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            1.1 Background to the problem

Until the later half of the twentieth century, the different roles of men and women in society in the western world remained largely unquestioned, although since 1920 women gradually had gained the right to vote and general access to education at all levels. As many women claimed the right to be treated as equals alongside men in all aspects of social, political and cultural life, the demand for further societal changes was evident. Many of these legitimate claims of women began to be constitutionalized in numerous countries in the late 1960s (Kotte, 1992). 

Nonetheless, the masked imbalance between the sexes in many fields of employment was not overcome completely. There are relatively few female scientists and engineers at the professional level and even fewer technicians and tradeswomen at the skilled worker level (Kelly, 1978; Keeves and Kotte, 1991). The origins of such differences can be traced back to participation in studying science at school, from the earliest grades onwards. It cannot be ruled out that such differences are generated at an even earlier stage in the socialization processtaking place at home. However, there seems to be little doubt that these differences between the sexes are established and consolidated during formal schooling (Keeves, 1991). 

In the economic competitive environment of the developing countries each educational system is expected to ‘produce’ an optimum number of technologically qualified personnel who are needed by the labour market. This has implications for the planning of the educational system of each country. Not only are more science trained students expected to graduate from high school, but there is also a proportionately higher demand for female students as societies become more responsive to women in Science careers. In the past, many of the more prestigious and more highly paid jobs have gone to men who have been trained in science-based programs, such as medicine, engineering and technology. Since girls have not studied science courses at school to the same extent, as have boys, such occupations have been filled by more men than women (Keeves and Kotte, 1991). Optimizing science (and by extension to Chemistry) achievement and at the same time reducing differences in performance levels between boys and girls may eventually lead to greater economic efficiency within a system. In this process, gender differences can be reduced as increased opportunities become available to girls (Duncan, 1989; Keeves and Kotte 1991). The theme of this research study is timely. Detailed information is needed on how to reduce gender differences in Chemistry achievement and how to improve the achievement level of all students in Chemistry. 

The study of Chemistry is important in all aspects of life. In Nigeria, Chemistry is among the key subjects used for selective advancement in the education system. However, the teaching and learning of Chemistry in schools is not at its best. Practically, all students believe that Chemistry is important for life after school and yet both boys and girls demonstrate some negativity towards the subject. They perceive the subject as difficult and uninteresting and thus are biased in the selections they make, often not considering the subject requirements needed for future careers. 

While most people in our society recognize and appreciate the essential role of chemistry in everyday life, it remains one of the poorly performed subjects in the NECO (Ministry of Education, 2018). In addition, gender disparity in performance does exist. The gravity of the problem in performance is shown in table 1.1 below:

From Table 1.1 above, a number of observations can be made 

•      Performance of boys and girls in chemistry over the years has been poor.

•      Even though the performance fluctuated over the years, it is evident that gender disparity in performance exists: females continue to score lower than males in chemistry.

Poor performance in chemistry has been attributed to several factors. They include over enrolment, inappropriate syllabus, students’ poor attitudes towards the subject and inadequate resources (Twoli, 1986; Orodho, 1996). The ministry of education in Nigeria through its various organs has made considerable efforts to curb the above causes. Such efforts have included among others, adequate training of chemistry teachers, and provision of basic teaching materials, organizing for in-service courses for chemistry teachers and in some occasions revision of the secondary school chemistry curriculum. Despite the above efforts, students still perform poorly (KNEC, 1995). This implies that the problem that leads to students’ poor performance in the subject has not been adequately addressed. While the above factors may contribute to such performance, there could be yet another critical and key factor that contributes to poor performance in the subject. This is, as proposed by this study, the gender effect. Gender is another factor that has been identified as having some effects on performance of students in science and by extension in chemistry (Twoli, 1986). 

As also evident from Table1.1 there exists gender disparity in students’ performance in chemistry in Nigeria. Several scholars have identified attitude related factors such as low selfesteem, poor self-concept, fear of success, and lack of confidence as having an influence on girls’ achievement in mathematics and the sciences (Eshiwani, 1993; Twoli, 1986). Therefore gender effect on chemistry achievement could be attributed to psychological, social and cultural factors. Despite spirited gender awareness efforts, gender disparity in students’ performance in chemistry persists. Hence, there is a need to explore more on gender differences in students’ achievement in chemistry with a view of suggesting possible intervention strategies. Hence the need for such a study.

1.2 Statement of the problem

The study of Chemistry is important in all aspects of life. In Nigeria, Chemistry is a key subject for selective advancement in science and technology and needed for most careers in the education system. These careers include the health sciences (nursing, laboratory technicians, doctors) and engineering. Conditions, which prevail in the education set-up, however, discourage good performance from both boys and girls in science and by extension to chemistry. Works done by Twoli, (1986) and Orodho, (1996) have identified a lack of adequate instructional resources and equipment, poor teacher preparation and remuneration, uninspired curricula and a negative attitude by all stakeholders in education. Even after many attempts have been made to counter these factors, including spirited gender awareness efforts by governments as well as intervention by NGO’s, gender disparity in Chemistry performance still persists. This means that the real cause of gender disparity and poor performance in Chemistry have not been identified and therefore necessitating more research. It is in view of this gap, that the researcher felt that gender difference in students’ achievement in Chemistry needs further extensive investigation so as to bring about tangible improvements.

1.3 Objectives of the study

The study was guided by the following objectives:

(a)    To identify the differences between boys and girls in Chemistry achievement.

(b)    To determine the main factors that are associated with gender differences in chemistry achievement.

(c)     To identify attitudinal and aspirational levels of students towards chemistry.

1.4 Research questions

The study attempted to answer the following questions:

(i)                What ability differences are there between boys and girls in Chemistry Achievement

(ii)              What teacher factors are associated with gender differences in school chemistry achievement?

(iii)             What differences are there in attitudinal and inspirational expressions by boys and girls towards learning school chemistry?

1.5 Significance of the study

The findings of the study will be hopefully beneficial to the following:

(a) Chemistry teachers

Teachers are the implementers of any school chemistry curriculum. The research findings will sensitize them on the intervention strategies suggested to help improve achievement of boys and girls in chemistry and in particular close the gender gap in Chemistry achievement.

(b) Chemistry learners

The researcher findings would help secondary school students to identify the particular areas that give them problems in chemistry. They will therefore benefit from the suggestions given on how to improve performance in the different ability areas.

(c) Chemistry teacher trainers

The results of the research will be used to sensitize teacher trainers on how teacher’s characteristics affect performance in chemistry and how they can be avoided to help bridge the gender gap.

(d) Text book authors

The findings will enable textbook authors to prepare materials for chemistry learning and teaching devoid of any gender bias.

1.6 Basic assumptions of the study It was assumed that:

(i)                The sample used in this study is representative of the wider population of secondary school students in Nigeria.

(ii)              There are relationships between variables identified in this study and achievement in chemistry unless otherwise stated.

(iii)             All chemistry teachers are trained and effective in their instruction.

(iv)             All secondary schools to be investigated adhere to a uniform Chemistry syllabus.

1.7 Scope and limitations

1.7.1 Scope

The study dealt with students and their teachers in stratified randomly selected public secondary schools in Uyo metropolis, Akwa Ibom State. Uyo metropolis, Akwa Ibom State was used because it has a large population comprising a large number of sub-ethnic communities. Hence, socio-cultural differences are many, which have an effect on attitudes of the learners.

1.7.2 Limitations

The following are considered as the main study limitations:

(a)    Since the sample respondents were drawn from some selected public secondary schools in Uyo metropolis, Akwa Ibom State the effects found mainly reflected the situation in the district. Hence, the findings may not be representative of all secondary schools in Nigeria. 

(b)    Resources (time and funds) were other limitations of the study. Inadequate time and funds for the programme (one year for the research work) hindered the extension of the research to other parts of the country.

1.8 Definitions of terms

In this study, the following terms were used for the purpose and with the intention as explained below:

Achievement test: Is a test developed and used primarily to find out how much students have learnt in a given domain or area of the curriculum.

Attitude scale: Instrument purporting to measure emotions, values and feelings related to a particular discipline or subject.

Chemistry: Is a branch of science that deals with study of nature and properties of all forms of matter and the various changes that these substances undergo in different conditions.

Gender: Refers to social and cultural construction and representative of being ‘male’ and ‘female’

Science: Is a vast body of connected knowledge of theories and facts developed by scientists through scientific methods.

Spatial ability: The capacity to visualize objects in three – dimensional space. It is a measure of student’s ability to think and reason using imagery.

                        1.9 Organization of the thesis

This thesis has been divided into five chapters. Chapter one outlines the context of the study including the background, statement of the problem, study objectives, research questions, significance of he study, scope and limitations and definition of terms. 

Chapter two reviews literature with regard to the study. This is reviewed under four subsections: Factors that influence the learning of Science, gender differences in learning science, Biological and socio – psychological theory.

Chapter three provides the research methodology.  It includes the design and location of the study, sampling methods, research instruments and data collection procedures and the rationale for choosing them.

Chapter four presents, analyses, the data collected and discusses the results.  The discussions are based on the research questions touching on all variables related to gender differences in chemistry achievements as mentioned in the study.

Finally chapter five summarizes the findings and gives conclusion of the study.  Also suggestions for additional research are given. A bibliography and appendices are presented at the end of the thesis.

                                    1.10   Chapter summary

This chapter has conceptualized the problem of the study to the fact that gender could be one of the main causes of students’ poor performance in chemistry.

The purpose of the study was to identify the differences between boys and girls in their achievement in chemistry. Other highlights include the background to the study, statement of the problem, its significance and definition of terms used in the study. The chapter also identified secondary school students as the main unit of analysis in the study.  Issues relating to gender differences in science achievement are further reviewed in the next chapter.

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