Student attitudes in the context of the curriculum in Libyan education in middle and high schools

Alhmali, Rajab (2007) Student attitudes in the context of the curriculum in Libyan education in middle and high schools. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In any country, the education of the next generation is of huge importance. For Libya, which has developed very rapidly, the education of young people will be vital for the future of the country. The main problem at present in Libya is the quality of education: the need to build so much in order to educate so many in a short time creates the classical dilemma of quality of education versus quantity of education, a problem common in many developing countries. There is also a shortage of Libyan school teachers at secondary school level especially those qualified in science subjects, as well as resource problems. The examination system emphasises the rote recall of information and holds great power over the learners at key times of the year. Against this background, students sometimes show their dissatisfaction by leaving school or simply failing to attend.

The aim of the present research is to look at Libyan education at various stages and ages from the student perspective: in middle (ages 12-15) and high schools (ages 16-20). The aim was to gain a picture of what was happening and to find out student’s views about their learning experiences. Overall, the aim of this study is to offer insights into the perception, beliefs and attitudes of students in Libya in an educational system where growth has been phenomenal over the past five decades or so.

The study involved three major surveys using questionnaires. These involved very large samples (1939 in all), drawn from a wide range of schools and catchment areas, reflecting Libyan society. It was possible to analyse the responses by various subgroups. Great care was taken to ensure that the students responded to reflect what they actually thought by emphasising that the questionnaires were not seen by teachers, all questionnaires being anonymous. To confirm the picture given by the responses to the questionnaires, samples of students were interviewed using a checklist of key areas of interest. A sample of teachers was also interviewed to see to what extent their views matched those of the students.

A first survey offered an overview of students’ views, the emphasis being on looking for trends with age. Age 12 is the first year of middle school under the Libyan system while age 15 is the uppermost year in middle schools. The other three groups are drawn from various stages in the high school. The second survey allowed students nearing the end of their studies at secondary school to reflect on their experiences and to offer ideas for the future. Students are able to reflect on their educational journey as they approach the end of schooling; and university, college or jobs are in the imminent future. In Libyan education, students make fixed subject choices (arts, sciences, technology) which determine their high school and curriculum. Once a choice is made, they have to continue with this for the remainder of their school time. The third survey focussed on the age group when these decisions have just been taken: first year in high school.

Finally, the interviews offered a useful way to see to what extent what the students said matched the pictures which had come from analysing the questionnaires. Interviewing a sample of teachers gave added insights in offering a new perspective on the Libyan educational provision as seen from the teacher perspective. The main question was the extent to which teacher views matched student views.

The examinations system clearly poses many problems, including relationships to the curriculum as well as cheating. The students want less reliance on recall, less reliance on end of year examinations and they feel that they are being undermined by the ease of cheating. The system is dominated by the reward of accurate recall. There seems to be an expressed wish for freedom: freedom to question, freedom to express themselves, freedom to be released from the dominance of memorisation and recall. Despite this, they still rely on the security of the factual knowledge as the sources are often seen in black and white terms. Teachers are seen as authority figures and the curriculum is based tightly on prescribed textbooks. Students wish for curricula which are related to life and lifestyles as well as related to their needs, future needs and aspirations. Students were also seeking some kind of pastoral care and support for learning.

In looking at specific subject areas, the sciences need some overhaul. The students see them largely as memory driven and this presents the sciences as bodies of knowledge to be memorised rather than methods of enquiry or ways of interpreting and understanding the world around. They have a utilitarian view of language, wanting to start English at a very much earlier age so that it is available for the world of the sciences. Mathematics is a major problem area, generating very polarised views. The main problem subjects, therefore, appear to be mathematics and physics (with its abstractness) and, perhaps, chemistry. This is a matter of concern given the high proportions which take these subjects for career reasons.

The purpose of education is seen as based on careers, examination passing and recall. Understanding, applying ideas, creativity, questioning are all devalued. The idea of school education as a way to unlock potential seems missing and the students appear to appreciate that. The teacher’s role is largely that of transmitting information in an efficient and effective manner to their students. The teachers have little insight in the role of their subjects in the development of young people. They are ruled by the demands of society, with its dependence on examination success for gaining access to the next stage of life. They find the curriculum overcrowded and want more time for students to be able to think. However, they have little clear idea of the nature and role of understanding and the idea of seeing their subject in terms of wider life (outside entry to careers) is largely absent.

Overall, the students are quite positive about many aspects of their experiences although they know of no other educational system. The most fundamental need is to generate a new way of thinking: where the recall of information under an examination-driven system is changed to an educational experience where understanding, applying ideas, creativity and questioning hold a much higher status. This will need a major paradigm shift for teachers and wider society in Libya.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: School curriculum; student attitudes; Libya; secondary school
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Reid, Professor Norman
Date of Award: 2007
Depositing User: Mr Rajab Alhmali
Unique ID: glathesis:2007-61
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2008
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:15

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