Information access and evaluation skills of secondary school students in Ghana.

Author:Yeboah, Patience
  1. Introduction

    Information users are confronted with an avalanche of information from different kinds of sources making it difficult to verify their authenticity. However, young students have an even stronger need to be able to identify what is relevant for learning and recreational purposes as exposure to too much information may be counter-productive as a result of information overload (Yan, Sha, Yan, & Shang, 2015). Information Literacy (IL) provides students with the critical skills needed to find and evaluate the information they need for their academic work and personal lives. After graduation, IL can help newly-graduated secondary school students to make an easier transition to young adulthood (Maughan, 2001 cited in Badke, 2008), while preparing for university.

    Even though secondary school students are expected to be independent information users at the time of graduation (Majid, Chang, & Foo, 2016), this is probably not the case in Ghana, as IL is not integrated into the secondary school curriculum as it pertains in some countries (Majid et al., 2016). Furthermore, a few public and private universities in Ghana have commenced teaching IL to their first-year students. Secondary school students need a basic understanding of this concept before entering university where expectations to be independent in using information is high. Additionally, if lifelong learning capabilities are to be inculcated into students, educational institutions at the pre-university level must integrate IL into their curriculum (Onyebuchi & Ngwuchukwu, 2013).

    Despite the awareness of the relevance of IL among library professionals culminating in numerous studies by researchers around the world, there is little, if any that is dedicated to the Ghanaian IL terrain. van Aalst, Hing, May, and Yan (2007) investigated into the Information Search Process (ISP) of 12th Grade students in Hong Kong where they found students' inadequate skills in completing the Information Search Process. Chang et al. (2012) developed a scale to measure the IL skills of students in Singapore and found, among others, that most of their respondents possessed lower-order IL skills in information seeking than higher-level skills such as evaluation. Majid, Chang, and Foo (2016) found positive student IL scores among secondary school students in Singapore, compared to the results of previous studies. They, however, discovered that students preferred easily available human sources for information assistance rather than their school librarians. A quick reading of this summary of findings shows that the contexts of these studies are in the much-developed areas of Asia. In Africa, a recent study on IL at the pre-university level was conducted by Onyebuchi and Ngwuchukwu (2013). Their study was an experiment of IL in primary school libraries in Enugu in Nigeria. They found that pupils in the experimental group who were provided IL instruction performed better in projects than those who were not in the experimental group. To this end, it is appropriate to find out to what extent the IL skills of secondary school students in Ghana are comparable to their counterparts in countries where IL has been integrated into the educational curriculum. Furthermore, most of the existing studies pointed out to students' weak evaluation skills as a result of over-concentration on lower-order IL outcomes. In the light of this trend, this research explores two Ghanaian secondary school students' perspectives of IL with specific reference to their abilities in information seeking (access) skills and evaluation. The uniqueness of this study is in the fact that, unlike some of the countries where literature on IL at the secondary school level abounds, IL has not been integrated into the secondary school curriculum in Ghana.

  2. Literature Review

    According to the Library Bill of Rights (2014) of the American Library Association "The school library plays a unique role in promoting, protecting, and educating about intellectual freedom. It serves as a point of voluntary access to information and ideas and as a learning laboratory for students as they acquire critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed in a pluralistic society". This expression requires schools to provide equitable access to the services and resources of school libraries. However, secondary school students' tendency to access scholarly information is influenced by a number of factors. Some of these factors include the availability of library periods on the school curriculum, availability of relevant information sources, and the provision of information and communication technology (ICT) facilities.

    The phenomenon of under-use of school libraries has been noted in the literature (Foo et al., 2014). A research conducted by Foo et al. (2014) to assess IL skills among Singapore secondary school students revealed that various libraries, including school libraries, were underutilised and the assessment of IL skills among the students were found to be unsatisfactory. Specifically, more than 40% of students surveyed seldom used their school library while very few (15%) students made use of librarians to satisfy their information needs. The authors surmised that this could be due to the low relevance of library resources or the lack of awareness of relevant and available resources among students and teachers. They proposed that schools should develop better collections and policies aimed at integrating library resources into teaching and learning in schools in Singapore. This finding is confirmed in van Aalst et al. (2007) who concluded that students in Hong Kong secondary schools reckoned WebPages as the single most important source for completing student projects. These findings point to the need to develop deliberate and affirmative policies to enhance the use of school libraries to improve the IL competencies of students.

    Integrating library use in the school curriculum is important for promoting IL of students. Benard and Dulle (2014) in their study of IL in secondary schools in Tanzania noted that school libraries were restricted to students for most periods in the school curriculum and this immensely affected library use. Onyebuchi and Ngwuchukwu (2013) confirmed in their study of IL in Nigerian primary schools that students whose schools had included library periods in their curriculum performed comparatively better than students whose schools did not have library periods. These findings suggest that it is imperative for school leaders and teachers to designate specific times in the school curriculum for library use by students to benefit from the rich resources of the library and expertise of the school librarian.

    Regarding the provision of relevant information sources in the school library, many studies show that students use a variety of resources to obtain information. Benard and Dulle (2014) discovered that most students (77.1%) used textbooks compared to other sources to obtain information. In addition, students used dictionaries, novels, magazines among others. However, students tend to use Internet resources much more when they conceive of it as a communication tool rather than an information and communication tool. Malliari, Togia, Korobili, and Nitsos, (2014) found that students in Greek high schools mostly used the Internet (73.6%) compared to other print resources due to the Internet's ability to facilitate communication. It is important to know that print and Internet resources are both important for providing information and it is the responsibility of the school librarian to direct students on the effective use of these resources.

    Access to ICT facilities in secondary schools can greatly enhance students' access to information and ultimately result in improved IL competencies of students. A comparative study conducted in Iranian secondary schools by Isfandyaru and Kashi (2011) to find out the role of ICT in IL of students revealed that students who make use of ICT or have access to IT to search for information are more information literate than students who do not have access to IT facilities to search for information. Despite the availability of Internet facilities in schools, students require guidance from the school library to obtain useful information from the Internet. Chang et al. (2012) in their study of two Singapore secondary schools found that even though the majority of students in their study had Internet access at home, this did not improve their evaluative skills of online resources. This implies that students need to be educated to use ICT for effective access to information, a job that librarians are best qualified for (Jurkowski, 2010:53). In spite of efforts to introduce students to more useful Internet resources for information, most students are used to search engines, particularly Google. This is no surprise as most search engines have become the preferred first port of call for Internet searches among the general public (Calhoun, 2014:112). Boger, Dybvik, Eng, and Norheim (2016) in their comparative study of first and third year nursing students found that most first year students used Google as their choice of search system on the Internet. The authors...

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