Studying science and engineering at UCT : students' background, experience of science an reasons for studying science or engineering

Laugksch, Diane (2007-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: It is the contention of this study that competence in science and mathematics is a necessary condition for access to higher education, but that it is a general interest in science that will inspire learners to pursue careers in science and technology. The objective of this study was to develop a profile of the individual who chooses to study science and engineering. The three research questions were, firstly, what is the background profile of a group of learners who have decided to study science and engineering? Secondly, what are the characteristic features of the school-science experience of these learners? Lastly, what are the factors that learners think most influenced their decision to study science and engineering? This study was formulated as having a descriptive purpose and hence a survey research design was used. Self-reported retrospective data were collected using a questionnaire which was designed with reference to a number of sources (e.g., Woolnough, 1994). After piloting the questionnaire, it was administered to all firstyear students registered in the faculties of Science and Engineering at the University of Cape Town. A total of 204 first-year science and 247 first-year engineering students formed the final sample of this study. Quantitative analysis of the students’ responses showed that 66% of respondents were male. The majority of female students were registered in the science faculty. English was the home language of 55% of the sample, with 32% of students reported speaking one of the other nine official languages at home. Parents, career counselors and teachers most influenced students’ decision to study science or engineering. The vast majority of respondents took Physical Science at school. Students’ experiences of school science were diverse. Students’ responses generally reflected a poor commitment on the part of schools to expose students to noncurriculum activities generally thought to promote an interest in science. Overall, the majority of students reflected an enthusiasm for learning to do science through scientific experiments, albeit with preference for a teacher-driven approach to classroom activities. Personal motivation, receiving a bursary, and access to information were the main factors that students said influenced their decision to study science and engineering. While information received at a careers open day and participating in a school science competition was crucial for science students, engineering students showed a general curiosity for science, for knowing how things work, and for creating and designing things. For most African students information received at a careers open day was important, while a curiosity for science and receiving a bursary were equally important in influencing non-African students to pursue further study in science or engineering. The results of this study suggest that what parents say, and the information that learners have access to, is important to the decisions that learners make in regard to future careers in science and engineering. It is suggested that future strategies for promoting science in general must include parents, teachers and senior learners in the dissemination of general information about science, about people in science, about using science in everyday life, and about the possibilities for further study in science and engineering.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Dit is die uitgangspunt van hierdie ondersoek dat vaardigheid in die wetenskap en wiskunde ‘n noodsaaklike voorwaarde is vir toegang to tersiêre onderwys, maar dat ‘n algemene belangstelling in die wetenskap leerders sal inspireer om loopbane in die natuurwetenskappe en tegnologie te volg. Die doel van hierdie ondersoek was om ‘n profiel te ontwikkel van die individu wat die natuurwetenskappe en ingenieurswese kies as studierigting. Die drie navorsingsvrae was, eerstens, wat is die agtergrondsprofiel van leerders wat besluit om in die natuurwetenskappe en ingenieurswese te studeer? Tweedens, wat is die kenmerkende eienskappe van hierdie leerders se skoolervaring? Laastens, watter faktore dink hierdie leerders het hulle besluit om in die natuurwetenskappe en ingenieurswese te studeer, die meeste beïnvloed? Hierdie ondersoek is beskrywend van aard en dus is ‘n steekproef as navorsingsontwerp gebruik. Selfgerapporteerde retrospektiewe data is ingesamel deur middel van ‘n vraelys wat ontwerp is met verwysings na ‘n verskeidenheid bronne (bv., Woolnough, 1994). Die vraelys is versprei aan alle eerste-jaar geregistreerde studente in die Natuurwetenskappe en Ingenieurswese Fakulteite by die Universiteit van Kaapstad, nadat ‘n voortoetsing van die vraelys uitgevoer is. ‘n Totaal van 204 eerste-jaar natuurwetensakppe en 247 eerste-jaar ingenieurswese studente was deel van die finale steekproef van hierdie ondersoek. Die kwantitatiewe ontleding van die studenteterugvoer toon dat 66% van die respondente manlik is. Die meerderheid vroulike studente was geregistreer in die natuurwetenskappe fakulteit. Engels was die huistaal van 55% van die steekproef, en 32% van die studente het aangedui dat hulle een of meer van die ander nege amptelike landstale praat. Ouers, beroepsvoorligters en onderwysers het die meeste invloed gehad op die studente se besluit om in die natuurwetenskappe of ingenieurswese te studeer. Die oorgrote meerderheid respondente het Natuur- en Skeikunde op skool geneem. Studente se skoolervarings en ervaring van die wetenskap op skool was uiteenlopend. Studente se terugvoer het in die algemeen gedui op ‘n swak verbintenis van skole tot die blootstelling van studente aan niekurrikulêre aktiwiteite wat oor die algemeen belangstelling in die wetenskap kweek. Die meerderheid studente het in die geheel ‘n entoesiasme getoon om meer te leer van die wetenskap deur die uitvoer van wetenskaplike eksperimente, hoewel met ‘n voorkeur vir ‘n onderwyser-gedrewe benadering tot klaskamer aktiwiteite. Persoonlike motivering, om ‘n beurs te ontvang, en toegang tot inligting is deur studente aangedui as van die vernaamste faktore wat ‘n invloed op hulle keuse van die natuurwetenskappe en ingenieurswese as studierigting gehad het. Die inligting wat die natuurwetenskappe studente ontvang het by beroepsgeoriënteerde opedae en deelname in ‘n skool wetenskapskompetisie was beslissend in hulle besluit. Die ingenieurswese studente daarteenoor het ‘n algemene nuurskierigheid vir die wetenskap en hoe dinge werk, hoe om dinge te skep en te ontwerp, getoon. Die inligting wat swart studente by beroepsgeoriënteerde opedae ontvang het, was belangrik, terwyl ‘n wetenskaplike nuuskierigheid en die toekenning van ‘n beurs ‘n ewe belangrike invloed gehad het op ander studente se keuse om verdere studie in die natuurwetenskappe of ingenieurswese voort te sit. Die resultate van hierdie ondersoek dui daarop dat wat ouers sê, en die inligting waartoe leerders toegang het, belangrik is vir die besluite wat leerders neem met betrekking tot toekomstige loopbane in die natuurwetenskappe en ingenieurswese. Daar word voorgestel dat toekomstige strategieë vir die bevordering van die wetenskap in die algemeen ouers, onderwysers en senior leerders moet insluit in die verspreiding van algemene inligting oor die wetenskap, oor mense in die wetenskap, oor die gebruik van die wetenskap in die alledaagse lewe, en die moontlikhede van verdere studies in die natuurwetenskappe en ingenieurswese.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/19637
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