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This study aimed at investigation of the roles of the laboratory in students’ academic achievement in biology in secondary schools in Ebonyi State of Nigeria. Four research questions and two hypotheses guided the study. A sample of 240 students selected through simple random sampling technique from ten secondary schools in the 3 Education Zones in Ebonyi State was used for the study. A questionnaire instrument developed by the researcher was used for data collection. The instrument was validated by three experts one from measurement and evaluation and the other 2 from  biology education. The data collected were analysed using mean and standard deviation statistics. t-test was used in testing the hypotheses. The results showed that the use of the laboratory helps to: develop scientific attitudes in the students towards the learning of  biology especially practicals, develop scientific skills for problem solving in students among others. Based on the findings, the following recommendations were made:  biology should be taught in the laboratory, government should build and equip the science laboratories, employ more qualified  biology teachers in the secondary system. Key words: Laboratory,  biology, teaching, achievement, students.



1.0     Background to Study

The laboratory in the school has been defined by several authors in different ways. Maduabum (1992) sees a laboratory as a place where scientific exercises are conducted by the science teachers for the benefit of the students (learners). The laboratory exercises include; experiments, and other activities which help the students in acquiring scientific skills. Ezeliora (2001) defined science laboratory as a workshop where science is done or where scientific activities are carried out under conducive environment. She also sees the laboratory as a place where science equipment, materials or instruments are housed for security and safety. Igwe (2003) observed that a laboratory can be indoor such as the sufficiently designed and equipped room found in most schools or outdoor involving such places as riverside, workshop, field and even market for carrying out scientific studies. He further stated that whatever the type of laboratory employed in science teaching, the same laboratory experience should be attained, and that is a participation in the series of experimental, observational and demonstrating activities which provide opportunity for students to develop understanding of practical and theoretical concepts through solutions of problems.

According to Omiko (2007) “A laboratory is a room, or building or a special period of time equipped and set apart for practical or experimental studies to take place”. He sees the laboratory as the heart of a good scientific programme which allows students in the school to have experience which are consistent with the goals of scientific literacy. This implies that science teaching and learning cannot be completely done in a secondary school where there is no equipped laboratory. Ufondu (2009) observed that the laboratory is an indispensable organ of the school if effective teaching and learning of the science subjects are to be achieved.

Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary Special Price Edition (1998) defined laboratory as a room or building used for scientific research, experiments, demonstration, testing and analysing of data etc. However, whatever is done in the science laboratory is to obtain or acquire skills that would help to advance scientific knowledge which subsequently would lead to the development of the human society. Dienye and Gbamanja (1990) observed that laboratory method of teaching is an activity involving a two-way approach carried out by one or more persons through the exercise and experimental approaches both of which are useful in science teaching. The experimental approach provides an opportunity for students to seek information using experimental procedures. These procedures call for careful observations and interpretation of data. It has the qualities of questioning, investigating and confronting the unknown.

Udonfu (2009) and Omiko (2015) observed that the use of the laboratory in science teaching has the following benefits:

·        Laboratory teaching makes the students/learners to learn about the nature of science and technology in order to foster the knowledge of human enterprise of science and thus enhance the aesthetic and intellectual understanding of the child. Dienye and Gbamanja (1990) opined that science is known to be a way of doing certain things by the observation of natural phenomena, quantifying the observed thing, integration of such quantities and interpretation of the results in order to make useful meaning out of the exercise. The students can identify cause and effect relationships and in this process develop important skills.

·        Learning scientific inquiry skills that can be transferred to other spheres of problem solving (that is acquisition of problem solving skills). One of the basic goals of science education is to help students learn skills that can be applied to other life situations in future. It thus follows that the exercise of transfer of such learning condition must have something in common with the situation to which it will be applied.

·        Students learning to appreciate and infact, emulate the role of the scientist through acquisition of manipulative skills. The students should be allowed to investigate by:

(a)     Indirect observation of objects and materials for the acquisition of mental as well as manipulative skills, example measuring substances, using weighing balances pictures, cylinder, etc.

(b)     Through multiple trials, students can in the process of fiddling with materials and activities without stated theories arrive at useful conclusions.

(c)      Given a known theory, students can be guided to observe some phenomena selected by the teacher and from such observation make predictions that are likely to occur.

·        Developing interests, attitudes and values by considering what science entails, it is clear that a field experience has the best potential for stimulating a life time interest in science in the students when accorded the chance for personal experience by handling the real things. Students interest in science increases as they yearn to investigate and explore more about their environment. According to Hancy in Omiko (2007), eight (8) aspects of scientific attitudes exist all of which can be nurtured in the science laboratory in the school. They are; (i) curiosity (ii) open mindedness (iii) objectivity (iv) intellectual honesty (v) rationality (vi) willingness to suspend judgment (vii) humility (viii) reverence for life.

Queensu (2008), an internet website on good practice (laboratory-based learning) states that science educators believe that the laboratory is an important means of instruction in science since late 19th century. According to them laboratory instruction is considered essential because it provides training in observation, supplies detailed information, and aroused pupil’s interest. It also goes further to say that “developing and teaching in an effective laboratory requires as much skill, creativity, and hard work as proposing and executing a first-rate research project. They also listed the following number of possible goals that can be achieved through a developed laboratory programme: (i) develop intuition and deepen understanding of concepts (ii) apply concept learned in class to new situations (iii) experience basic phenomena (iv) develop experimental and data analysis skills (v) learn to use scientific apparatus (vi) learn to estimate statistical error and recognize systematic errors (vii) develop reporting skills (written and oral).

Omiko (2015) and Ufondu (2009) were of the same opinion where they observed that laboratory teaching is sometimes used in conjunction with large lecture courses so that students may acquire technical skills and apply concepts and theories presented in the lecture. Omiko (2015) stated that “hands-on experience encourages students to develop a spirit of inquiry and allows them to acquire scientific skills and the right attitude to handle scientific tools and materials. Science laboratory provides students with the richest experiences which they will transfer to the society and their various places of work. It helps in providing the students the opportunities to practice science as the scientist do. In order for the laboratory to be effective, students need to understand not only how to do the experiment, but why the experiment is worth doing, and what purpose it serves for better understanding of a concept, relation, or process.

Shulman and Tamir in Omiko (2007), listed five groups of educational objectives that may be achieved through the use of the laboratory in science teaching.

1.     Skills: manipulative skills, inquiry skills, investigative skills, organizational skills and communicative skills.

2.     Concept of mastery: For example, hypothesis, theoretical model, taxonomic category.

3.     Development of cognitive abilities: Critical thinking, problem solving, application, analysis, synthesis

4.     Understanding the nature of science – scientific enterprises, scientists and how they work, existence of a multiplicity of scientific methods, inter-relationships between science and technology and among the various disciplines of science.

5.     Development of scientific attitudes: For example, curiosity, interest, risk taking, objectivity, precision, confidence, perseverance, satisfaction, responsibility, consensus, collaboration, and liking science. Based on the roles of the science laboratory in science teaching and learning, it implies that schools without laboratories, where students can carry out biology,  biology and physics practicals would end up producing or graduating students who will have no knowledge of science practicals required by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO) to pass the senior school certificate examination. Consequently, these students will lack the requisite requirement qualification for courses like medicine, engineering, agricultural science and any of the science related careers.

The chief examiners reports of WAEC and NECO, 2013, 2014 and 2015 indicate poor performance of students in the sciences particularly Biology. This calls for urgent attention if we are to meet up with the challenging and rapidly growing wealth of scientific knowledge.

1.1     Statement of the Problem

The laboratory has been identified as the heart of a good scientific programme which allows students in the school to have experience which are consistent with the goals of scientific literacy. Practical  biology constitutes a major part in  biology education, if it is not taught properly the education of the students in the other science courses will be affected negatively. Therefore secondary schools require properly equipped and functional laboratories.

When the students are taught  biology theoretically, without the practical aspects done in the laboratory, the students will not learn properly. The implication of this means that the role of the laboratory on the academic achievement of the students in  biology is being ignored. Consequently, the students will;

(i)      Lack scientific attitude

(ii)     Lack problem solving skills

(iii)    Lack scientific inquiry skills

(iv)    Lack acquisition of scientific skills

(v)     Lack scientific research environment

(vi)    Learn  biology poorly

(vii)   Perform poorly in practical  biology in internal and external examinations. The solution to the above mentioned effects constitute the problem of this study.

1.2     Purpose of the Study

This study aimed at investigating the roles of the laboratory on the academic achievement of students in  biology in Ebonyi State, Nigeria. Specifically, the study tends to;

(i)      Determine if the use of the biology laboratory in teaching the subject, develops scientific attitudes in students towards the learning of biology.

(ii)     Ascertain if the use of the biology laboratory in teaching the subject develops scientific skills for problem solving in students

(iii)    Do science teachers utilise skills in the maintenance of laboratory equipment for quality science education?

 (iv)   Find out whether the use of the biology laboratory helps the students to match their abilities through the laboratory experiences they are exposed to.

1.3     Research Questions

The following research questions guided the study;

(1) Does the use of the biology laboratory in teaching the subject develop scientific attitudes in students towards the learning of biology?

(2) Does the use of the  biology laboratory in teaching the subject help the students match their abilities through the laboratory experiences they are exposed to?

(3) To what extent do science teachers utilise skills in the maintenance of laboratory equipment for quality science education?

(4) To what degree do science teachers utilise skills in preventing laboratory hazards for quality science education?

1.4     Hypotheses

The following hypotheses were formulated the by researcher to guide the study.

H0:    There is no significant difference between the mean response of students on development of scientific attitudes and scientific skills as roles of the use of biology laboratory in teaching the subject.

H0:    There is no significant difference between the mean scores of male and female science teachers on the extent to which they utilized the laboratory management   skills   for quality science education.

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