and studying classroom environment. One approach involves direct observation and systematic coding of classroom communication and events according to some category system (Dunkin & Biddle, 1974). In contrast to methods which rely on outside observers, the approach described here defines classroom environment in terms of the shared perceptions of the students and sometimes the teachers in that environment. This has the dual advantage of characterizing the class through the eyes of the actual participants and capturing data which the observer could miss or consider unimportant. Students are at a good vantage point to make judgments about classrooms because they have encountered many different learning environments and have enough time in a class to form accurate impressions. Also, even if teachers are inconsistent in their day-to-day behavior, they usually project a consistent image of the long-standing attributes of classroom environment.

Recently, despite the obvious leading roles teachers play in the classroom learning environment towards attaining educational objectives, teachers work environment in terms of provision of physical facilities remained a serious problem. Today the teaching variables are neither sufficient nor adequate for positive teaching and learning outcomes. The teachers at times had to work under the most unsafe and unhealthy conditions like dilapidated physical buildings, out-dated libraries, stinking abandoned classroom and broken furniture. Nwachukwu (1988) and Ogundipe (2002) in their studies pointed out that those poorly motivated teachers have less concern for effective classroom learning environment and consequently the school goods and objectives are not wholly achieved. According to Ofoegu (2004) the problems cause by delays consistencies and errors in paying teachers salaries and other remuneration has seriously conflicted with teacher classroom activities. In any conducive work environment, teachers must be good listeners, available, approachable, source of information, paying adequate attention to student activities and trustworthy in performing their roles to yield a highly effective teacher capable of igniting a spark in the classroom (Maxwell 1998). According to Adegun (2002) most of the persistence problems and complications that bedeviled classroom learning environment arises from either lack of information and poor capacity for information management. Whenever activities are not organized, there will be confusion and chaos. Such activities include mastery of the subject matter, making the classroom environment conducive for learning, using appropriate teaching method, provision of physical facilities, information services, motivation teacher- student relationship etc. According to Afe(1995), teaching taste is done through conscious and deliberate effort, but for a teacher to carry out this conscious and deliberate effort called teaching he needs a conducive environment. However good the school performances may be if necessary resources are not there the teacher cannot perform, no matter how much they induced. Teachers also complain of students’ low performance at both internal and external examination. The annual releases of Senior Secondary Certificate Examination results (SSCE) conducted by West African Examination Council (WAEC) justified the problematic nature and generalization of poor secondary school students’ performance in different school subjects. For instance, the percentage of failure compared with students who passed Biology and Mathematics between 2007 to 2010 is shown below.

Table 1: The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) Performance in the Senior School Certificate Examinations: May/June, 2007-2010: Mathematics

YEAR

TOTAL NO OF CANDIDATES

CREDIT A1 - C6 %

PASS P7 - P8 %

FAIL F9 %

2007

1019524

33.97

28.16

34.47

2008

1054853

38.20

25.36

34.41

2009

1149277

41.12

31.09

24.95

2010

1249028

46.75

26.72

24.24

Table 1: The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) Performance in the Senior School CertificateExaminations: May/June, 2007-2010: Biology

YEAR

CREDIT A1 - C6 %

FAIL F9 %

2007

29.53

37.61

2008

25.36

36.93

2009

34.48

29.65

2010

29.94

26.54

Poor academic performance according to Aremu (2003) is a performance that is adjudged by the examinee/testee and some other significant as falling below an expected standard. Aremu (2000) stresses that academic failure is not only frustrating to the students and the parents, its effects are equally grave on the society in terms of dearth of manpower in all spheres of the economy and politics. Education at secondary school level is supposed to be the bedrock and the foundation towards higher knowledge in tertiary institutions. It is an investment as well as an instrument that can be used to achieve a more rapid economic, social, political, technological, scientific and cultural development in the country. The role of secondary education is to lay the foundation for further education and if a good foundation is laid at this level, there are likely to be no problem at subsequent levels. However, different people at different times have passed the blame of poor performance in secondary school to students because of their low retention, parental factors, association with wrong peers, low achievement, low retention


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