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EFFECTS OF AN ETHNOSCIENCE-BASED INSTRUCTIONAL
PACKAGE ON STUDENTS' CONCEPTION OF SCIENTIFIC
Abonyi, Okechukwu Sunday
Department of Science Education, Ebonyi State University
Abakaliki, Ebonyi State - Nigeria
* The Author Acknowledges the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
(CODESRIA) for their Sponsorship of this Research
This study was designed to investigate the effects of an ethnoscience-based
instructional package on student’s conception of scientific phenomena. The study
employed a non-equivalent control group quasi-experimental design. The sample
for this study comprised of two hundred and forty three J.S.III students. The study
was conducted in six secondary schools (2 boys, 2 girls and 2 co-educational). The
schools were drawn through a stratified random sampling. In each school one
intact class was drawn for the study through a simple random sampling. Out of the
six schools three schools (one male, one female and one co-educational) were
assigned to the treatment group while the remaining three schools were assigned to
the control group. The treatment group was taught science using the ethnoscience-
based package while the control group was taught science using the conventional
approach. A Conception of Scientific Phenomenon Test was used to collect data on
conception. The data on Conception of Scientific Phenomenon were analyzed
qualitatively using categorizing and typologies. The result revealed that the
ethnoscience based Instructional package is superior to the conventional approach
in facilitating modern science concept formation in learners and that the
ethnoscience-based package has no differential impact on concept formation
among males and females.
Background of the Study
The lack of academic success in the educational acculturation process has long been
a perplexing and frustrating problem to educators dealing with science education in Africa.
Approaches to education that relate to the cultural heritage, the environment, and the life
style of the Africans have been considered vital and necessary by the emerging African
leadership (Atwater 1993). One of such approaches to culture-related education in the areas
of science is ethnoscience. The ethnoscience of the Africans refers to the materials, ideas,
and beliefs from the African environment and technology. These are derived from the past
and present cultural traditions of the people, which in turn evolved from myth, supernatural,
popular and mystical realities and beliefs as well as from an ongoing acculturation process.
Current studies on methods of science instruction in Africa have revealed that the
existing instructional approaches are highly particularistic, hopelessly biased and guilty, not
only of perpetuating a lack of understanding regarding indigenous fields of knowledge and
cognition but also wrecking outright harm on them (Oppenheimer, 1983; Ajikobi and Bello,
1991; Atwater, 1993; Selin, 1993; Tindimubona, 1993). The current instructional
approaches seem to have contributed to poor concept formation and attitude among
beginners to science. This trend in concept formation and attitude is carried along as
student’s progress in science (Fafunwa 1983). Adesoji and Akpan (1991; 70) already noted
that science taught in Nigeria and Africa generally make us academic foreigners in our own
country". They made reference to the handbook of Science Education Programme for Africa
(SEPA) as saying that a tragedy of science education in Africa which children and adult
have shared is that it has not always paid attention to the culture of the Africans both in
methods and materials.
Fafunwa (1983:20) understood the dilemma quite well when he said that "the
African Society today is in an ambivalent position and so is the child from this
environment". He explained that between the ages of o and 5, the African children are
wholly brought up in a traditional African environment. He further observed that as those
children reach the primary school age they enter another educational system quite different
and strange to the one they were brought up in and are already accustomed to, that is, they
grew up with certain cognitive (learning) style and suddenly found themselves in another
environment with an entirely different approach". On the implications of such estrangement,
Fafunwa (1983:20) wrote:
The fact of the matter, however, is that the child's cognitive equilibrium has
been disturbed and this abnormal situation (the deep gulf between traditional
non-formal African system of education and the formal, Western oriented
system of education) tends to retard the cognitive process in terms of the
anticipated outcomes of the Western form of education.
Any assumption that an African child could be easily adjusted to such a dramatic change
without creating a suitable link is bound to fail. For the child to accept and adapt to a new
field of knowledge, the gap between him - his culture and the new field of knowledge has to
Science, according to Oppenheimer (1983), starts with preconception, with the
culture and with the common sense. The conceptualist view of science treats science as a
quality in its own right. Kneller (1990) addressing the conceptualist view of science stressed
that a child should construct the pictures of his environment in the light of his own
experience provided that he finally reaches the objective picture of the universe. Kneller
further emphasized that human nature and the general perception of the environment is
relative to time and place. The prime virtues, then of any educational system, especially of
those that must meet the unprecedented rate of change in modern industrial society, are
flexibility and willingness to experiment. In his conception of reality, Spinder (1983) noted
that even modern adults owe less to their direct experience and more to the experience of
The realization of the need for a culture based science curriculum and instruction
capable of facilitating conception of scientific phenomena and science skill acquisition
started after the independence of some African States. This culminated in the Addis Ababa
1961; Tananarive 1962; and Lagos 1964 conferences, all channelled toward the inculcation
of indigenous elements in our science curriculum (Eshiet, 1991). Ohuche (1987:1) also
explained that the plea made by Rev. Caulker at the Rehovoth conference in 1960 that
"attention be paid to science and technology as instrument for development in Africa"
necessitated the formation of numerous educational programmes meant for promoting
science and technology in Africa. These programmes include African Primary Science
Programme (APSP), which in 1970 grew into a bigger programme under African
management known by the name Science Education Programme for Africa (SEPA). The
Science Teacher Association of Nigeria (STAN) also emerged to face the challenges of
building a virile science education programme. The association also saw the need for a
science education system that adds a cultural dimension to science education in Nigeria. In
realization of this objective, their integrated science core curriculum is of the "thematic
format, built around the theme: you and your environment" (Asuni 1983:132).
Although efforts are geared toward the infusion/injection of indigenous elements in
our curriculum, science concept formation, achievement and attitude to science continues to
dwindle among secondary school students (Eze 1995; Soyibo 1991; Odunusi 1984). These
efforts were geared towards improvisation and use of mother tongue in science instruction.
Fafunwa's mother tongue approach to science instruction was built on the assumption that
"meanings are found to be intimately connected with the linguistic" (Percival,1966).
According to Percival (1966) if these modes of representing ideas are meanings and if
meanings are psychological entities (as semantic theorists thought at that time), then it
follows that speakers of different languages convey different meanings even when they are
referring to same objective state of affairs in so far as the grammatical structures of the
language they speak differs from one another. But that is not the case. Western model
transmitted in Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or whichever language is still western and completely
alien. Also improvised materials patterned after western models have been shown to
function like their western counterparts and not necessarily an indigenized model (Balogun,
The inadequacy of these two models (improvisation and mother tongue instruction)
in achieving indigenized science instruction for Africa and also in establishing a culture-
based science education capable of resolving the initial conceptual conflicts in African
beginners in science which emanates from the spiralling differentials in European vis-à-vis
African culture tends to generate some academic debates:
(a) What is an indigenized science instruction?
(b) What could be the most appropriate model for indigenisation of science instruction?
Perchonock and Werner (1979:230) earlier noted that ethnoscience provides a useful
way of systematizing certain aspects of anthropological data concerned with the problems of
worldview. Its relevance to education and social growth cannot be over emphasized and
moreover it can serve as a Bridge through which children from varying cultural backgrounds
cross over to our modern conventional science. Anthropologists (Berhim,1978; Bronowski
1990; and Douglas 1991) have suggested that the poor attitude to science, difficulty in
science concept formation and low achievement in the conventional science among the third
world pupils, especially the `Blacks' is as a result of the wide gap that exists between their
culture and the new field of knowledge. They believe that the non inter-penetration of our
ethnoscientific thoughts into the western scientific practices may likely account for the
difficulties encountered in mastery of scientific skills among our students. These
anthropologists likened ethnoscience to the zoological Onychophora (an invertebrate whose
discovery relieved evolutional scientists of the problem of establishing a link between
Annelids and Arthropods).
Emphasizing the indispensability of an ethnoscience based instructional model as an
alternative model for science instruction in Africa, Salio-Bao (1989:71) quoted Fanon's
If we wish to reply to the expectations of the people of Europe, it is no good
sending them back a reflection, even an ideal reflection of their society and
their thought with which from time to time they feel immeasurably sickened.
For Europe, for Africa, for ourselves and humanity, comrades, we must turn a
new leaf, we must work out a new concept and try to set afoot a new man.
This implies an urgent need to develop an instructional model that suits African culture and
background - a model that recognizes the fact that an African child has come to western
science classes with a substantially solid and often supernaturally reinforced view of his
universe which cannot be simply dismissed with a wave of hand. Since ethnoscience-based
instructional package has not been widely emphasized in our school system, the realization
of a conflict free science instruction in Africa will depend on the extent to which such a
package can prove its competence in ensuring effective conception of scientific phenomena
and sound attitude to science. Boulding (1980), and Osia (1987) assumed that the
introduction and infusion of the pupils' culture into the science curriculum and proper
utilization of ethnoscientific concepts and paradigms during instructional process may
facilitate conception and improve attitude to science. Another interesting issue of academic
debate is the issue of gender in indigenized science instruction. Owing to the esoteric nature
of native science and conception, it has been argued that indigenized model may likely
generate a bias in conception among male and female science students (Davidson, 1987;
Hills, 1984; Spinder, 1983). In fact, the infusion of ethnoscientific concepts, theories and
paradigms into the conventional science teaching may have an implication, which is worth
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to explore empirically the effects of an ethnoscience based
instructional package on students’ conception of scientific phenomena. This study
i. developed an ethnoscience based instructional package;
ii. explored the effects of the ethnoscience-based instructional package on pupils
conception of scientific phenomena; and
iii. assessed the response of males and females to the ethnoscience based
instructional package in terms of conception of scientific phenomena
Design and Procedures
This study adopted the quasi-experimental research design. The specific design the
researcher used for this study is a pre-test post-test non-equivalent control group design. The
choice of this design is because of its compatibility with the Performance-Objective
Congruence Model of program evaluation, which this study adopted. The study was
conducted within the Nsukka Education zone of Enugu State in Nigeria. The population for
the study comprised of all J.S III students in all secondary schools within the Nsukka
education zone. The sample for the study comprised of two hundred and forty three J S III
students drawn from six secondary schools out of the one hundred and one secondary
schools in the zone. The six secondary schools (2 boys, 2 girls and 2 co-educational) were
drawn through a stratified random sampling. In each school one intact class was drawn for
the study through simple random sampling. Out of the six schools, three schools (one male,
one female and one co-educational) were assigned to the treatment group while the
remaining three schools were assigned to the control group. The assignment of the schools
to the treatment and control groups was done through a stratified random sampling. In each
school one intact class was drawn for the study through a simple random sampling.
The instruments the researcher used for data collection is a Conception of Scientific
Phenomenon Test (CSPT). The Conception of Scientific Phenomenon Test is a twenty item
multiple choice tests with some provisions for comments on the views/opinions of the
respondent which will back up the choice of options made. The instrument contains four
options A-D for each of the twenty items in addition to a separate column for those who
have no opinion/view for individual items. The items were designed to reflect the following
views: mythology, supernatural, mystical, popular and western scientific or modern
scientific. The instrument was designed to explore students' conception of scientific
phenomena. The instrument was used for both pre-test and post test. Since the instrument is
a conception test there was no fear of testing effect.
The Conception of Scientific Phenomenon Test was face validated by specialists in
research and Science Education. During face validation the items were scrutinized in terms
of relevance, general test format, suitability, and clarity. After the face validation the
instrument was completely overhauled to reflect the expert contributions of the specialists.
The reliability of the Conception of Scientific Phenomenon Test was assessed using
a qualitative approach. The researcher employed the retest typology analysis.
Two instructional packages were used for this study. The first package is the
ethnoscience-based package developed by the researcher. The second package is the
conventional package drawn from the Integrated science curriculum module of the Federal
Ministry of Education. The ethnoscience-based package is identical to the conventional
package in terms of content, basic instructional objectives and mode of evaluation. The only
difference is in the instructional activities where ethnoscience package deviates from the
conventional approach by employing ethnoscientific principles, paradigms and theories
during the instructional processes. The ethnoscience-based package was used for the
treatment group whereas the conventional package was used for the control group.
Before the onset of the experiment, subjects in both treatment and control groups
were given the pre-test. After the pre-test the regular Integrated science teachers started the
experiment in their respective schools adhering strictly to the lesson procedure developed
from the packages during the pre-experimental conference. The experiment was conducted
during the normal school periods, following the normal timetable of the school. At the end
of the experiment that lasted for one term (14 weeks) the teachers administered the post-tests
to the subjects in the two groups. Data collected from the pre-test and post-test on
Conception were kept separately for the two groups and subjected to qualitative analytical
The researcher employed categorizing and typologies in analyzing the data on
conception of scientific phenomena. Concepts were categorized into two: Western scientific
category and ethnoscientific category. For the ethnoscientific category, there are four
conceptual types: Type A - Mythology, Type B - Supernatural, Type C - Mystics and, Type
D - Popular. The Western scientific category was assigned Type F.
Summary of Results
For the study, data collected with the Conception of Scientific Phenomenon Test
for both the treatment and control groups were analyzed qualitatively in terms of
conceptual shift patterns. The concepts were categorized into two: western scientific
category and ethnoscientific category. Within the ethnoscientific category, four
conceptual types were isolated. They are mythological, supernatural, mystical and
popular views. The western scientific category was not subdivided into conceptual
types since its verification is mono-methodological i.e. scientific method. The
specification of the typologies for each of the items of the conception test is shown in
appendix iv. The major response types utilized in this study are:
Type A = mythology
Type B = supernatural
Type C = mystics
Type D = popular
Type F = Western Scientific
Results reveal that Ethnoscience based instructional package facilitates
conceptual change from mythology, supernatural, mystical and popular to western
scientific while still strengthening already acquired western scientific concepts among
students. In item ‘2' of the Conception Test, 40 research subjects shifted their views
from mythology to western scientific following the treatment. For the group that
received no treatment (control group) 43 research subjects retained their mythological
views, 16 shifted from mythology to mystics while only 2 shifted their views to western
scientific. Most research subjects in the control groups retained their mythological
views, some shifted to supernatural, mystics and popular views with only very
insignificant number shifting toward western scientific. For the treatment group, the
case is different. Except for item 3 where two students retained mythological views and
item '7' where six students shifted from mythology to popular view, a very large number
of students shifted from mythology to western scientific.
Results also reveal an interesting pattern of conceptual shift from concept type
'B' (supernatural) to the various conceptual typologies for both the control and
treatment groups. The result presented on shift from supernatural reveal that for the
control group most students/research subjects who indicated supernatural views for
the items retained their views. On the other hand, all the students who indicated
supernatural views for the experimental group or treatment group shifted to western
The study also reveal conceptual shift from mystical views (concept type) to the
various conceptual types. For the treatment group (group taught science using the
ethnoscience based package) all students whose concepts, based on the conception test
were mystically oriented, shifted to western scientific views following treatment. In the
control group almost all the students whose views were mystically oriented retained the
same view with only 3, 2, and 8 research subjects for items 12,14 and 19 respectively
shifting to western scientific.
Conceptual shift patterns from concept type D (popular views) to the various
conceptual strata for both the treatment and control groups were also presented. Result
presented in the in the study indicate that for the ethnoscience based package concept
shifted to western scientific. A glance at the summary of results reveals that for the
control group all the students who indicated a popular view retained the same view
except in items 1, 5, 16 and 17 where only 3, 4, 6 and 6 research subjects respectively
shifted their views to western scientific. This number is comparably very small when
one considers the large number of students that retained the popular views. For the
treatment group, the reverse was the case because all the students who earlier indicated
popular views shifted to western scientific at the end of the study except in items 1,3,
and 16 where only 4, 11 and 3 students respectively retained their popular views at the
end of the study.
Results of conceptual shift patterns also reveals that for the treatment groups,
students who earlier indicated no notion had a shift toward western scientific views
except in items 10 and 11 where only one and four students respectively shifted from no
notion to mythology. On the other hand, summary of data analysis indicate that for the
control group most students who had no notion for the various items of the conception
test retained their views. For the control group only a few students (two for item 6,
twenty for item 11, eight for item 15, five for item 18 and seven for item 19) shifted to
western scientific, while a few also shifted to supernatural, mystical and popular.
Finally, result of the study interestingly reveals that for both the control and
treatment groups, students who indicated western scientific views retained the same
views at the end of the study. This indicates that although the conventional package
does not facilitate conceptual shift toward western scientific, it has no deteriorating
effect on already formed western scientific concepts.
The summaries of result also reveal an almost uniform pattern in conceptual shift
for both males and females. Both males and females shifted from mythology,
supernatural, mystics, and popular views to western scientific. Also both males and
females who earlier had no notion did shift to western scientific views following
treatment (ethnoscience based instruction).
A closer look at the result of the study may suggest that for females there is a
slightly greater shift to western scientific concept. Although on a general note,
conceptual shift to western scientific concepts were in favour of females, for some
response types (e.g. type A of item 3, 7, and 12; type B of items 3 and 17; type C of
item 4; type D of item 5 and type E of items 14, 15 and 19) percentage conceptual shift
to modern scientific concepts were slightly in favour of males.
Except on a very close observation, it would be difficult to notice this very minor
difference in conceptual shift to western scientific views for male and females.
Implications of the Study
The findings of this study have some implications for Sustainable Development in
Science and Capacity Building in Africa. This study offers an African child an opportunity
to learn science from his cultural perspective and also to appreciate science better. In
addition it provides a more effective way of systematizing data in a more objective and
experiential way which permits better understanding of science and its practical basis. The
findings of this study calls for an urgent curriculum review meant at providing a virile
curriculum package capable of fostering a new innovation in science in Africa. This study
calls for a revolution in curriculum innovation that will incorporate in our science
curriculum the basic indigenous scientific concepts, approaches and paradigms necessary for
effective appreciation of scientific realities - approaches that are free from western
hegemony and imperialism. Africans need science instructional package, which while
passing through African also allows Africans to pass through it. This will not only enhance
mastery of science concepts but also strengthen the manpower necessary for scientific
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