To perform excellently well at any endeavour, motivation and passion remains vital ingredients. While there are no official reports, it has been observed that many graduates of Human physiology from Nigerian universities are neither passionate nor motivated about their course of study. The poor motivation may result from inadequate orientation about prospects and opportunities of physiology at the early stage. To this end, many of the students ended up studying physiology by chance and not by choice. Many of them have probably not heard about the course, physiology, until getting to the university when offered a Physiology admission letter because of not satisfying the requirements to secure their original course of interest. We hypothesized that the awareness and knowledge about physiology as a course of study is low among university entering candidates. Therefore, to understand and address this problem, we sought to investigate the level of awareness, knowledge, and attitude of senior secondary school science students about physiology as a course at the university. This study observed a generally high level of awareness but poor knowledge of Physiology as a course of study among secondary school students. The majority of the students show interest in knowing more about physiology by organizing awareness programs in their schools to educate them more about the opportunities and prospects of Physiology as a course of choice.
The Nigerian secondary education system is divided into junior and senior secondary schools. The junior secondary schools take general subjects while on entering the senior secondary, they go into any of science, arts, or commercial classes for the next three sessions before entering tertiary institution (UNESCO-IBE, 2011). This study was carried out in the SW states of Nigeria, including Oyo, Ogun, Osun, and Ondo. The southwest is arguably one of the most educated geo-political zones in the country and has the highest number of universities (Mogaji, 2019). According to reports by Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB), the body task by the Federal Government of Nigeria to conduct matriculation examination, of the top ten institutions of choice in 2018 with a total of 607,367 applicants, three of them were from SW, taking one-fourth, 158,626 (26.12%), of the total applicants (JAMB, 2018b). In 2019, of the 1,886,221 registered, about 430,683 (22.83%) were from South-west (JAMB, 2019). Taken together, the SW region of Nigeria produces a significant number of students entering university annually.
In this study, 97.6% of the students enrolled in the survey are between the ages of 10 to 20 years; the age bracket is considered when career choices begin (Schoon, 2016). The gender of the responders is comparable with 56.6 males and 43.4% females (Supplemental Data 1). Although this was not the case in the past, where females have always been behind the males in the number of school attendance, reflecting the level of gender equality in this region of the country. Moreover, the JAMB report for 2018 also revealed similar trends in the proportions of males and females applying into tertiary institutions, with almost equal numbers in the SW states compared to other regions. All the six SW states had approximately 50–50 male-female ratio compared to the other areas (JAMB, 2018a). The majority of the responders, 84.5%, were of Yoruba ethnicity, a consistent finding because the indigenous language of the SW is Yoruba, although it is inhabited by people from different ethnicity in Nigeria and beyond. Also, we found that most of the respondents, approximately 77% reside in urban areas, while 23.4% live in rural areas (Supplemental Data 1). This is consistent with earlier reports that urban children have higher school attendance rates than rural areas (Kazeem, Jensen and Stokes, 2010). Compared to the rural, the urban areas have many different schools and academic training facilities, including private and public schools and learning centers facilitating academic pursuits, which could explain the disparity in school attendance from the two different resident areas.
In this survey, we observed a high awareness about physiology among the students (Supplemental Data 2), and television broadcast accounted for the highest single source of information (Supplemental Data 3). Our result is in line with the report of Bamise and co-workers, who reported that television accounted for the primary source of information on HIV/AIDS among secondary students (Bamise, Bamise and Adedigba, 2011). Therefore, this suggests that television is an important medium to propagate necessary information among these age groups and will serve as a great tool to inform them about the relevance of physiology and other science courses.
Although the students showed a high level of awareness about Physiology, we found some misconceptions when examined for their knowledge of Physiology. While 76.4% of the students claimed physiology deals with the study of body functioning, 77% equally believed Physiology deals with the way people think, perhaps mistaken for psychology or philosophy, as these courses mainly relate to thinking. In addition, 76.5% thinks it deals with the study of body structure, perhaps mistaken for Anatomy, and 51.6% believe it deals with drug production, mistaken for Pharmacy. When asked to define physiology in their terms, only about 36% mentioned points relating to Physiology, while the majority, 64%, said unrelated things to the meaning of Physiology (Table 1). Taken together, these suggest that the students generally have insufficient knowledge of physiology. Many of the students have little idea, as reflected from their high awareness level, but they are mostly unsure of the context of physiology as a discipline. However, most of the students seem to know about other courses such as Anatomy, Biochemistry, Pharmacy, and Medicine & Surgery, suggesting that their knowledge of these courses is generally higher than that of Physiology (Table 2). This finding corresponds with the choice of courses spread within these medical-related disciplines in the university. For instance, in 2015, the University of Ibadan in Southwest, one of the top 10 institutions in Nigeria that receives the highest number of undergraduate applications, recorded 162 applicants for Physiology as opposed to 9,879 for Medicine, 2,420 for Pharmacy, 837 for biochemistry, and 470 for physiotherapy.
Similarly, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in North-western (NW) Nigeria, recorded 176 applications in physiology as against 12,555 in Medicine, 4,189 in Pharmacy, 212 for anatomy, and 1,917 in physiotherapy (JAMB, 2016). In the same year, another University in South-southern (SS) (University of Calabar) Nigeria recorded 114 for physiology, 5,213 for Medicine and surgery, 181 for anatomy, and 464 for biochemistry (JAMB, 2016). The relatively low application for physiology could be due to insufficient knowledge of the course.
After examining the students' awareness and knowledge about physiology, this study further seeks to know their general attitude and interest in Physiology as a course of study. While 57% of the students indicated they could study physiology at a university, the remaining 43% were uninterested or unsure. This is also demonstrated in the above statistical report from JAMB that physiology is about the least preferred course in the medical-related disciplines. In relation to the low knowledge of Physiology, the students were willing to be taught about Physiology through awareness events held in their schools. This is interesting because, at this stage, the students showed no substantial interest in studying physiology in university, and no one will consider studying a course s/he does not know. Despite this, they demonstrated significant interest in knowing more about the opportunities and prospects that await physiology graduates. Therefore, we see a chance to educate them about the relevance of physiology and its possibilities in this contemporary age.
Moreover, when we determined factors that might influence the student’s perception, attitude, and knowledge about Physiology, we found a significant association between the source of information and awareness. While gender does not seem to influence the knowledge of Physiology, residence affects the level of knowledge. This is in line with the previous reports that students who reside in urban areas were better informed than those from rural areas, for instance, about HIV and tobacco use (Wilson, Greenspan and Wilson, 1989; Sabnis et al., 2016). This is understandable considering that rural areas relatively lack the basic amenities (like electricity, internet, electronic media devices) that could provide the students with the requisite information.
Earlier reports indicate that parental educational status has a long-term influence on children's educational and occupational success (Dubow, Boxer and Huesmann, 2009). In this study, we found that father, but not mother's educational background was associated with the students' knowledge of Physiology. This may be because fathers have more influence than mothers in their homes in an average African setting, and their children may tend to listen to them more. Although in our study, we did not determine which parent influences which gender, the report shows that father's education has a stronger effect than mother's education on perceived parental encouragement, college attendance and graduation for males. However, for females, both fathers and mothers' education has an almost equal effect (Sewell and Shah, 1968).
Further study is required to delineate how much influence each of the parents wields and how much it affects the children's choice of courses, particularly science-based courses, in the university. Interestingly, we found that female students are more likely to learn about Physiology than males. This is probably due to increased awareness and orientation provided to girls as part of the push for women participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries (Wang and Degol, 2017; Charlesworth and Banaji, 2019). Several studies have shown the effect of rural-urban residency on academic performance, and the reports have been conflicting, with some showing urban residents do better, some rural residents perform better, and others show no difference (Alokan and Arijesuyo, 2013; Bulala, Ramatlala and Nenty, 2014; Faisal, Shinwari and Mateen, 2016). These reports suggest that rural-urban residents may or may not impact particular abilities in schools. While we did not investigate residency impact on academic performance in this study, we showed that residency does not influence attitude towards learning Physiology. This implies that the students seem motivated regardless of their location.
In conclusion, this study provides preliminary data from a country and region where current information on students' awareness and knowledge about physiology is unavailable. In this study, we have shown high awareness but low knowledge about physiology discipline among senior secondary science students, television as their dominant medium of information, and indifferent attitude towards studying Physiology as a course at the university. Also, we found that residence and father’s educational background influences knowledge of Physiology among the students and that females are more likely to study Physiology. This study, therefore, provides the requisite data demonstrating a generally low knowledge of Physiology as a course of study. This affords us a credible opening to educate the students at the early stages about the opportunity and prospects of Physiology and other science-related disciplines in Nigeria.