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Perceptions of technology and existing technological capability of Tongan secondary school students

Many countries have now recognized Technology Education as a new subject in the school curriculum. It has been accepted internationally as a distinct area of education (McCormick, 1993; Layton, 1994; Lewis, 1996; and Jones, 1996). However, this worldwide trend has not yet reached most of the Pacific Island countries. These islands are unaware of the trend of transforming traditional technical subjects like Industrial Arts, with their focus on craft and technical skills, into Technology Education, which compounds more learning areas and emphasises technological literacy. Tonga, which is one of these islands, may benefit from this new development, in terms of teaching the more important aspects of technology, by developing a new curriculum in Technology Education. There is evidence to suggest that the current Technical Education Curriculum in Tongan secondary schools is ineffective in teaching the higher-level skills in technology. A new and better curriculum should therefore be developed to enhance students’ learning of concepts and processes in technology. This study argues that the best way of developing a new technology education curriculum for Tonga is to start by identifying the students’ perceptions of technology and their existing technological capability. The curriculum should then build on this information, so that effective teaching and learning in technology may take place. This approach is guided by the socio-cultural view of learning. This learning theory recognises the impact of social, cultural, institutional and historical contexts on students’ learning. It suggests that learning is a situated social process and knowledge is situated within particular historical, cultural, institutional and physical settings (Brown, Collins and Duguid, 1989; Wertsch, 1991; Resnick, 1991; Lave, 1991; Johnson, 1997). This study was designed to identify Tongan students’ perceptions of technology and existing technological capability. Data collection in this study was twofold. First it used modified versions of three instruments developed by Rennie and Jarvis (1995), to explore Tongan secondary school students’ perceptions of technology. The second phase of data collection followed methods employed by Jones and Carr (1993b) on the second phase of Learning in Technology Education Project, to analyse Tongan secondary students’ existing technological capability. This study was intended to show the perceptions of technology and the level of technological capability that the present technical curriculum in Tonga is enabling students to achieve. These results may be used later to inform the development of a suitable Technology Education Curriculum for Tonga. The research methodology adopted in this study belongs to the umbrella term of Postpositivist Paradigms and takes the stance of interpretive paradigm (Lather, 1992; Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2000). Understanding and interpreting students’ perceptions of technology and their existing technological capability were considered to be the dominant feature of this study. The research method employed is a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods of research. The results of this study have shown that Tongan secondary school students have a poor perception of technology. Interest in technology was high among the students although many had limited ideas about the effect of technology on society. The overall performance of the students in the technological capability task was poor. They performed worst in searching for the best solution for the identified needs and opportunities and performed best in the production of the solution. Most of the students concentrated mainly on building the products and were not able to link the parts of the task together. One of the major factors that influenced the ability of the students to link the components of the task together was task affordance. Task affordance category challenge influenced the problem solving pathway that the students followed in the task. The component of the task that contributed most to the quality of the students’ final products was the production of the solution. The contributions that the other components could make towards the quality of the final products were minimal in the performances of the students in this study. No relationship was found in this study between the performances of the students in the three instruments that assessed their perceptions of technology and their performances in the technological capability task.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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