Over the last 3 years Drs. Nashon and Anderson have been implementing a SSHRC-funded research project in East Africa, where they are investigating “East African students’ Ways of Knowing” (WOK) in science through case studies of select Kenyan high schools. Ways of knowing in science are the tools that learners use to construct their worldviews of science. WOK are inherently laden with the values and assumptions that manifest in learners’ development and interpretation of scientific knowledge.
Science in this region is still presented to students as a value-free enterprise that has no relevance to their culture. The aim of the project has been to develop an understanding of students’ natural ways of understanding the world around them and to harness these understandings to develop science curricular activities that resonate with the students’ natural learning modes for more meaningful and relevant science learning outcomes. Together with our collaborators at Kenyatta and Moi Universities, we are influencing science teachers’ and students’ perceptions and practical approaches to teaching and learning science. Students’ WOK are interpreted and understood through their learning experiences with the science underlying production activities and respective products in the local Jua Kali industries.
So far, emergent analysis shows that 1) EA students are positively disposed toward understanding and personalizing science knowledge through their local cultural contexts; 2) there is glaring evidence of a disconnect between students’ expectations of science learning and teaching and how they learn, and the way curriculum is organized and implemented in Kenyan schools, 3) there is also a large disconnect between the traditional western pedagogical models embraced by science teachers in Kenya and student-preferred modes of learning, which have their roots in traditional Kenyan WOK; and 4) students find it more effective and supportive of learning to mediate science in a variety of languages (Swahili, Sheng – a hybrid youth language of Swahili, and English), rather than the mandated English-only mediation.
Through this study we come to a deeper appreciation of the notion that the natural harmonics of learning are in fact culturally mediated. Moreover, harnessing these understandings in the next steps in our on-going attempts to assist with curriculum reforms in Kenya will be critical.
Dr. Samson Madera Nashon and Dr. David Anderson
Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy