The effectiveness of an outreach programme in science and mathematics for disadvantaged grade 12 students in South Africa
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This study was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of a computer-based outreach programme that addresses one aspect of a national strategic recommendation in South Africa. This outreach programme, which started in 1982, was in its twentieth year of existence in 2001 and provided support in mathematics and physical science to Grade 12 students and teachers from historically disadvantaged schools. This study examined the role that the outreach programmes played at two schools during 2001 and endeavoured to provide an analysis of the intended, implemented, perceived and achieved programmes for this year. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of this outreach programme in providing support to both teachers and students in the teaching and learning of mathematics and physical science. The goals and objectives of the outreach programme (the intended programme) were identified from documentation of the Outreach Project and interviews with Outreach Project managers. In addressing the implementation of the outreach programme (the implemented programme), lessons at each of the two, Mini-Computer Supported Education Centres (MICSECs) were observed over a period of four months. At one centre (Centre A), the lessons consisted of a formal (talk-and-chalk) presentation followed by an informal part when students worked on the computer in the same period. At the second centre (Centre B), the MICSEC was used as an adjunct to the normal classroom lesson, that is, students were taught in their normal classrooms and then, at least once a week, taken by their teacher to the MICSEC to do problem-solving on the computers. The perceptions of students (the perceived programme) were examined by an actual and preferred version of the Computer-Assisted Learning Environment Questionnaire and by interviews conducted with both individual students and groups.At Centre A, the students preferred more involvement, more open-endedness, more organisation and more learning assessment opportunities in their computer-assisted classes but also less integration of computers in their every day classes whilst desiring investigation procedures in their classes to remain the same. At Centre B, students preferred to be more involved, to have more open-ended activities in their classes, have more learning assessment opportunities and a greater level of integration of computers but a reduction in investigative activities. Findings from student interviews were summarised as reflecting three viewpoints with regard to the inclusion of computer-assistance in classes. Students holding one viewpoint considered the inclusion of computer-assisted learning as important to their learning and were convinced that their interaction with the computer, fellow-students and teacher, led to an improvement in their learning. Students holding the second viewpoint conveyed a message of insecurity in the use of computers for they were not sure whether their working with computers made any difference to their learning. Many students' views were somewhere between the first and the second viewpoints which left the impression that these students were not convinced that using the computers would guarantee them success in the final examination. The third viewpoint was strongly articulated by a group of three students at Centre A and to a lesser degree at Centre B (one student), who considered that the new computer-assisted classes played no role in their learning and that teacher-centred classes would produce better results. The extent to which the outreach programme met its objectives (the achieved programme) included improved student performance on the matriculation examinations.Teachers and students were generally positive of the support that they received but indicated that more computer terminals were required to address students' individual needs. The mean achievement of students at both schools improved in both mathematics and physical science, but more so in physical science. The MICSECs mainly served as a resource to students at the school where the centres were based and provided limited computer skills to students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. The findings of this study provided insight into the implementation of computer-assisted classes in two disadvantaged schools and the results can serve as baseline data for conducting research into computer-assisted learning environments in other secondary school grades in South Africa. However, it should be noted that students at the Grade 12 level also wanted a continuation of, indeed more of, teacher-centred teaching, in addition to the computer-assisted classes because of the perceived competency of teachers in helping them perform well in the matriculation examination.
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