Secondary school student self-efficacy and their decision making when choosing/not choosing school science subjects

Year: 2019

Author: Ward, Gillian, Birdsall, Sally, Matthews, Chris

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Science is viewed by many as an important school subject, yet research suggests there is a decline in the number of senior secondary school students choosing science as a subject. We argue that if we are to ensure access, equity and engagement in science, students need to have the opportunity to study science in the senior secondary school. But why do students choose/not choose to study science? What factors influence their decision making? This paper seeks to address these questions.

The participating students were all studying at a secondary school situated within a low socio-economic area in a large New Zealand city. Through purposive sampling, 60 Year 12 science students and 60 Year 12 non-science students, were selected to participate. An interpretive, qualitative approach was employed in which the data set comprised of a questionnaire and focus group interviews. Initially, all students completed the questionnaire that sought demographic data. In addition, the questionnaire comprised open-ended responses and 20 Likert scale statements that provided a means of gathering students’ opinions and attitudes towards particular factors that might affect their decision making.

Subsequently, students were selected purposively to take part in one focus group interview. Five focus group discussions were conducted with 4-5 students in each group. These groups comprised one group of biology students, one of chemistry students, one of physics students, and two groups of non-science students. Both the science and non-science students expressed their reasons for choosing or not choosing to continue with science at a senior level.

Pertinent influences emerged including the influence of their: early secondary schooling; teacher, with respect to their pedagogical approach and personal qualities; and, family. Students also reflected on the value of science to their lives and this too appeared instrumental in their decision making.

Bandura’s self-efficacy framework, including the four sources of influence, was used as the conceptual lens to understand students’ experiences and beliefs. Through Bandura’s framework suggestions for how teachers and family can support students in their decision making to study science in the senior secondary school are presented. Ultimately this could have the benefit of providing students with access to science careers and/or continued engagement in the science community as scientifically literate citizens. However, the complexity around student choice related to efficacy expectation and outcome expectation is also revealed giving rise to further research opportunities in the area of student choice and decision making.