The role of biology education in national development

Introduction

Biology is the study of living organisms which include their structure both gross and microscopic, functioning, origin and evolution, classification, inter-relationships and distribution. Biology like other sciences began as man started to observe his environment and look for cause and effect relationship.  Not satisfied with only observation, many early biologists wanted to manipulate or test predictions based on their observations.  The pioneers in this field of experimental biology include William Harvey, Anthony Von Leeuwenhoek, Lious Pasteur, Gregor Mendel, Alexander Fleming and Charles Darwin.     Today biology has grown from the familiar areas of microbiology, biochemistry, zoology genetics and botany to new specializations that include neurology, endocrinology, limnology, electrophysiology and biotechnology. The field of biology has become a beehive of activities. It is estimated that for every twenty-four hours something new is being discovered in the biology laboratory (Jegede, 1997; Roberts, 2005; Idodo Umeh, 2010).

Objectives of biology education

The introduction of biology into the curriculum of post primary institutions in Nigeria was as a result of the observation made about the absence of science subjects in the curriculum by the African Education Commission which toured the British West African Colonies in 1920 under the sponsorship of the Phelps-Stokes Fund of America (Jegede, 1997).

According to Jegede (1997), the objectives of introducing biology education in secondary schools in the colonial era were given as:

  1. To provide students with knowledge of simple principles which will give them a better understanding of forms of animal and vegetable life and the knowledge of the contribution of science to civilization an industrialization.
  2. To produce students with the elementary knowledge necessary for intelligent understanding of the principles of agriculture, which is the main occupation of Nigerians.
  3. To make the subject matter of biology course fairly representative of the field of biology as a whole and to communicate recent advances in biology.
  4. To make the student work like a professional biologist in solving biological problems.

The above objectives are in consonance with the central objectives of National Policy on Education which include

  1. Acquisition of adequate laboratory and field skills in biology.
  2. Acquisition of meaningful and relevant knowledge in biology.
  3. The ability to apply scientific knowledge to everyday like in matter of personal and community health and agriculture.
  4. Developing reasonable and functional scientific attitude (FME, 2004).

Biology curriculum development

Several factors determine and guide the development or revision of a curriculum.  They include:

  1. Rapid proliferation of knowledge. The wide range of knowledge in biology poses a problem mainly of what to be included in the curriculum or left out of it. The guiding principles will therefore be educational need and socio-political considerations.
  2. Educational needs will determine whether emphasis should be on morphological and taxonomic detail or on biochemistry, molecular biology, behaviour and ecology.
  3. Social, political and economic situations vary from country to country and determine the political and economic development which ought to be reflected in the curriculum (Asun, 1997)

The present secondary school biology curriculum is built around seven concepts.

  1. Concept of living: The central objective of concept of living is to enable the students to acquire the correct notion and appreciation of ‘living’. This is through studying the biological characteristics of living organisms, the differences between living and non-living things differences between animals and plant and the cell as a living unit.
  2. Basic ecological concepts: The objective here is to enable students understand the interaction among living organisms and between them and their non-living environment.  The concept also highlights ecological or environmental problems that affect man and how they can be solved.Plant and animal nutrition:  Nutrition is presented as basic requirement of life.  Photosynthesis which is the process by which green plants manufacture food is presented as the major source of food for all other living organisms on the earth.  This emphasis the role green plants play as primary producers in the ecosystem.
  3. Conservation of matter/energy: This concept is to inculcate in students the need to conserve natural resources that include land, minerals, plants, animals etc. The consequences of failure to conserve these resources are stressed.
  4. Concept of variation and variability: The concept is to enable students understand the nature and pattern of variations in populations.  It also explains the implication of variations in plants and animals.
  5. Concept of evolution: In spite of our Christian beliefs especially on creation this concept identifies the dynamic changes taken place in the environment, which affects living organisms and may lead to the development of new organs or behaviour patterns. It emphasized the fact that the living environment is not static but is always changing.Genetics:  The concept of genetics should enable students to understand the principle of inheritance and transmission of characters and the application of these principles in agriculture and medicine (FME, 1985; Roberts, 2005; Idodo-Umeh, 2010).

According to Asun (1997) a good biology curriculum should enable the students do the following:

  1. Use knowledge to understand self.
  2. Use knowledge to improve the quality of life and living for humans.
  3. Study humans in natural and total environment.
  4. Focus on current issues and deal with moral values, ethics and aesthetics.

Role of biology education in natural development

The erroneous belief that biology education is meant to enable students pass prescribed examination and meet the requirement for admission into tertiary institutions has negatively impacted on the attention and interest that students should pay to the subject.  Biology education should play the following roles in national development (Jegede, 1997; Miller, 2000; Idodo-Umeh, 2005; Nwidu and Okoruje, 2008; Obi, 2011).

  1. Promotion of good health practices.

One major objective of biology education is to promote good personal and community health practices.  Students are made to acquire knowledge of the causes, mode of transmission, symptoms and control methods of many diseases. These include water borne diseases such as cholera, dysentery and poliomyelitis and air borne diseases such as tuberculosis, whooping cough and measles.

The effectiveness of personal hygiene and a clean environment in preventing those diseases is stressed by the subject.  The control of malaria a major killer disease of children under 5years has posed a major challenge to government and health workers.  Students acquire the knowledge of how to control the breeding of mosquito which is the vector of malaria parasite.  The ravaging effect of sexually transmitted disease (STDs) including immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) can be reduced through sex education and other good health practices.  Biology education can therefore reduce the man hour lost due to ill health and the cost of maintaining various health institutions.

  1. Management of refuse and household wastes: Many cities in Nigeria today are defaced by heaps of refuse generated daily in our homes and markets.  The cities not only look unsightly and unkempt but sometimes are filled with unpleasant stench of decomposing organic matter. Simple waste management principles acquired from biology education can provide the knowledge required to deal with the problems of waste disposal and save the nation from the attendant effects of poor waste management and heavy cost of machinery which are difficult to maintain and very frequently go out of use.
  2. Reduction of ecological problems: Many ecological problems such as desertification, erosion and flooding which are common in our communities today are made worse by human activities that include deforestation, blocking of natural waterways and canals by property developers and refuse.  Biology education can provide the knowledge required to combat desert encroachment and gully erosion through the management of vegetation and refuse disposal. Current global challenges such as global warming, pollution and ozone layer depletion and their solution are some of the issues covered by biology education.
  3. Promotion of good nutritional practices: Biology education explains the nutritional values of most food items consumed in Nigeria.  The requirement of the human body of various food types such as carbohydrates, protein, fats and oils, vitamins, mineral salts and water are stressed.  This is started in the form of balanced diet which is a diet that contains the right proportion of all the food types needed by the body. This knowledge will prevent many food deficiency diseases such as kwashiorkor in children, scurvy, beriberi and goitre which are brought about by poor eating habits.  The health implications of obesity are also explained.  The objective of eating right is to ensure the availability of a healthy population that will contribute to national development.
  4. Conservation of Nigerian natural resources: Biology education inculcates in students the need for the wise use of the nation’s natural resources such as minerals, plants, animals, land and water.  This because these resources cannot be produced or replaced by man even though they have become intricately tied to human survival on health necessitating their controlled exploitation and use.
  5. Overcoming misconceptions and myths: Several myths and misconceptions in the past led to evil practices such as the killing of twins, dedication of albinos to gods and they believe in “Ogbanje spirits”. Biology education has enabled modern society to understand these phenomena and seek for medical help if necessary.  The current misconception of the nation’s immunization campaign can be death with through biology education.
  6. Promotion of family planning: Overpopulation is a major problem in developing countries.  This is contributing to food shortages, unemployment, urban congestion and the creation of slums.  Provision of housing, schools and health facilities cannot keep pace with the growth in population.  But the knowledge of birth control campaign through biology education such as use of various contraceptive methods is helping many families to control their family size and hence national population.

Problems of biology education

The problems militating against the achievements of the objectives of biology education include; (Asun, 1997; JEgede, 1997; Ajayi, 2004; Neboh, 2011).

  1. Emphasis is on passing examinations to meet the requirement for admission in tertiary institutions. Every year question are raised why students perform poorly in the sciences including biology in examinations organized by WAEC, NECO and JAMB.  Very little attention is focused on whether the overall objectives of developing scientific attitudes that will enable the students function effectively in the society is achieve.
  2. Shortage of experienced and dedicated manpower. In addition to teachers, biology education requires well trained and experienced technologists, craftsmen, technicians, laboratory and workshop attendants.  All these are presently in short supply in the educational system.  The quality of teaching taking place in our public schools leaves much to be desired.  This is why most parents prefer sending their wards to more expensive private schools.  The lack of dedication by teachers has been blamed on poor remuneration and lack of facilities.
  3. Poor state of teacher training institutions.  Institutions such as colleges of education and universities have often complained of poor teaching facilities and conditions of service which is resulting in brain drain  several attempts have been made usually through strikes to draw government attention to these problems.  It is therefore not surprising that the products of these institutions lack the expected competence expected of them.
  4. Teaching methods. Biology education is essentially of a practical process requiring a lot of field study and laboratory practices which are presently absent in our schools.  The common teaching method employed by biology teachers is the lecturing method.  This is the oldest and traditional method of teaching where the teachers talk and students listen and take notes.  Students visit the laboratory only when the biology practical examination is two or three weeks away.
  5. Lack of well equipped laboratories. The state of laboratories in our schools leaves much to be desired. If any science subject is to be taught well it should be taught practically. But due to lack of laboratories which presently contain only tables and stools practical work does not take place as required.
  6. Funding. Among the reasons given for lack of interest in science and technology education by the missionaries and the colonial government was the high cost of providing facilities such as laboratories and workshops.  The funding problem in still persistent today, poor funding continue to plague the education sector.  Several strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to draw the attention of government this has not yielded much result.

Conclusion

Biology education can play an important role in national development if the right approach is followed.  Simple scientific principles can provide skills and tools required for everyday living through knowledge provided by biology education about self and the environment.

Recommendations

The following recommendations could provide the necessary solution to the problems plaguing biology education.

  1. The need for skilled, experienced and dedicated teachers is central to achieving the objectives of biology education. Our teacher training institutions should be properly staffed and funded.  The products of our colleges of education and universities are presently not performing up to the expected standards.  There is also need for special allowances for biology teachers to encourage them to put in extra hours needed for field work and practical.  Some states pay science allowances to science teachers.  This is commendable.
  2. Biology education requires well equipped laboratories with a full complement of staff such as technologist and technicians. Government should provide all the facilities needed.
  3. The private sector needs to partner with government as part of their social responsibility.  Some private sector organization such as some oil companies have built and donated laboratories to the schools in their host communities.  This is commendable and need to be encouraged.
  4. Government should ensure that funds are adequately budgeted to the education sector. The role of intervention agencies such as the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) is commendable.  Apart from making funds available the agencies monitors the use of such funds.  The proper use of the funds made available is also a major challenge.

References

Ajayi, D.O. (2004).  An investigation of pre-science teacher’s errors in biology practicals: A case study. Proceedings of 45th STAN Conference. 145 – 147.

Asun, P. (1997).  The Secondary school biology curriculum: Its nature, its demands on the teacher and the teacher trainer.  A paper presented at STAN Conference, Zaria April 21 – 24.

Federal Ministry of Education (2004). National Policy on Education 4th edition.  Lagos. NERDC.

Federal Ministry of Education (1985). Biology curriculum for senior secondary schools. Lagos NERDC.

Idodo-Umeh (2010). College biology. Benin City. Idodo Umeh Publisher Ltd.

Jegede, O.J. (1989). From the laboratory to the classroom: The dilemma of biology curriculum development for secondary education in contemporary Nigeria. Paper presented at STAN workshop in Zaria April, 21 – 24.

Madar, S.S. (2001). Biology. San Francisco, McGraw Hill 300p.

Miller, G.T. (2000).  Living in the environment, principle connections and solutions. Brooks Coles Publishing Company.

Neboh, O.I. (2011). Evaluation of the extent of implementation of safety practices in Biology laboratories in Enugu education zone.  Nigerian Journal of Research and Production 19(2): pp. 75 – 81.

Nwidu, B.O. and Okoruje, N.A. (2008).  Assessment of water quality and prevalence of water-borne diseases.  Bayelsa: Niger Delta University, press.

Obi, R.U. (2011). Implication of water pollution on the health of the people: A case study of patients in the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Benin City. Nigerian Journal of Research and Production 19(2):1-8.

Roberts, M.B.V. (2005).  Biology: A functional approach. Cheltenham Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd. 693p.

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