Primary teacher professional learning in the Maldives
: An explorative study of science process skills pedagogies

  • Aminath Shiyama

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The teaching of science process skills (SPS), such as observing, measuring, hypothesising, and investigating, are integral to school science education and with constructivist pedagogies, those SPS can be taught with contextual contingencies. This study is focussed on the context of upper primary schools in the Maldives, where science is taught by generalist teachers. The aim of this study was to work in collaboration with those teachers to explore a contextually contingent approach to teach SPS in upper primary schools. The collaboration, informed by social
learning theories, was designed as a form of continuing teacher professional development that allowed insights into teachers’ professional learning for teaching SPS. Hence, exploring SPS pedagogies and teacher professional learning in tandem offers a nuanced view into the contextual contingencies of these practices.

An epistemological view of social-constructivism was adopted to explore the intricate and subjective processes of teacher learning. A participatory teacher research methodology comprising of two phases of data collection and analysis was adopted as the research methodology. In the first phase, interview data from 14 generalist primary teachers was used to identify widespread practices of SPS pedagogies and teacher professional development. Focus group interviews with teacher educators and curriculum developers provided contextualisation for these
practices. Findings from the first phase informed development of the second phase of data collection. The second phase engaged four generalist primary teachers in professional learning activities over a period of six months; the intervention focussed on the planning and implementing of inquiry-based investigation approaches as a form of SPS pedagogies. Acting as both professional learning facilitator and researcher, I gathered data through individual interviews, classroom
observations, and group meetings; supplementing them with our co-developed teaching resources, and teacher-led classroom-based research inquiry. For this phase, narrative, thematic data analysis was conducted and combined with findings from the first phase, which provided a richly textured and complex picture of SPS pedagogies and teacher professional learning.

When generalist teachers instruct science classes, the SPS pedagogies that they can
practice are variations of formalist pedagogies and progressive constructivist approaches. These seemingly opposite teaching strategies create tension between the enactment and experiences of the SPS pedagogies prescribed in the curriculum. Further, applying a social learning lens to teacher professional learning offers a contextually-situated understanding of the micro-processes
and the micro-dynamics of teachers’ learning, pedagogical praxis, professionalism, and the incessant challenges in teaching outside of one’s specialism. These findings add to the existing empirical base that argues against ‘one-size-fits-all’ educational practices that are emblematic of uncritical borrowing in global education. Thus, this study highlights that SPS needs to be flexibly defined and taught as an integrated set of skills which are applied in learning the content of science using contextually sensitive pedagogies. In order to support generalists who are teaching science outside of their specialism, professional learning that is centred on their classroom is critical. Additionally, this study emphasises the importance of contextually contingent practices of
professional development and pedagogical praxis; an approach that allows for flexibility and differentiation in teacher learning. Finally, this study highlights the crucial role of local researchers in
bringing contextual realities and sensitivities to the forefront of comparative research.
Date of Award26 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SponsorsCommonwealth Schol Commission
SupervisorAngeline M Barrett (Supervisor) & Lucy J Wenham (Supervisor)


  • Science education pedagogies
  • teacher professional development and learning
  • science process skills

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