Discovery, as a teaching approach, has a long history to it, which blossomed during the curriculum development years of the sixties. Despite the long existence of the term "discovery", users of the term in science education hardly realise that they use it in many ways. This paper is therefore an attempt to provide a base from which the analysis of the term can begin--the conceptions of discovery held by philosophers of science. Philosophy of science is a useful tool for this analysis because of its pedagogical value. The implications of the result of the analysis are explored with specific suggestions for curricular and instructional design. One hopes that users of the term "discovery" will pay attention to its complex nature.




            Discovery, as a teaching approach, has a history much longer than the current manifestation, which blossomed in the 1960's. Willoughby (1963) and Bolding (1969) note that the teaching methods of Socrates are related to the current use of the term, and Skinner (1968) believes the great principle expounded by Rousseau in Emile was discovery:

            Let the student learn from nature.

            Let him go directly to the facts, to things, which alone are incorruptible.

            (p.709, emphasis in original).

More recently, Dewey's "learning by doing" has been regarded as being synonymous with discovery teaching (Carin & Sund, 1980). Similarly, it is possible to trace much of the current interest in discovery teaching to Piaget and Bruner.

            Discovery teaching and learning generated much discussion in the 1950's and 1960's (Shulman and Keislar, 1966), and the interest continues (e.g., Abimbola, 1981, Olarinoye, 1982). During this period, learning by discovery dominated the writing of educational psychologists, but real manifestation of the discovery movement for teachers was in the development of methods for "teaching science by discovery". Discovery teaching curriculum projects were common during this period---- especially in mathematics and science. Representative programmes in science include: Elementary Science Study; Physical Science Study Committee; Chemical Education Materials Study; Biological Sciences Curriculum Study; and Science through Discovery in the U.S.; Nuffield Sciences in the U.K; Nigerian Science Project; Bendel State Primary Science Project; Primary Education Improvement Project; and the Aiyetoro Basic Science Programme, in Nigeria.

            In spite of the wide use of the concept of discovery in the development of curricula, there is still no general agreement on the meaning of the term. For example, Kendler, (1966), in reflecting on the Conference on Learning by Discovery, mused that:

                        There is no disagreement that we failed to agree about the meaning of the                                   concept of discovery. To say the least, the concept is ambiguous. (p. 171).

That there are multiple meanings for a concept such as "discovery" is not surprising, nor is it avoidable. The same situation exists in science -----the gene concept has changed over the last half century and even today workers in different fields have different concepts of gene. The situation is not the same in science education, however, because users of the concepts of discovery don't always recognise that they are using it in different ways. This stems, at least in part, from the fact that no analyses have been done of the meanings of the term "discovery" used in science education literature. In this paper the author will outline a base from which such an analysis might take place --what philosophers of science have said about discovery. The author will suggest how such a description of discovery might be useful to science education, and in doing so; one also hopes to suggest that the philosophy of science can be important in other aspects of science education. The author hopes to be contributing, then, to a tradition which views philosophy of science as having pedagogical value (Abimbola, 1983; Martin, 1972; Pella, 1977).


Discovery in Science: The Philosophical View

            The writings of two "groups" of philosophers, the logical empiricists and the "new" philosophers of science, have been chosen for this review since (a) logical empiricism has been described as the epistemology most closely associated with science teaching because it is concerned with the analysis of scientific concepts (Farre, 1966; Brigham, 1969; Pella, 1975) and (b) the historically-oriented "new" philosophy has, in the last twenty years, emerged as a major "challenger" to the orthodoxy of empiricism.

            The logical empiricist school, including Carnap (1966), Grunbaum (1963), Hempel (1965, 1966), Nagel (1961), Pap (1962), Scheffler (1963), can be characterized as sharing a commitment to empirical science and to the use of formal logic as a tool for analysing science.

            The logical empirists' research programme while acknowledging that discoveries take place, does not view scientific discovery as a problem that they can address. This stems from their two-phase view of scientific investigation in which there is a context of discovery and a context of justification; they leave the context of discovery to psychologist and sociologists since it is not amenable to analysis by formal logic. This is why more emphasis will be given in this analysis to what the "new" philosophers of science say about scientific discovery.

            The "new" philosophers of science; including Blackwell (1969), Bronowski (1965, 1966), Brown (1977), Feyerabend (1970, 1978), Hanson (1958, 1977) Kuhn (1970a, b, c), Lakatos (1970), Polanyi (1962, 1975) and Toulmin (1953, 1977) reject formal logic as the primary tool for analysing science. Instead, they rely on a detailed use of history of science to address questions concerning scientific progress and discovery. Their analysis focuses on the -research aspect of science than it does on the products of that research enterprise. As a consequence, they consider the context of discovery as a legitimate area of analysis.


The Logical Empiricists

            In this section, the logical empiricists' views on the nature of discovery --- factors affecting discoveries, how scientists discover and the criteria used for justifying discoveries--are presented. One factor conceded by the logical empiricist as being important for discoveries is conceptual knowledge. This is an improvement over an earlier empiricist view of theory-free observations and subsequently of discovery. Whether discoveries will occur or not depends on the previous concepts of phenomenon under investigation that are held by the investigator. According to Hempel. (1966),

                        A complete novice will hardly make an important scientific discovery, for                                   the ideas; that may occur to him are likely to duplicate what has been tried                        before or to run a foul of well-established facts or theories of which he is                           not aware. (p. 15)

Concerning the starting point of a scientific investigation, Popper (19 68), who is sympathetic to this aspect of the logical-empiricist position on the nature of discovery, says,

                        The initial stage, the act of conceiving or inventing a theory, seems to me                                    neither to call for logical analysis nor to be susceptible of it. The question                           how it happens that a new idea occurs to a man--whether it is a musical                              theme, a dramatic conflict, or a scientific theory--may be of great interest                                     to empirical psychology; but it is irrelevant to the logical analysis of                                 scientific knowledge. (p. 3 1)

In addition to thinking that the process by which one conceives of a discovery is not amenable to logical analysis, the logical empiricists think that logic of discovery is impossible. They tend to associate”logic of discovery" with the traditional notion of inductive inference. An inductive inference allows scientific laws and theories to be inferred from specific observation statements. It is apparent that if inductive logic is equated with a set of mechanical rules for generating hypotheses, there is no possibility for such, logic because not scientific investigation is inductive in this sense. However, Hempel (1966) maintains that the "rules of induction" can be better conceived as canons of validation rather than of discovery.

            The view on how scientists discover shared by the logical empiricists is that scientific knowledge is arrived at by what Hempel (19 66, p. 17) calls "the method of hypothesis". Hypotheses are generated using deductive inference. Scientific discoveries are therefore made by inventing hypotheses (Hempel, 1970). However, what is primarily important to him and other logical empiricists is not the way a hypothesis is arrived at but the way it stands up when tested.

            Hempel (1966) has suggested what can be called theory-free criteria for determining what is to count as a scientific discovery. He thinks that:

                        Scientific objectivity is safeguarded by the principle that while hypotheses                       and theories may be freely inv6nted and proposed in science, they can be                             accepted into the body of scientific knowledge only if they pass critical                                 scrutiny, which includes in particular the checking of suitable test                                                implications by careful observation or experiment. (p. 16).

"Hypothesis" is used by Hempel (1966) in a general form "to refer to whatever statement is under test" (p.19). Some of the general criteria suggested are "the extent and the character of the relevant evidence available and the resulting strength of the support it gives to the hypothesis" (p. 33). Examples of these criteria are the quantity, variety, and precision of supporting evidence. Additionally, hypotheses are considerably strengthened if they (1) are confirmed by "new" evidence, which was not known or taken into account initially, and (2) receive deductive support from theories.

            Scientific progress as viewed by the logical empiricists has implications for their view of the criteria for determining what is to count as a scientific discovery. Kemeny and Oppenheim (1970) divide scientific progress into two types:

(1)        an increase in factual knowledge, by the addition to the total amount of scientific observations;

(2)        an improvement in the body of theories, which is designed to explain the known facts and to predict the outcome of future observations. (p. 307).

This view of scientific progress means that new discoveries will replace older ones because of the greater amount of observational data from which they are derived or by which they are confirmed, it also means that new discoveries are always expected to be an improvement over old discoveries. This view of scientific progress is one of the major areas of disagreement between the logical empiricists and the "new" philosophers of science.


The "New" Philosophers of Science

            The conceptions of discovery held by the "new" philosophers, the factors responsible for discoveries, and the criteria for evaluating discoveries are discussed in this section. Concerning the concept of discovery in science, Blackwell (1969) thinks that this often implies the existence of a physical reality hitherto undisclosed, to be uncovered. At the same time, he thinks that not all discoveries are simply the uncovering of what, in an uncritical realistic sense, is "out there" (p. 32). Therefore, according to him, "when we talk about discovery of laws and theories,          we do not assert that laws and theories are 'out there' like sunspots and planets" (p. 32) to be discovered.

            In essence, what Blackwell is saying is that discovery is not much the uncovering of a new thing. What else can it be? In answering this type of question, Kuhn (1970a) recognises the two components, which make discovery a complex event. According to him, "discovering a new sort of phenomenon... involves recognizing that something is and what it is" (p. 55, emphasis in original). Kuhn's "discovery that something is, is of necessity a discovery of, in Blackwell's terms, a thing and his "discovery of what it is” is recognition of a fact. While both count as a discovery, it is possible to discover a thing without knowing what that thing is. That is probably why it has been thought that insight of a special kind was required to discover that a thing is actually what it is supposed to be. For instance, it is after a discovery has been announced that additional people confess to having seen the same thing. In that case, those people only saw the thing but not what it was.

            Kuhn (1970a) has done an extensive analysis of scientific discoveries based on the history of science and the particular context under which individual discoveries emerge. According to him,

                        the previous awareness of anomaly, the gradual and simultaneous                                               emergence of both observational and conceptual recognition, and the                                  consequent change of paradigm categories and procedures often                                        accompanied by resistance. . . (p.62)


are some of the characteristics shared by all discoveries from which new sorts of phenomenon emerge.

            It is on the basis of these characteristics that he recognizes two types of scientific research from which new phenomena emerge. These are "normal science" and re "revolutionary science". He defines normal science as

                        research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements,                             achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for                          a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice. (p. 10)

He regards the discovery of new elements to fill empty spaces in the periodic table as a standard project for normal science. Success in finding one of them was an occasion only for congratulations, not for surprise. He suggests "discoveries predicted by theory in advance are parts of normal science and result in no new sort of fact" (p. 6 1).

            Quite distinct from normal science is revolutionary science, which Kuhn (1970a) defines as "those non-cumulative developmental episodes in which an older paradigm is replaced in whole or in part by an incompatible new one" (p. 92). This science usually involves a whole new rethinking of the prevailing paradigm. Concerning the relevance of these two kinds of science for discoveries, one can say that discoveries are a sufficient but not a necessary condition for paradigm changes. An example is the discovery of oxygen, which was not by itself the cause of a major change in chemical theory. Lavoisier's discovery was not so much the discovery of oxygen as the discovery of the oxygen theory of combustion.

            Some of the "new" philosophers of science have an integrated view of what the logical empiricists have described as the context of discovery and the context of justification concerning a scientific investigation. Brown (1977) states that,

                        the context of justification is thus part of the context of discovery and no                                    sharp line can be drawn between discovery and justification. (p. 130).

The assumption here is that it is only when philosophers are interested in the logical status of a discovery that the context of justification becomes important and, therefore distinct. But when the criteria of evaluation of a discovery are internal to it because they are dictated by the prevailing paradigm and applied by the researcher and the other members of the scientific community, the emphasis will be on continuing criticism and therefore the context of discovery tends to merge with the context of justification.

            The new philosophers of science have listed the following factors as affecting the occurrence of scientific discoveries: conceptual knowledge, instruments, and inferring techniques and models. Kuhn (1970b) says that all of these factors are determined by the paradigms under which scientists operate.

            The conceptual knowledge we hold prepares us for the kinds of observation that we make in science and what we see to be the object of investigation. According to Farre (1966), it is possible for two people to look at the same thing and still report different findings. He thinks the difference between the two will not be "centred on what they see in a physiological sense, but rather of what they see it as (p. 28, emphasis in original). He therefore thinks "this perspective aspect of scientific facts is central to the problem of discovery, as it is to the whole theory of empirical knowledge" (p. 28). What this means is "that our perspective determines to a large extent what we see this world as, and therefore, what scientific facts are" (p. 28).

Kuhn (1970a) also says discovery involves conceptual assimilation and thinks that,

                        only when all the relevant conceptual categories are prepared in advance,                                  in which case the phenomenon would not be of a new sort, can                                       discovering that and discovering what occur effortlessly, together, and in                               an instant. (p. 55)

Apart from the conceptual knowledge held by scientists, discoveries in science may sometimes not be made until appropriate instruments are invented. According to Farre (1966),

                        New facts may be discovered in two ways. Either there are devised some                                  new means of observation that yield new facts or else existing means of                               observation yield unexpected results. (p. 29).

Concerning inferring techniques and models, according to Toulmin (1953), inferring techniques and models are the core of discoveries. He uses the discovery that light travels in straight lines to illustrate inference drawing and model-building in science. He says,

                        the discovery that light travels in straight lines-the transition from the                               state-of-affairs in which this was not known to that in which it was                                                known-- was a double one: it comprises the development of a technique                               for representing optical phenomenon which was found to fit a wide range                                     of facts, and the adoption along with this technique of a new model, a new                     way of regarding these phenomena, and of understanding why they are as                                 they are. (p. 29).

In support of his claim, he cites the example of the role of Maxwell's equations in Einstein's introduction of the theory of relativity. He thinks that "the Maxwell equations themselves provide one of the standards, acceptable to both classical and relativistic physics, on the basis of which they can be compared. This is not an eternal or theory-free standard" (p.141). It is a standard internal to physics, which serves as a point of mediation in this dispute.

            This is why he thinks that the novelty of the conclusion comes, not from the data, but from the inference. The data enable us to answer the "what?" question. It is the inference that leads us "to look at familiar phenomena in a new way, not new phenomena in a familiar way" (p. 20).

            The new philosophers of science think that scientists appeal to scientific standards rather than eternal standards established by philosophers of science. According to Brown (1977),

                        the choice between scientific theories does not take place by appealing to                                  eternal standards, established by philosophers, but rather by appeal to                         scientific standards, which are provided by the theories involved. (p. 140)

Polanyi (1969) has also three criteria that a contribution to science must fulfill. These are:

1.                  sufficient degree of plausibility,

2.                  scientific value, and

3.                  originality

The plausibility of a scientific discovery will be judged against the background of the existing tradition in terms of scientific knowledge and available instruments. The possibility exists that the scientific discovery may still be disregarded simply for the reason that its results conflict sharply with the current scientific opinion about the nature of things.

            Specifying criteria for determining what is to count as a discovery has been referred to by Feyerabend (1978) as a "law and order" approach, which is intended as a form of censorship to prevent every "new" idea from being regarded as a discovery. This is the traditional in-built conservatism in science. It is this that ensures that new discoveries not only conform to scientific tradition and the prevailing scientific knowledge, but that existing knowledge is not abandoned prematurely. Thus, the number of revisions is cut down to a minimum. The implications of constant revision can also be felt in the types of instruments used in conducting investigations. Constant revisions of existing knowledge can be very expensive; for instance, available books can be rendered obsolete within a short time.

            Feyerabend's concern is for the freedom of the individual scientists to engage in scientific inquiries without any inhibitions from the method and authority of science. According to him,

                        science is an essentially anarchistic enterprise: theoretical anarchism is                            more humanitarian and more likely to encourage progress than its law and                          order alternative. (p. 17)

As a result of this he thinks that the "only principle that does not inhibit progress is: anything goes" (p. 23, emphasis in original). The consistency condition, which demands that new hypotheses agree with accepted theories, preserves the older theory, and not the better theory. It is his opinion that "proliferation of theories is beneficial for science, while uniformity impairs its critical power" (p. 35).

            It is not clear whether Feyerabend sees scientific practice as an individual thing, in which case his argument for "anything goes" will collapse under a paradigmatic view of science, which recognizes the role of scientific standards. However, his view of scientific progress is the same as that of other members of the "new" philosophy of science. In concluding this section on the analysis of "discovery" it is worthwhile to note that setting logical criteria for determining what is to count as a discovery in science, and hence what is objective knowledge, was initially done by the logical empiricists to separate science from metaphysics. This is why the new philosophers of science think that the logical empiricists' criteria are external to science; hence, their call for criteria internal to science. The new philosophers of science think such criteria are determined from the history of science over which the scientist or the philosophers of science may not have control.

            If there is controversy about the criteria that used in evaluating discoveries made by practising scientists, there may be even more problems concerning the criteria to be used for evaluating discoveries that are said to be made by pupils in the school situation.


Implications for Science Education

            The preceding overview of the concept of discovery, as treated by philosophers of science, was presented for two reasons:

(a)        to demonstrate that a concept, such as discovery, which is frequently used in science education, has been analysed extensively by non-science educators and        has been found to have a much richer variety of meanings than science educators attribute to it.

(b)        To show that what philosophers of science have written about discovery can serve as a way of increasing the precision with which science educators think and write about this topic.

            The following then are some of the implications of the preceding analysis for science education:

Philosophers of science have described what constitutes legitimate scientific knowledge as well as the complexities associated with discoveries in science. These descriptions could guide science teachers' and educators' deliberations about curriculum content and instructional designs. For example, it has been argued earlier that discovery is not a unitary concept; science educators could benefit from treating discovery -as a pluralistic concept. As a consequence, teachers may come to realize that (a) there is no single discovery method and that (b) teaching for discovery has to reflect this pluralism. Also, recognizing that a variety of "things" may lead teachers to be more attentive to what they mean by discovery and what assumptions they make concerning students' ability to discover each type of "thing." The above comments hold for researchers in science education as well -- to often researchers have treated discovery teaching as a unitary idea. This approach has led to research claims that have little meaning. If science education researchers are aware of the complexities associated with what students can discover, they will be more able to specify the type of discovery involved in their research. It is hoped that this will make for better communication.

            Philosophers of science have made a description of the way science arrives at its discoveries. The process of discovery is described not as a single process but as a complex cycle of deductive and inductive processes. This description could help teachers to understand the various approaches to discovering. An adequate understanding of the processes of deduction and induction leading up to discovery activities. For instance, an instruction based on deduction will be different from an instruction based on induction. If the richness of the concept of discovery is taken into account, science education researchers will be able to specify what process of discovery they are dealing with.

            Philosophers of science describe the criteria, which determine what is to count as a legitimate discovery in science. Some of these are the quantity, the variety and the precision of supporting evidence. The knowledge of these criteria should enable teachers to think of what standard pupil discoveries should conform with. At present, being able to apply the new discovery to new situation is a criterion generally recognized by science educators. Another one with some recognition is verbalization of the new discovery.

            Knowledge by teachers of the factors that affect discoveries in science would enable to know how to fashion their instruction to make pupil discovery possible. For instance, teachers would know that it is important for them to provide pupils with the relevant conceptual knowledge to facilitate discovery. It is only recently (Driver, 1983) that it was suggested that the absence of relevant conceptual knowledge could lead students to reinforce their unacceptable alternative views when a discovery method of teaching is used.

            The view of scientific progress as involving a change of paradigm usually involving revolutionary discoveries has implications for science curricula. A science curriculum adopting this view would be likely to be more tolerant of paradigm changes than another one that adapts a cumulative view of scientific progress. A curriculum based upon the incommensurability of paradigms is more likely to prepare pupils to cope well with changes associated with scientific discoveries. The existence of the context and justification of discovery has been given adequate treatment by the logical empiricists. Recent attempts by the new philosophers of science to analyze the context of discovery should be useful to science educators in helping them to clarify the goals of science education. For instance, science educators would need to consider whether or not their concern should be for the discovery phase or the justification phase or the other or both would determine what the content of instruction should be. Discovery is an important aspect of science. If science knowledge is to be adequately represented in the school science curriculum, then discovery should be included.

            There is a need for science teachers and educators to pay greater attention to the philosophers of science. There is also a need for philosophers of science to take a closer look at the problem of discovery in science. An acceptable account by philosophers of science on how discoveries are made would be useful to science teachers and educators. They may then be able to determine whether or not it is within the capacity of the pupil to make discoveries in the same way as a research scientist. Science teachers and educators might be forced to rethink their position on pupil discovery and the desirability of the discovery method of teaching and learning. They would have a basis for deciding whether or not it is appropriate to continue to use the term "discovery" in the school situation if it does not mean the same thing as it does to philosophers of science.





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I. O. Abimbola




This paper explores the role philosophy of science could play in biology education in Nigeria. First, the paper argues that philosophy of science is relevant to science education in general and biology education in particular. Second, it describes the basic tenets of the logical empiricists and the 'new' philosophers of science. Third, using the basic tenets of the dominant schools of thought in philosophy of science, the paper describes the role philosophy of science could play in guiding biology curricula, instruction, teacher education, and research in biology education in Nigeria.






A major problem of school science education in Nigeria is that it lacks a sense of direction-a theory and philosophy, which should provide guidance to instruction, curriculum development, teacher education, and research in science education (NERC, 1978). Despite earlier calls for a national science policy (e.g., Abubakar, 1970), it is only recently that a consensus seems to be emerging on this problem. According to Abdullahi (1976:6):

In spite of the Federal Government enthusiasm in opening more scientifically and technologically oriented colleges and universities, there is no national policy to regulate what we are doing in science teaching at the pre-university levels, and what we propose to do in the near future.


Okoli (1978:18) specifically points out that:


there is need for a sense of direction. And this sense of direction will only come through an insight into the basic philosophy of science and in turn a clear understanding of the objectives of science teaching.

For instance, one of the major challenges facing science education programmes in Nigeria is that, historically, they have been patterned after other science programmes elsewhere in the developed countries. The fifteen skills and processes adopted for the elementary science by a primary school curriculum conference in 1971 were modified versions of those proposed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (Urevbu, 1980). The AAAS process approach was also supported by the science group in the National Workshop on Secondary Education Curriculum (NERC, 1978).

Most of the secondary school syllabuses were inherited from either the Cambridge University, or University of London General Certificate of Education Syllabus. When the Biology General Certificate Examination -(ordinary level) syllabus was revised in 1971, it was based on Nuffield Science Projects. While the borrowing, or the adoption, or the adaptation of other programmes is not necessarily bad, what one would like to see is a prior determination of what a particular new syllabus or curriculum is expected to achieve for the students and the country. This kind of approach ensures that science teachers and educators have opportunities for an extensive discussion of the philosophy behind the new syllabus or curriculum. This philosophy should guide the search for programmes to develop, adopt, or adapt, and not the reverse. Instruction, teacher education, and research in science education should be conducted within the same philosophy.

One problem that arises from a pattern of science education that relies on extensive borrowing of ideas from other programmes is that some of the problems of the programmes are adopted. For instance, many people may not realize that most of the activities of science curriculum development groups of the 1960s had no foundation in the philosophy of science. And philosophy of science should play a guiding role on questions related to curriculum content. Instead, what is seen is summarized by Connelly (1974:5):

While this activity (curriculum development) began with philosophical concerns for knowledge and for enquiry, it was largely dominated by the works of a few psychologists, notably, Bruner, Ausubel, Gagne, Piaget.


Because of this dominant role of psychologists in the affairs of science education, it becomes worthwhile to explore what role philosophy of science has to play in science education in general, and in biology education in particular.

Given this background, a discussion of the role of philosophy of science in biology education in Nigeria will be presented. First, the relevance of philosophy of science to science education will be discussed. Second, using the features of the two dominant schools of thought in philosophy of science, a discussion will be presented showing how philosophical principles might be useful in Nigeria as a guide for the development of secondary school biology curricula, biology instruction, the education of secondary school biology teachers, and research in biology education.


The relevance of philosophy of science to science education

When Martin (1972) was exploring the relevance of philosophy of science to science education, he observed that the topic had been largely unexplored before then. And philosophy of science is relevant to both science education theory and practice. For instance, in explaining the recourse to philosophy of science in formulating a theory of conceptual change to explain learning, Strike (1983:69) asserts that it is 'epistemology, not psychology that is the basic discipline for the study of learning'. It is, therefore, appropriate to explore what aspects of philosophy of science make it relevant to science education.

Lambert and Brittan (1979) have described three basic preoccupations of philosophers of science. Philosophers of science determine what represents an adequate scientific worldview by asking critical questions about it. An "ample is how science progresses. They are also concerned with the analysis of science concepts to reveal the logic and structure of scientific disciplines. The philosophers also described what it is that scientists do. This includes problems related to explanation, confirmation and theories. Apart from philosophy of science being generally relevant to science education, biology education can also look to philosophy of science for guidance in the solution of problems related to biology curriculum and instruction, the education of secondary school biology teachers, and research in biology education.

Among the goals of philosophy of science, important questions related to biology curriculum and instruction include: What is a valid biology knowledge? How does it become established as a valid knowledge? Under what circumstances does this knowledge eventually change its form and meaning? On what grounds does one select a piece of knowledge for instruction from the available store of knowledge? How is the knowledge to be organized? Important questions related to the education of secondary school biology teachers include: Are there many philosophies of science or is there just one philosophy of science of which prospective teachers need to be aware? What is the structure of biology? How can philosophy of science be used for the analysis of biology? How can biology knowledge be best organized for instruction? Important research questions in biology education will focus on the intersection of philosophy of science, biology content, the pupil, and the teacher. In the n ext section, the tenets of the dominant schools of thought in the philosophy of science will be described.


Dominant schools of thought in the philosophy of science

The two dominant schools of thought in the philosophy of science are logical empiricism and the 'new' philosophy of science. The two of them have important relevance for biology education.


Logical empiricism

Logical empiricism is simply a label attached to many different philosophical points of view, which, nonetheless, share common interests. These points of view are represented by Nagel (1961), Hempel (1952, 1965, 1966), and Carnap (1966). Their most important factors are in the very name-a commitment to the empirical character of science, and the formal analysis of the structure of science using symbolic logic.

The logical empiricists are concerned with the analysis of confirmation relations, which hold between a scientific law and the observation statements, which confirm or disconfirm it. They are also concerned with the analysis of how scientific terms obtain their meanings. They emphasize the hypothetico-deductive method of reasoning in their work. Some of their claims which are relevant to the topic of this paper have been described elsewhere (Abimbola, 1983). They include:

1.         The logical structure of the product of scientific research is very important; objectives criteria are, therefore, necessary for the validation of scientific discoveries (Carnap, 1966; Hempel, 1966).

2.         Knowledge is additive and bottom up (Kemeny & Oppenheim, 1970). That is, our store of knowledge increases either by confirming new findings or by being able to describe our experiences in increasingly general ways.

3.         Observations remain the same during scientific revolutions. A new theory is, therefore, an improvement over the old one because the new theory encompasses a more extensive observational domain or accounts for more observation (Hempel, 1965; Kemeny & Oppenheim, 1970).


The 'new' Philosophy of science

The 'new' philosophy of science rejects formal logic as the primary tool for the analysis of science. It employs the history and sociology of science for its analysis. This new school of thought also emphasizes a continuing research programme rather than accepted results as the core of the scientific enterprise. It also studies the history and sociology of scientific discoveries. Representatives of this new approach are Hanson (1958), Polanyi (1962), Bronowski (1965), Blackwell (1969), Kuhn (1970a, b, c), Lakatos (1970), Brown (1977), Toulmin (1953, 1977), and Feyerabend (1970). Abimbola (1983) has described the main claims of the 'new' philosophers of science as follows:

1.         There is a reliance on a detailed study of the history of science for the analysis of science; formal logic is rejected as the primary tool for this kind of analysis. The ultimate decision on a scientific question, therefore, rests with the scientific community. (Polanyi, 1963; Kuhn, 1970a; Brown, 1977).

2.         Science has two phases: normal science and revolutionary science. Normal science problems are generated by currently shared concepts or paradigms and are responsible for causing scientific revolutions. These concepts are the knowledge, beliefs and 'theories' we already hold which determine, to a great extent, what we perceive; hence, observations are theory loaded (Toulmin, 1953; Hanson, 1958; Polanyi, 1962; Bronowski, 1966; Kuhn, 1970a; Brown, 1977). Current concepts also determine what problems to solve, the instruments to use, and the inferring techniques and models to employ. Current concepts also determine what counts as a solution. The most important events in the history of science are revolutions which change paradigms or current concepts, progress in science is, therefore, not additive. It usually involves paradigm changes, which are incommensurable (Kuhn 1970a, b, c).

3.         Observations do not remain the same during scientific revolutions. This is, again, because scientific paradigms are incommensurable. (Kuhn, 1970a; Brown, .19771; Feyerabend, 1978). Paradigm changes are usually accompanied by changes in the meaning of scientific terms hence changes in the observational data. That is, there are changes in what we see things as.

4.         Continuing research coupled with continuing criticisms, rather than accepted results, are the core of science (Polanyi, 1962; Kuhn, 1970a; Brown, 1977; Feyerabend, 1978). The new philosophers of science place a greater emphasis on the analysis of the processes leading up to a discovery, i.e., the scientific activity per se rather than on the analysis of the products of discovery. Also, they generally do not distinguish between the context of discovery and the context of justification like the logical empiricists.


Philosophy of science and biology education in Nigeria

It was stated initially that philosophy of science was relevant for science education, and in particular, biology education. The two dominant schools of thought in philosophy of science-the logical empiricism and the 'new' philosophy of science-have some striking features that could be useful for biology education in Nigeria.

This section will, therefore, involve a description of how the features of the dominant schools of thought in the philosophy of science could be useful for biology education in Nigeria. The areas under discussion are: The development of secondary school biology curricula, biology teaching and learning, the education of secondary school biology teachers, and research in biology education.


Secondary school biology curricula and instruction

Arising from the Nigerian National Curriculum Conference of 1969 (NERC, 1972) was the realization that curriculum development in science for the secondary schools was needed. A conscious attempt was made to meet this need in secondary school science when the federal government set up the Comparative Education Study and Adaptation Centre (CESAC) to develop indigenous secondary school science curricula. An 'alternative biology' programme was developed for the last three years of secondary school. The emphasis of the programme is on the relevant of content to the Nigerian environment. It includes many Nigerian examples of plants and animals and the approach is ecological. Great emphasis is also placed on the investigative approach to science teaching. It shares similar presuppositions with most of the United States and British programmes of the sixties, which emphasized inquiry and discovery approaches to science teaching.

Hitherto, what was in use (and still in use) is the West African School Certificate Examinations Syllabus in biology. Private textbook writers write to conform to the syllabus and the teachers select from the available textbooks for their biology classes. This situation is far from satisfactory in a country with a centralized form of curriculum planning. The ministries of education normally have their say in what programme goes into the schools. Such ministries have no way of controlling the private textbook writers. The CESAC biology programme is not yet nationally used and ‘pilot schools’ only use it at present. The Nigerian Educational Research Council (1978) published some curriculum guidelines for secondary school science for the new 6-3-3-4 system of education. The guidelines included a list of objectives of teaching the science that sought to make science teaching relevant to the needs of the country. These guidelines, however, do not take into adequate consideration the role of the prevailing schools of thought in science and science teaching. It is necessary to take philosophy of science into consideration because it defines what science is and when the philosophy changes, the nature of science changes, hence the need for corresponding changes in science teaching. The situation with respect to curriculum development can, therefore, accommodate concrete suggestions about the role of philosophy of science in the development of biology curricula.

Biology curriculum developers need to be aware of the various schools of thought in the philosophy of science for guidance in their work. For instance, the logical empiricists such as Hempel (1952, 1965, 1966); Carnap (1966) have described the structure and language of science. Hull (1974) has also described the structure of theories in biology. The 'new' philosophers of science such as Kuhn (1970a), Lakatos (1970), Toulmin (1953, 1977) have generally emphasized the historical root of science and the community nature of its endeavour. An awareness of these schools of thought would guide the biology curriculum developers in the choice of appropriate basis for their work. During instruction, teachers will be able to teach legitimate biology content based on the modern views of the structure of science.

An understanding of the structure of science would aid the biology curriculum developer in selecting appropriate content for inclusion in the curriculum. The structure of biology, for instance, includes a description of its content being composed, in part, of concepts, empirical laws and theories (internal and bridge principles). An understanding of the exact meanings and organization of these philosophical terms can be used to select and organize biology content in the curriculum, and for instruction. Other components of biology that are described by the philosophers are processes and ethics. The processes include the methods by which biologists gain their knowledge while the ethics of the discipline include the standards, which guide their work. All these need to be put into consideration before embarking on curriculum development. A lack of knowledge of these components of biology may lead the curriculum developers to neglect one or some of the components. Curriculum developers in biology have used the topic/theme approach as basis for organizing content rather than using any of the three components of science or their combinations, for instance. The curriculum developer needs to take an informed decision on whether to use the concept approach; the process approach or the ethics approach as basis for curriculum development.

As for biology instruction, the philosophers of science have made a description of the way science arrives at its discoveries. The process of discovery is described not as a single process but as a complex cycle of deductive and inductive processes. This description could help teachers to understand the various approaches to discovering. An adequate understanding of the processes of deduction and induction leading up to a discovery would help teachers to guide their pupils through discovery activities. For instance, an instruction based on deduction will be different from another instruction based on induction.

Based on the works of Hempel (1952) and Carnap (1966), Abdullahi (1976) classifies concepts and laws into two types-classificatory and correlational. Each of these types could be empirical and theoretical in terms of their degree of abstractness and could fall into three levels of sophistication-descriptive, comparative and quantitative concepts and laws. They could also be simple or complex depending on their degree of complexity. An understanding of the categories to which particular concepts belong would enable the curriculum developers to specify the relevant laws and theories that are subsumed under each concept. The hierarchical organization implied by these categories shows that curriculum content could be organized in such a way that it could start from simple to complex or complex to simple. When this content organization is made to coincide with the development of the students, such an organization could be useful for teachers in planning their instruction and evaluation. Curriculum evaluation could also be made easier if a coherent organization of content had been done.

Another approach that could be used for organizing the content of the biology curriculum in Nigeria is through the basic assumptions of biological theories. Lewis (1971); Lewis, Drum and Fitch (1977) have worked on generating postulates on particular content areas in biology. For example, Lewis, et al. have postulates on 'The Theory of Natural Selection,' 'The General Theory of Organic Evolution,' 'Mendel's Theory,' and of 'The Classical Genes Theory.' Lewis (1981) also indicates that postulates are available on 'The DNA Theory of Gene Structure and Duplication,' and 'The DNA.RNA-Protein Theory of Gene Action.' The writing team could start by writing out the postulates for each theory in biology.

This effort leads to a curriculum organized around the theories in biology. A curriculum designed in this way is likely to show, in a coherent way, the different interconnections between biology concepts.

One of the basic tenets of the philosophers of science, especially the 'new' philosophers, is their emphasis on critical debates and discussions. This tenet is particularly relevant to Nigerian biology curriculum planners at this time when changes in the biology curriculum are being made for the 3-3 structure of the secondary school system. Within this tenet, biology curriculum planning would be characterized by extensive debate and discussion over biology content. It is by raising philosophical questions about biology knowledge structures and how they develop, function, and change in the fields of enquiry and in the mind that curriculum planners can ensure that the curriculum represents legitimate biology knowledge.

The 'new1philosophers of science also assert that the knowledge, beliefs and theories we already hold determine, to a great extent, what we perceive. This view emphasizes the role of conceptual knowledge in guiding science processes. However, NERC (1978) is still recommending a process approach for teaching science when the current views of philosophers of science are against this. Science processes can still be taught separately but the teaching should be done after related concepts, laws, and theories have been taught, not the reverse. For example, students can only use a microscope meaningfully when they have known its various parts. Similarly, students can only identify microorganisms they know on a microscope. If the organisms are unknown, the students will only see the organisms but will fail to see them as what they really are. Seeing involves a process of observing and seeing as involves a knowledge-based observation, which is relevant in teaching-learning situations.

Subscription to the 'new' philosophy of science tenet that paradigms are incommensurable would guide biology curriculum planners in Nigeria in dealing with problems arising from curriculum implementation and evaluation. For instance, biology curricula operating within different paradigms are incommensurable. The criteria of evaluation then would be found within the adopted paradigm. Critical questions would be raised and answers sought within the paradigm. This particular paradigm would enable them to realize that a new biology curriculum may not necessarily be an improvement over the old one. The two curricula might just have arisen from different paradigms and might be appropriate at different points in the history of the development of biology education in Nigeria. As teachers are going to take part in curriculum development and execution in Nigeria, they need appropriate training during their pre-service and in-service years.


The education of secondary school biology teachers

Out of fifteen cognitive competencies expected of teachers, Chiappetta and Collette (1978a) report that science supervisors rank 'Understands the history and philosophy of science' last. in a similar study, Chiappetta, Shores and Collette (1981) report that science education researchers rank 'Possesses a knowledge of the history and philosophy of science and its social implications' thirteenth out of the first fifteen cognitive competencies expected of teachers. Chiappetta and Collette (1978b) also report that secondary science teachers do not mention 'Knowledge of history and philosophy of science' as one of the competencies they should have. The relatively low ranking accorded 'Knowledge of history and philosophy of science' by science supervisors and science education researchers is an indication of the low status accorded the competency. It is also an indication of the less importance these groups of educators attach to the role of the history and philosophy of science in the education of teachers and in instruction. In studies in Nigeria, Ogunyemi (1969), Abubakar (1970), Bajah and Okebukola (1984), have reported that secondary school pupils hold inadequate conceptions of the nature of science. It is, therefore, appropriate in this section to explore the role of philosophy of science in the education of biology teachers in Nigeria.

During the pre-service education of biology teachers, they should be instructed on philosophy of science. Philosophers of science describe the presuppositions and the structure of biology. If the teachers are to present biology knowledge correctly to their pupils, they should be familiar with the basic presuppositions and structure of biology knowledge. The structure of biology includes concepts of biology, its methods of inquiry, and its organization. Secondary school biology teachers also need to be familiar with how the basic presuppositions that guide the research of biologists change from time to time. This familiarity would prepare the secondary school biology teacher to be enlightened about the shifting forces which bring different presuppositions to the forefront at different times, In addition, the prospective teacher would cultivate tolerance for more than one paradigm in biology. This tolerance should prove useful in the teachers' work in curriculum development, instruction and evaluation. For instance, it could help teachers to realize that they are in a world of ever-changing paradigms. This attitude might prepare their minds for changes, and help them to make changes in their approaches to their work.

Because of the descriptions of biology structure by philosophers of science, the descriptions should help prospective teachers to know the similarities, differences, and interrelationships of biology and other sciences. The knowledge of the above should help teachers in planning their instruction so that the learning of other appropriate science content-comes up at the appropriate times.

Knowledge of philosophy of science acquired by teachers during their pre-service education should help them locate gaps in the knowledge possessed by their pupils. Their knowledge presupposes an understanding of what constitutes legitimate biology knowledge-concepts, laws and theories and their interrelationships and biology processes.

Most Nigerian programmes for pre-service education of science teachers only have brief references to 'the nature of science.' Only two out of nineteen federal universities currently include philosophy of science in their programmes for the education of teachers. What is needed at present is the inclusion of philosophy of science as part of the pre-service education programme of secondary school science teachers throughout the country. Prospective biology teachers would be well served by such a programme. At the same time, concerted effort should be made to teach practising teachers basic philosophy of science that would help them to understand the nature of science. The in-service programme may be difficult to carry out at present because of the small number of qualified personnel. However, a crash programme could be instituted whereby some teachers would be taught basic philosophy of science with the hope that they would go back to teach their colleagues.


Research in biology education

There are many virgin areas of biology education research in Nigeria. Almost all the priority areas of research identified by Yeany and Capie (1978) apply to biology education research in Nigeria. So there can be no exhaustive list of research areas of priority in biology education research. Some of the research areas that can be identified from the discussions in this paper, and which are considered relevant for the situation in Nigeria are discussed below.

Possible areas of research in biology education in Nigeria are within the intersections of the teacher, the pupil and the content of the biology curriculum. It would be interesting to find out how the cognitive competencies of the teacher concerning the nature of science affect the achievement of pupils in biology. Information from this kind of research should be useful in the pre-service and in-service education of teachers.

Another area of research is to attempt a comparison of the philosophical views of teachers on the nature of science and those expressed in the biology curricula of the secondary schools. This study should help reveal possible similarities and contradictions, which may affect pupils' knowledge of, and their attitudes towards science.

Using philosophy of science for the analysis of biology content, information could be sought on what knowledge of some biology content area is possessed by pupils after instruction. The purpose of this kind of research would be to describe the structure of pupils' knowledge. A possible comparison could be made between the structure of the content area and the structure of pupils' knowledge. Information derived from the research would be useful for improving curriculum and instruction.

Research could also be designed to find out pupils' pre-and-post-instructional knowledge in biology. The purpose of the research would be to find out changes in the conceptual knowledge of pupils. This kind of research would be useful for Nigeria in particular where the possibility exists that some prior traditional beliefs might affect, adversely, the structure of pupils' knowledge after instruction.



An attempt has been made in this paper to show that philosophy of science is not only relevant for science education in general but it is also relevant for biology education in particular. The logical empiricism and the 'new' philosophy of science are currently the two dominant and competing schools of philosophical thought.

The features of the two dominant schools of thought are then used to demonstrate the role philosophy of science could play in biology education in Nigeria. The research of the philosophers of science indicate that they could be applied to solve problems related to the development of secondary school curricula, biology instruction, the education of secondary school biology teachers, and research in biology education. It is hoped that from the analysis and description of the role philosophy of science could play in biology education as done in this paper, more and more science educators and teachers would come to realize the full relevance of philosophy of science to science education.




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