Traditional higher education provision has never served all groups in society. The ambitions of becoming a knowledge-intensive society and economy hinge on the availability of a highly-skilled, flexible workforce (Vassiliou & McAleese, 2014). STEM education is identified as a priority in Latvia. More students are choosing natural science study programs in the universities of Latvia. Data compiled by the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) show that, in academic year 2015/2016, enrolment in higher education institutions of Latvia accounts for 84.3 thousand. Similarly as in previous years, social sciences and humanities are dominating among the study programmes – they are chosen by 65.4 % of students. In academic year 2015/2016, enrolment to social sciences and humanities has dropped by 4.0 %, whereas enrolment to sciences and technology has grown by 9.5 %. Although there has been growth in student numbers, but it still is not enough in order to ensure economic needs of Latvia.
An understanding of science and technology is central to a young person’s preparedness for life in modern society, not least because it empowers individuals to participate in determining public policy where issues of science and technology affect their lives (OECD, 2007). As noted in the “Report Researchers’ Report 2014 Country Profile: Latvia” (p.4) the aim is providing high-quality education for all, attracting more young people into graduate – level and postgraduate science and technology studies, and promoting the country’s R&D (Research and Development) and innovation system are part of a key national strategy to shift the economy to more hi-tech industrial sectors. It means there is a general challenge in improving the quality at all levels of education, increasing participation in lifelong learning and improve the currently very low number of mathematics, technology, computing and science graduates (Ibid., p. 7).
In order to achieve the set goals, it should start with bachelor-level studies. There are problems with adaptation to studies and many of the students interrupted their studies in the first year. According M. Clark and M. Lovric (2008) the transition from secondary to tertiary education represents a ‘modern day rite of passage’.
It remains an open question that poses the greatest problems in the adaptation of university students. Are these the level of students' prior knowledge or their ability to adapt to university learning, or teaching methods used by university lecturer? Or among the obstacles that stand in the way of learning for many students are poor study habits, time management, and study skills (Tennen and Hagar 2011)? There is no better way to find out than to ask the students directly if something has helped them to learn and to succeed or has held them back and discouraged them from learning (Bain, 2004).
Research aim: to explore first year students' perceptions of their previous learning experiences at school in the context of their studies at the universities.
Research question: how do the first-year student's previous learning experience at school affects his/her studies at the university.
The present research was carried out in year 2016 at the Faculty of Biology (FB) and the Faculty of Chemistry (FC) of the University of Latvia. The sample comprised 70 first year students of the Biology and the Chemistry bachelor’s programs. The data have been obtained by online survey. It was created two questionnaires with open-ended and closed-ended questions. Questionnaire consisted of two parts: general and specific. General part was similar for students of both faculties, but specific part was different. It was clarified issues relating to the education of biology for the students of FB and of chemistry for the students of FC. After the data extraction was performed quantitative data processing with SPSS 19.0 software. Open questions were used in supplementing the students' views obtained by closed-ended questions enabling an opportunity to gain insight on all the opinions.
Both study programs students’ views did not show significant differences. Their university entrance score are very high (predominantly within the range of 8-10 in 10-point system) which indicates a high level of prior knowledge. Most students believe that their prior knowledge is sufficient for successful studies. As the data show during the first semester, they receive lower assessment in biology and chemistry than in school. The average grade after finishing the first semester is “6.7” for students of FB and “7.1” of FC. In a sample of 70 students, there is significant relationship among good cooperation with schoolteacher and assessment in biology and chemistry subject (r=0.349, p=0.003) as well good mark (r=0.339, p=0.004) in these subjects. There is weak correlation among good cooperation with schoolteacher and like of school biology and chemistry (r=0.279, p=0.019) and gained skills (r=0.272, p=0.023) in learning of these subjects. There is no correlation among students’ assessment in first semester (r=0.158, p=0.192), knowledge (r=0.193, p=0.109) and understanding (r=0.201, p=0.094) sufficient for studies of biology and chemistry at university. It means that there is a discrepancy between students' beliefs about their acquired knowledge and understanding in these subjects in school and a reality while studying university that matches the authors' (Birzina & Cedere, 2015; 2017) other research data. As the main affecting factors can be considered a change of the learning techniques and strategies. The students are not ready for intense lectures containing a large amount of information instead of school-lessons; they need to acquire e-learning environment and the increased use of OER; they have to put more emphasis on independent learning and planning, as well they need to learn additional courses. Interestingly, the laboratory work is not an issue despite the different preparedness levels of students.
1.Bain, Ken (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University. 2.Birzina, R. & Cedere, D. (2015). The first year students' readiness for studies: a case of the Faculty of Biology at University of Latvia In Proceedings of the 1st International Baltic Symposium on Science and Technology Education (BalticSTE2015). Scientia Socialis: Šiauliai, pp. 17-19. 3.Birzina, R, Cedere, D. (2017). The First Year Students’ Perceptions of Higher Studies: a Case of University of Latvia. (Problems and Solutions for Nowadays School, University and Adult Education). Bibliography: p.48-49 // Rural Environment. Education. Personality (REEP): Proceedings of the 10th International Scientific Conference; Jelgava, Latvia, 12-13 May, 2017 Jelgava: Latvia University of Agriculture, Institute of Education and Home Economics, 2017 Vol. 10, p.40-49: URL: http://llufb.llu.lv/conference/REEP/2017/Latvia-Univ-Agricult-REEP-2017_proceedings.pdf 4.Clark, M. & Lovric, M. (2008). Suggestion for a theoretical model for secondary-tertiary transition in mathematics. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 20(2), 25-37. 5.CSB. Retrieved from http://www.csb.gov.lv/en/notikumi/number-students-higher-education-institutions-latvia-has-reduced-2-44000.html 6.OECD (2007). PISA 2006: Science Competencies for Tomorrow's World: Volume 1: Analysis. Paris: OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.oei.es/evaluacioneducativa/InformePISA2006-FINALingles.pdf 7.Researchers’ Report 2014 Country Profile: Latvia. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/euraxess/pdf/research_policies/country_files/Latvia_Country_Profile_RR2014_FINAL.pdf 8.Vassiliou, A., & McAleese, M. (2014). Report to the European Commission on New Modes of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
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