A neo-Vygotskian comparative analysis of the availability of simple scientific concepts in science in the English National Curriculum Year 1 and the South African National Curriculum and Policy Statement Grade 1

Master Thesis


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South Africa continues to lag behind other countries in mathematics and science in benchmarks tests such as the TIMSS tests. The importance of teaching science early in the school curriculum has been established in research. However, some research indicates that the scientific concepts made available to teachers and students in the Foundation Phase are lacking in depth and are, in fact, not full scientific concepts (Morris, Hardman& Jacklin, 2016). In a bid to establish to what extent scientific concepts are made available to students and teachers, this study analysed and compared the availability of “simple scientific concepts” on the topic of plants for children in their first year of formal schooling in the South African and English National Curricula, as well as educational materials from these countries. This study is continuing the work conducted by Morris, Hardman, and Jacklin (2016), who analysed the prevalence of simple scientific concepts in the Grade R curriculum and materials in South Africa. The notion of a simple scientific concept is derived from Neo Vygotskian elaborations on scientific and everyday concepts, where simple scientific concepts are the foundations for the development of more complex scientific concepts. A rating scale based on these ideas was used to analyse the materials for simple scientific concepts. The findings of the current study found that in both countries' curricula and materials are largely composed of “potential scientific concepts”, which are concepts that have the potential to be translated from an everyday concept into a scientific concept by the teacher (if they have sufficient knowledge). Overall, the findings are of concern as studies show that teachers in both nations feel ill-equipped and are lacking in confidence to teach science, and since there are so many potential scientific concepts the teachers must be knowledgeable in order to translate them into scientific concepts for their students. In conclusion, the implications of this study are that the curricula and materials for Year/Grade 1 children in these nations are not conducive to them acquiring simple scientific concepts.