Pupils’ Perceptions of Technology in the Secondary School Curriculum: a case study

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Kiel]On: 27 October 2014, At: 04:18Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Pupils Perceptions of Technology inthe Secondary School Curriculum: acase studyAlun C. McCarthy a & Dennis Moss ba Department of Technology , PenyDre High School , MerthyrTydfil, Mid Glamorgan, United Kingdomb School of Education , University of Wales College of Cardiff ,42 Park Place, Cardiff CF1 3BB, South Glamorgan, UnitedKingdomPublished online: 02 Aug 2006.

    To cite this article: Alun C. McCarthy & Dennis Moss (1990) Pupils Perceptions of Technologyin the Secondary School Curriculum: a case study, Educational Studies, 16:3, 207-216, DOI:10.1080/0305569900160301

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  • Educational Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3, 1990 207

    Pupils' Perceptions of Technology inthe Secondary School Curriculum:a case studyALUN C. MCCARTHYDepartment of Technology, Pen-y-Dre High School, Merthyr Tydfil,Mid Glamorgan, United Kingdom

    DENNIS MOSSSchool of Education, University of Wales College of Cardiff, 42 Park Place, CardiffCF1 3BB, South Glamorgan, United Kingdom

    SUMMARY This paper reports a study of pupils attitudes to Craft Design Technology (CDT),Technology (GCSE) and Technology A level in a Mid Glamorgan secondary school.Technology is regarded by the pupils as being intellectually demandng and having a high'employment value'. This seems to attract more able pupils (of both sexes) than would be thecase for other CDT subject areas. Pupils perceive CDT: Technology to have the characteristicsof Science subjects rather than those of Arts or Crafts. A significant proportion of femalestudents in this case study are attracted to study A level Technology and investigations arecontinuing to identify the underlying reasons for this.

    Introduction

    Historically technological subjects in schools have been regarded as low status, craftorientated subjects with a strong gender bias towards male pupils. The mainobjective of craft subjects in the 1950s and 1960s was to teach boys to correctly usewoodworking and metalworking tools with little emphasis on design or invention.

    However, initiatives such as Project Technology (1967-72) and the Design andCraft Project (1968-73) did much to try and change attitudes to this area of thecurriculum (Eggleston, 1988). The then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, in hisspeech at Ruskin College in October 1976 expressed great concern about the need to"relate thinking about curriculum to the needs of British Industry" (Brennan,1977).

    As a result of these and other factors, significant changes were brought about inthis curriculum area. The old craft subjects of Woodwork and Metalwork wereincorporated into Craft Design Technology (CDT), a new name to reflect a newphilosophy for the subject. The need to be creative and original was a requiredelement of the curriculum and, in order to foster such skills, this aspect of the CDTcurriculum was emphasised. However, until fairly recently, this new subject had

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  • 208 A. C. McCarthy & D. Moss

    failed to appeal to a significant number of female pupils and seemed also not toappeal to significant numbers of the most able pupils in any year group.

    Through the last 20 years the needs of industry have changed. The traditionalapprenticeships available to woodwork and metalwork specialists have all butdisappeared and instead new technologies have developed. The need is forindividuals with experience of new metals, such as plastics, and of new technologies,such as information technology. Most importantly, the experience of managing adesign project from initial needs analysis to evaluation of the product is seen as acrucial aspect of the development of new small innovative industries. CDT has beenobliged to step away from its Craft base and to emphasise all aspects of the designprocess. Of the three components of CDT, Penfold (1988) believes that"Technology has the appropriate depth of subject knowledge potentially to wrestCDT from its nineteenth century origins and make it a meaningful study... especially for the academically more able". So today we have a subject which inmany respects has been transformed from what it represented a quarter of a centuryago. The recent National Curriculum proposals related to Design Technology as afoundation subject are likely to result in further development along this road.

    Aims of this Study

    (1) To identify the factors which influence pupil choice of Technology orCDT courses.

    (2) To measure the overall perceptions of the pupil towards Technology interms of its usefulness, difficulty, interest etc.

    (3) To ascertain the extent to which more able pupils are attracted to thesubject.

    (4) To ascertain the extent to which girls are attracted to the subject.

    Background to the Study

    This study was carried out in a single comprehensive school, Pen-y-Dre in MerthyrTydfil, Mid Glamorgan. This particular school is an 11-18 coeducational schoolwith a large, active CDT department. At the time of the study (1988-1989) theschool acted as the Technology provider for all advanced level pupils in the MerthyrTydfil locality although some local schools continued to offer A level CDT. It wastherefore ideally suited for a case study on the perceptions of the pupils towardstechnology in the curriculum.

    Pen-y-Dre comprehensive school offered Technology as a Common Syllabus(CS) subject (i.e. combined 'O' level and CSE later to become GCSE) in 1985 andoffered Advanced level Technology for the first time in 1986. In forms four andfive, GCSE CDT:Technology is taught to mixed ability groups while in the sixthform the lower and upper sixth groups are taught separately. Over the past decadethe school has been successful in attracting an increasing proportion of pupils toCDT related subjects in the fifth year as can be seen from Table I.

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  • Pupils' Perceptions of Technology 209

    TABLE I.

    pupils as

    MaleFemale

    Percentage of all 5th formexamination candidates inCDT subjects

    1979

    451

    1989

    5420

    TABLE II.

    MaleFemale

    A level enrolments

    1979

    00

    for CDT

    1987

    71

    courses

    1989

    1110

    Apart from the overall increase, it is obvious that a significant minority offemale pupils now opt for this subject. This trend is reflected in A level enrolmentsas shown in Table II.

    It was this trend towards CDT subjects and the obvious interest shown byfemale pupils which first raised our interest and inspired this study.

    Methodology

    A total of 40 pupils following Technology courses in years 4-7 were asked tocomplete a questionnaire. The questionnaire was designed to measure their attitudestowards CDT:Technology (at GCSE level) and Technology (at A level) in termsof the following factors.

    (1) Reasons for choosing Technology.(2) Perception of Technology in relation to other subjects.(3) Perception of Technology in relation to gender.(4) Differences in perception of Technology between GCSE and A level.

    Different questionnaires were used for GCSE and A level pupils although thedifferences were merely cosmetic modifications to allow the questions to be directedon a course basis. Of 34 questionnaires circulated to GCSE pupils, 30 (16 frommales, 14 from females) were returned completed (approximately 90%) while 10A level pupils (seven males, three females) all returned their completedquestionnaires. The full details of the study are reported by McCarthy (1989) butthe main findings are reported here.

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  • 210 A. C. McCarthy & D. Moss

    Results

    (1) Reasons for Choosing Technology

    GCSE pupils were asked whether they would have preferred to study a subject otherthan CDT: Technology had the subject options allowed this. Only four pupils (twomale, two female) indicated this to be the case suggesting that, for the majority ofpupils, the choice of CDT:Technology was a positive choice. When asked what hadinfluenced their choice it became clear (see Table III) that the pupils exercised apersonal choice of subjects with few external factors having any effect, and thattheir perception of the "currency value" of the subject in the future was verypositive.

    TABLE III. Reasons for choosing CDT:Technology

    Interest in new subjectsNot interested in others on

    offerTold to by parentsFriends opted for the subjectDo not care what option is

    followedBelieve it to be useful in future

    GCSE

    53

    000

    22

    A level

    40

    000

    8

    All males

    51

    000

    18

    All females

    42

    000

    12

    (2) The Influence of Years 1-3 on Option Choice

    Pupils are, of course, likely to be most influenced in their option choice by theirsubject experiences in the lower school. When the pupils were asked how much theyenjoyed the CDT work in the lower school and whether their earlier experiences hadinfluenced their option choice for GCSE the responses were very positive. Over93% of pupils had enjoyed the year one to three programme with 50% of all pupils(64% of all girls) saying it was "very enjoyable". However only 37% of all pupils(50% of all girls) indicated that this had had a strong influence on option choice inyear four.

    It would seem that in the case of CDT Technology at least, option choice isrelated to career prospects.

    (3) Perceptions of Technology in Relation to Other Subjects

    The perceived currency value of the subject was confirmed when the pupils wereasked to rate the usefulness of all subjects in helping to obtain employment. Pupilswere asked to rate all subjects on a five point scale of:

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  • Pupils' Perceptions of Technology 211

    5=extremely valuable,4=quite valuable,3 = about average,2=of less value than most subjects,1= of little value.

    The weighted mean responses to 33 subjects were calculated on a possible scoreof + 5 down to + 1 . The responses of males and females for the top 10 subjects areshown in Table IV.

    TABLE IV. Male and female ratings of the employment value of subjects rated highest by all pupils

    123456789

    10

    Females

    MathsEng. Lang.Eng. Lit.BiologyChemistryPhysicsCDT^TechnologyComputer StudiesGeographyBusiness Studies

    Score

    5.004.714.643.793.793.793.573.433.073.00

    123456789

    10

    Males

    MathsPhysicsCDT: TechnologyEng. Lang.Computer StudiesCDT:Design CommunicationsEng. Lit.BiologyBusiness StudiesChemistry

    Score

    4.884.754.634.444.314.194.133.943.883.88

    The very high ratings attributed to CDT:Technology by both sexes is anindication of the way perceptions of the subject have changed in recent years andalso an interesting indication of the female pupil perceptions of job opportunitiescompared to their counterparts of the past. Remember that Table IV shows theratings for the top ten subjects in a total list of 33 subjects.

    The complete list contained subjects whose content reflected the older craftrelated subjects. Their position in the rank are shown in Table V where it can beseen that pupil perceptions are obviously related to the modern emphasis given todesign in the CDT: Technology course.

    TABLE V. Pupils' ratings of CDT:Technology compared with traditional craftsubjects

    CDT: TechnologyCDT design+realisationCraft Design:WoodCraft Design: MetalCateringTextiles

    Male (rank of 33)

    31315171623

    Females (rank of 33)

    71123222132

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  • 212 A. C. McCarthy & D. Moss

    Table V is one significant indication of how CDT: Technology is rated incomparison to other subjects. However another aspect relates to the level at whichthe subject is offered at GCSE. Craft Design:Wood and Craft Design:Metal have agrade C limit enforced by the examination system since they are equivalent to oldCSE courses rather than O level courses. Pupils were asked whether they wouldhave opted for CDT:Technology if it too had had a grade C limit. Verysignificantly, 60% of the GCSE pupils (50% of boys and over 70% of girls)indicated that they would probably not have opted for CDT:Technology with a Cgrade limit.

    It would seem then that by increasing the status and value of the subject in thisway, large numbers of pupils became interested who would previously have seen theoption as limiting their career prospects.

    This attitude was confirmed when the group were asked whether they wouldhave opted for craft-based subjects such as Metalwork or Woodwork or TechnicalDrawing if CDT Technology had not been available on the curriculum. Theresponses are shown in Table VI.

    TABLE VI. Percentages of pupils who would take craft based subjects as analternative to CDT:Technology

    Overall (%) Yes, male (%) Yes, female (%)

    Metalwork 3.3 6 0Woodwork 33.3 25 43Technical drawing 63.3 75 50

    These findings suggest greater potential female interest in some craft subjectsthan is suggested by CSE entries to these subjects between 1973 and 1983. This maybe due to the impact of the Women into Science and Engineering project (WISE,1984). However they also confirm that CDT:Technology is able to attract pupilswho are not prepared to follow craft related subjects.

    The GCSE pupils were then aske...

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