Qualitative Research: Curriculum Change

Abstract

The current prospectus in Saudi Arabia was premeditated some 25 years ago based on directed thoughts from the Saudi ministry of politics and committee of educational reform. This thesis undertakes a research investigation into what biology educators think. It will reveal how well the pilot year-nine biology textbook satisfies the requirement of the Saudi Arabia ministry of education and training in bringing about reform to biology education for year-nine students. It also investigates how it will cater for the effective learning of biology with the year-nine students in Saudi Arabia. Lastly, it will find out how closely the perceived feature of the pilot textbook conforms to the characteristics of good science textbook as defined by western standard.

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Background

It is generally accepted that education plays an important role in providing the workforce resource that is essential for building and developing a nation. In particular, in an era of scientific and technological revolution, education is considered as a determining factor for the nation’s success or failure on the international stage. However, the present education system in Saudi Arabia has not been effective enough to provide the human resource needs for the projected industrialization and modernization period (Aljughaiman & Grigorenko, 2013, p. 311).

The outdated features of the present curriculum have been recognized not only by the Saudi government under global pressure but also by Saudi teachers, students and parents who place increasing pressure on the government to address the issues brought about by this international pressure. Thus, it is necessary for Saudi to reform the present curriculum. The present curriculum in Saudi Arabia was designed some 25 years ago based on directed ideas from the Saudi ministry of politics and committee of educational reform. The content has shown areas of weakness and inappropriateness (Abdulrahman & Larry, 2012, p. 32). It focuses too much on theoretical content.

This is demonstrated in the present textbooks and teachers’ teaching methods, which provide no idea to assist with the development of student’s practical skills and skills to apply knowledge gained from theory into practice. These skills appear to be ignored even in schools in high socio-economic areas of the country. Moreover, new scientific knowledge is produced and developed every year but the secondary curriculum in Saudi Arabia in the past 25 years has stayed the same.

Consequently, the current curriculum contains outdated information. Further to the two issues indicated above, the current curriculum has been recognized as an overloaded curriculum that lacks specific standards to address the minimum degree of skills, knowledge and attitudes that learners have to gain. These standards are necessary for the designing, compiling, teaching and evaluating of sound curriculum (Eqbal & Saleh & Ian, 2009, p. 42).

Apart from an outdated and an overloaded curriculum, another issue with the current education system is that the education methods of teaching impose learning on students that encourage rote learning instead of active participations, being responsive and fostering independent thinking and practical skills. Under such circumstances, the Saudi government has decided to make educational changes, in which the content, teaching and learning methods are to be reformed for all school levels. This educational reform has been completed for the primary school level. It is now progressing for the secondary schooling sectors. In fact, it is expected to be completed in the school year 2010-2011.

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The school year in Saudi Arabia begins at the beginning of August and finishes at the end of June. In the new curriculum, the content will focus on fundamental, essential knowledge and practical skills that can be applied to everyday life, which can be updated according to scientific, technological and other development in modern society (Alshayea, 2012, p. 2235). The teaching and learning methods are to change from the traditional way or teacher centered approaches to those that are more student-centered. According to Saudi Arabia education law no. 11/1998QH10 December 2 1998,

The methods of general education consist developing the activeness, voluntariness, initiative and creativeness of the pupils in conformity with the characteristic of each form and subject. They also involve fostering the methods of self teaching, training their ability to apply knowledge to practice; fostering the methods of self teaching, training their ability to apply knowledge to practice, and impact on the sentiments, bring joy and enthusiasm in studies for pupils”

The content and learning/teaching methods reforms require a textbook rewriting for all subjects at all school levels. The textbooks for primary schooling were officially published and implemented across the country in 2011. The textbooks for secondary schooling have been compiled, in which the biology textbooks for year 6, 7 and 8 were published for official use across the country in 2010. The biology textbook for year nine students, which is the focus of this thesis, is being piloted in some schools for two years, in the school years of 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. The information collected from the teachers who have worked with this textbook in this trail period forms the basis for its improvement (Tariq & Picard, 2013, p. 34). The improved textbooks will be published and implemented for all schools in the school year 2013-2014.

Aim of study

The aim of study for this minor thesis is to undertake a research investigation into what biology educators think.

  1. How well the pilot year-nine biology textbook satisfies the requirement of the Saudi Arabia ministry of education and training in bringing about reform to biology education for year-nine students.
  2. How will it cater for the effective learning of biology with the year-nine students in Saudi Arabia?
  3. How closely the perceived feature of the pilot textbook conforms to the characteristics of good science textbook as defined by western standard.

This investigation will be carried out by my own analysis of the pilot textbook in comparison with the current one and a survey of year nine biology teachers trialing the pilot year-nine biology textbook. From the analysis of the data, the research will discuss the suggestion for improving it in its final official publication for next year (school year 2014-2015).

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Research questions

The research component of this study will focus on investigating the perceptions of 20 year-nine biology teachers who have been using the pilot biology in district III in the same city of Medina. The key questions for this research are:

  • What are year-nine biology educators’ perceptions on how well the pilot textbook conforms to the requirement of the Saudi Arabia government writing of new year-nine biology textbook?Other supporting questions include:
    • Can one describe what the pilot textbook contains as fundamental and up-to-date biology knowledge that can be applied in real life situation, especially in Saudi context?
    • Does the pilot textbook focus on developing students’ practical skills?
    • Does the pilot textbook provide support for student-centered teaching/learning methods?
    • Does the pilot textbook cater for students’ different learning abilities and the context they are in, for example, rural versus urban?
  • How well do the Saudi year-nine biology educators’ perceptions of the pilot textbook indicate conformity of the feature of the textbook to those of good science textbook by western standards?

Theory framework

Constructivism of learning

The importance of scientific literacy in the student’s education leads us to ask the question, “What does research say about how students learn and understand scientific concepts best?” Among the theories of learning, constructivism is the most influential theory in science learning. Constructivism is a learning theory into how people come to know what they know. Piaget asserted that learners are required to construct personal knowledge and educators do not passively transfer that knowledge to the learners. Boudouries also reported that cognition is adaptive in the sense that is continuously modified by the learner’s experiences.

Physiological constructivism (Jean Piaget)

Jean Piaget, a Swiss biologist and psychologist is famous for constructing a highly effective model of children’s development and learning. His learning model was based on an evolutionary epistemology that compares the mind development in relation to the biological development and emphasizes the adaptive function of cognition (Emel, 2012, p. 196). Thus, his theory of learning is called physiological or educational constructivism. Piaget’s learning theory has been summarized by many other authors around the world for several decades now. The following description of his theory of learning is based on Boudouries’ work.

According to Piaget, the human intellect develops through processes of adaption an organization. Adaptation embraces two processes: assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation happens when the thinking processes take up external events. Accommodation is where new and unusual mental structures are fitted into the mental setting (Trevelyn, 2013, p. 365). The adapted material is then organized (or re-organized) in the mental framework. The learning model of Piaget considers that the human mind develops through four major stages that are dependent on chronological age.

Sensor motor stage

It may last from birth to 2years when a child interacts and explores his or her surrounding world to build up cognitive structure or concepts about it. The focus of the development is essentially with coordinating physical movement and exploring the environment. The child gradually constructs a set of concepts and course on his or her environment.

Preoperational stage (from two to seven years of age)

This stage can be divided into pre-conceptual and intuitive ones. A pre-conceptual child (from 2-4 years old) cannot yet abstract and distinguish relevant feature. The child cannot think in inductive ways. The intuitive child (4-7years old) can form ideas just from impression. In the other hand, he is not able to consider more than one different matter at the same time.

The concrete operation (age from 7-11)

After accumulating enough actual physical experience, a child can be able to conceptualize objects. Piaget found that at these ages, a child could solve arithmetic equation with numbers and not just objects.

Formal operation (11-15 years old)

At these ages, learners are able to solve problems abstractly and conceptual reasoning is frequently used. This research study is focusing on this stage: student learning in year 9 levels. Piaget asserts that learning is intrinsic and that extrinsic environmental factory may indirectly affect the learning development (Mansoor, 1992, p. 445). Therefore teaching where transmission is dominant may have little impact on a student’s learning development. Teachers need to arrange for the environment or situations to create “internal conflicts” for students. For example, when engaging and interacting with other students in learning activities, students get opinions and views which some may challenge their own views.

This brings about “internal conflicts” in their mind. Learning is optimal when the conflict is minimal and when it takes place at the transition stage between assimilation and organization. Generally, Piaget’s theory assumes that students make sense of the world by using concepts, which they acquire through their normal experience on it. He stated that knowledge is in individuals and students will not passively receive from their teachers. The students actively construct and build up their knowledge in their mind through experience. Thus, learning really occurs as students actively take part in the process. With gained knowledge, students can make sense out of their environment and build up reality. Their concepts will then become views that are more complicated when they undergo more experience.

Methodology Approach

Methodological issues in research make p the core components of the research that will determine the outcome of research concerning it achieving its intended purpose. Research methodology usually goes hand in hand with research design though they are two different issues altogether (Creswell, 2008, p. 8). When a researcher fails to distinguish between the research design and the research methodology, it then leads to poor evaluation of the design. The mode of data collection, which falls under methodology, determines the type of data to be collected together with how the data will be analyzed in the later stages of the research (Fisher, 2011, p. 106).

The research on the Saudi Arabian education system has to be approached from a platform of an ongoing phenomenon, which is going to change (Englander, 2011 p. 15). The old education system is a constant in this case which forms the basis of measurement for the new textbooks, which are yet to be proved against the old system. The researcher will therefore use phenomenological research by engaging teachers who have been in the system and who will be able to give a comprehensive review of the new system in contrast to the old system. The researcher will therefore administer questionnaires to the 20 identified teachers who will fill them out and return them to the researcher for analysis.

The researcher will also interview the said teachers for their opinion. The nature of this research will be qualitative because the questions that will be asked and the answers that will be expected. According to Draper & Swift (2011), an in-depth exploration of the central phenomenon can be achieved by conducting an interview in a research situation within a bounded system (p.4). Therefore, the researcher will employ the use of questionnaires, which will allow the respondents to give more information in their own language. The use of qualitative research as explained by Diefenbach (2009) identifies concepts and trends that emerge as the research goes on (p. 878).

This is important because the research on the new education system in Saudi Arabia is testing a continuous phenomenon that has never existed before and will therefore achieve its intended purpose when conducted this way. The personality of the researcher will be required to be of patience because the researcher will be dealing with people who are far older relative to the researcher. The researcher will be required to approach the respondents in a manner that will enable the researcher gain the best from the respondent. The researcher has to have in mind the cultural expectations that come with interaction between the different age groups.

The respondent will do the administration of research questions through a fill up questionnaire with the researcher conducting a follow up interview on the identified respondents. This will enable the researcher attain enough information that is required for phenomenological research.

Analysis

Analysis of data is the final activity that will allow the researcher to come up with information that can be relied upon to draw a conclusion. According to Atherton (2007), a researcher needs to identify the most formidable data analysis tool that will be compatible with the type of research they are conducting (p. 64). This type of research can be described as exploratory research because it intends to find out information on a subject that had never been worked on before.

The new textbooks for the Saudi Arabian education system are a new phenomenon in this case and it therefore requires qualitative research. It therefore requires an approach that will effectively allow the researcher to analyze the data qualitatively. This involves the use of secondary data, which in this case is the performance of the old curriculum concerning its strengths and weaknesses (Irwin, 2013, p. 298).

The analysis of data will involve going through other published information that give a reflective picture of the Saudi Arabian education system, interviewing stakeholders in the education system as a way of coming up with in-depth information and holding discussions with players in the education sector. One important aspect of qualitative data analysis that one should not ignore is the use of texts as the most important part of the research. The information gathered in this research will come from open-ended questions that the researcher will administer to the respondents. The respondents will not be restricted on the information they will give. More information will be deemed rich in data, which will aid in making the best conclusion (Camfield & Palmer, 2013, 325).

The researcher will be sensitive to the context from the individual respondents rather than trying to find universal generalization of the responses. The purpose of this research is to gain an insightful knowledge on the new textbooks, their performance, and/or where they can be corrected for them to conform to the intended purpose that the change is willing to bring about. Therefore, the researcher will put more emphasis on the qualitative nature of the data being analyzed rather than the consensus nature of the data. The analysis of data will start from the field on the onset of research, at the time of making observations and/or during interviews (Chemail, 2012, p. 248).

The researcher will therefore have to start making analysis notes earlier than it is done in quantitative research. Analysis of data will continue even after the respondents have returned their questionnaires and analysis will involve continuous discussion between the researcher and the respondents because the nature of data can only be understood well through an interactive forum that will further provide more information that can be used to make better conclusion. Therefore, just like the collection of data, analysis of data will have to be interactive until the conclusions are made.

Mode of Thesis Presentation

The presentation of the findings will achieve its intended purpose only if it is made in a way that will make it easy for the users of the findings to understand the outcome of the research. The evaluation of the new textbooks for the Saudi Arabian year 9 students is intended on finding out the weaknesses of the new text books as compared to the old ones in effectively bringing out the differences that should be worked on. In many cases, researchers have employed representation forms that in the end have failed to deliver the important points of the issues being presented after the research. One has to take into account that not all consumers of research findings are interested in the whole process of how a research is done but are simply interested in being convinced of the research findings (Schmied, 2012, p. 152).

This therefore requires the researcher to adopt a presentation mode that is simple for the consumers of information to understand. The researcher of this thesis will prepare and present it in the form of a report. This is because the recipients of the report are supposed to be stakeholders in the education sector who are expected to implement it accordingly. The research is also meant for book writers and publishers who are expected to act on the specific recommendations about the book because the research is meant to inform on the weaknesses of the book, which are then supposed to be corrected so that the book can effectively spearhead the change in curriculum. The format of a report makes it easy for one to read and understand and it does not come with complicated research terms that only people in the research world can understand (Liow, 2008, p. 529).

The researcher will therefore adopt the format of a report because with this the researcher will be able to make presentations at forums with ease as the participants go through the report. The most important part of the research report will be the difference that the research unearths and this can be found in the main body of research and conclusion part (Levin & Lori, 2013, p. 60). Stakeholders in the education sector will go straight to two parts of the report because the other parts only work to support or describe how the researcher came up with a conclusion.

The choice of this form is informed by the need to deliver the point more than the need to follow the procedure because the procedure is just part of delivering the point. The researcher has kept it in mind that the implementation of the report should be immediate because it is meant for the following year’s book publication. This too reinforces the need to use a simple format because there will be very little time to interrogate the research on its merits and demerits.

Reference List

Abdulrahman, A., & Larry, S. (2013). Higher Education in Saudi Arabia: Achievements Changes and Opportunities. MEED Middle East Economic Digest, 56(49), 32-33.

Aljughaiman, A., & Grigorenko, E. (2013). Growing Up under Pressure: The Cultural & Religious Context of Saudi System of Gifted Education. Journal for Education of the Gifted, 36(3), 307-322.

Alshayea, A. (2012). Improvement of the Quality Assurance in Saudi Higher Education. Social and Behavioral Sciences, 47(1), 2234-2236.

Atherton, A. (2007). Structuring Qualitative Enquiry in Management and Organizational Research: A diagnosis on the Merits of Using Software for Qualitative Data Analysis. Qualitative Research in Organizational Management, 2(1), 62-77.

Camfield, L., & Palmer, R. (2013). Improving the Quality of development Research: What Could Archiving Qualitative Data for Reanalyzing and Revisiting research Sites Contribute? Progress in Development Studies, 13(4), 323-338.

Chemail, R. (2012). Conducting Qualitative Data Analysis: Qualitative Data Analysis as Metaphoric Process. Qualitative Report, 17(1), 248-253.

Creswell, J. (2008). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Diefenbach, T. (2009). Are Case Studies More than Sophisticated storytelling? Methodological Problems of Qualitative Empirical research Mainly Based on Semistructured Interviews. Quality and Quantity, 43(1), 875-894.

Draper, A., & Swift, J. (2011). Qualitative Research in Nutrition and Dietics: Data Collection Issues. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietics, 24(1), 3-12.

Emel, U. (2012). An Epistemological Glance at the Constructivist Approach: Constructivist Learning in Dewey, Piaget and Montessori. International journal of Instruction, 5(20), 195-212.

Englander, M. (2012). The Interview: Data Collection in descriptive Phenomenological Human Scientific Research. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 43(1), 13-35.

Eqbal, D., Saleh, A., & Ian, A. (2009). The Quality Assurance System for the Post Secondary Education in Saudi Arabia: A Comprehensive Development and Unified Approach. Quality in Higher Education, 15(1), 39-50.

Fisher, K. (2011). The Qualitative Interview and Challenge for Clinicians Undertaking Research: A Personal Reflection. Australian Journal of Primary Health, 17(1), 102-106.

Irwin, S. (2013). Qualitative Secondary Data Analysis: Ethics Epistemology and Context. Progress in Development Studies, 2(1), 62-77.

Levin, M., & Lori, P. (2013). Use of Pecha Kucha in Marketing Students Presentations. Marketing Education Review, 23(1), 59-64.

Liow, J. (2008). Peer Assessment in Thesis Oral Presentation. European Journal of Engineering Education, 33(5/6), 525-537.

Mansoor, N. (1992). From Piaget’s Epistimic Subject to Pascual Leon Metasubject: Epistemic Transition in the Constructivist Rationalist Theory of Cognitive Development. International Journal of Psychology, 27(6), 443-460.

Schmied, J. (2012). Academic Knowledge Presentation in MA Thesis: From Corpus Compilation to Case Studies in English. Case Study, 38(2), 149-165.

Tariq, E., & Picard, M. (2013). Critiquing of Higher Education Policy in Saudi Arabia: Towards a Neoliberalism. Education, Business & Society. Contemporary Middle Eastern Issues, 6(1), 31-41.

Trevelyn, B. (2013). Updating the Baldwin Effect: The Biological Levels Behind Piaget’s New Theory. New Ideas in Psychology, 31(3), 363-373.

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