Research into the alignment of school chemistry curriculum literacy demands between the syllabus, the textbook and exemplar examination in terms of abstraction earned a Rhodes University lecturer Dr Kavish Jawahar a PhD in Education from UKZN.
Supervised by Professor Carol Bertram and Dr Doras Sibanda, Jawahar used a case study of the South African Grade 10 Chemistry curriculum in his work.
‘South Africa experiences significant challenges in the recruitment and retention of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students in Higher Education, with major implications for socioeconomic development,’ said Jawahar. ‘In the country’s school curriculum, it is Grade 10 which marks the beginning of a learner’s potential STEM career trajectory. A better understanding of Grade 10 literacy challenges and associated curriculum alignment in the key STEM field of chemistry is needed for enabling the forms of epistemological access that are critical for the empowerment of chemistry students.’
Jawahar noted that chemistry as an academic discipline, was sustained by many individuals with shared ways of knowing facilitated by a system of semiotic resources such as visuals and text, referred to as discourse. He argues that despite chemistry playing an important role in our lives and in the school curriculum, the abstract nature of chemistry discourse poses challenges to students.
‘The visuals and text of chemistry discourse contribute to chemistry curriculum demands imposed on students,’ he said. ‘While there is clear justification for promoting literacy practices in classrooms, the reading involved in school science has received less attention and recommendations from literature include defining discipline-specific curriculum literacies and identifying implicit literacy practices. Such recommendations are further supported by the broader call made by sociologists of education for overcoming knowledge blindness in education,’ said Jawahar.
His findings reveal an overall high level of alignment for visual chemistry curriculum literacy demands, and for textual chemistry curriculum literacy demands at the lower levels of abstraction.
Jawahar found that visual literacy demands were higher than textual literacy demands, due to emphasis on visuals at the highest level of abstraction while the curriculum documents displayed a more even distribution of focal lexical items across levels of textual abstraction.
Jawahar argues that ‘while exploring the alignment of visual and textual chemistry curriculum literacy demands between different curriculum documents is useful, it is equally important to consider how evenly the visual and textual items are distributed across the Semantic Gravity (SG) continuum as this has cognitive and affective implications for academic achievement and life chances of chemistry learners.’
He thanked his family, friends and supervisors for their support during his PhD journey.