n African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education - Making a case for epistemological access in biotechnology education in Southern Africa

Volume 20, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1811-7295
  • E-ISSN: 2469-7656
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In southern Africa, biotechnology is increasingly important with regard to food security and the development of the pharmaceutical industry. Universities are tasked with providing the relevant capacity development through tertiary-level courses to meet these development needs. However, the knowledge and practices of biotechnology may be contentious as in issues related to genetically modified foods and cloning. It is also well known that in culturally diverse educational situations, students may experience epistemological challenges derived from their ontological standpoints, and that these can impact on the learning process. The purpose of this study was thus to investigate student views of biotechnology, a field of science where student ethical, religious and/or cultural beliefs may be at odds with the science that is taught in the classroom. Data was collected over a four-year period (2009-2012),from 115 students from two universities who volunteered to complete a questionnaire. Data was also collected from 70 students who volunteered to be part of focus groups during this time. Phenomenography was used as the research approach in this case study, resulting in an outcome space that produced two broad categories describing students' responses to biotechnology. These were a theoretical and practical perspective, and a worldview perspective. The study found that students need and want to be as globally competitive as their international peers. This requires that the curriculum reflects the standard and practice of the Global North. However, in southern Africa, where the student demography in universities is typically very diverse, the findings also highlight the need for a pedagogical approach that facilitates learning through providing space for students to freely discuss and reflect on their views and concerns related to indigenous knowledge and beliefs.

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