Factors Leading To Poor Performance In Mathematics Subject

Mathematics Education Project Material

Factors Leading To Poor Performance In Mathematics Subject


This study was about the factors leading to poor performance in mathematics subject in secondary schools. The study was lead by four research objectives which were to examine the influence of cultural backgrounds on students’ performance in mathematics, to identify influence of teacher – students’ relationship on student’s performances in mathematics, determining the nature of school environment where teaching is practiced and to examine influence of school management system on teaching and learning process in mathematics. Relevant literatures were reviewed on theories and findings that emerged from different authors. The study involved 4 secondary schools, 8 mathematics teachers and 60 students. These were obtained through simple random sampling. Four academic masters and four head of school from four schools were purposely selected. Data collection was done by using questionnaires, interviews, focus group discussions, observations and documentary review. The findings indicated teaching and learning of mathematics was facing challenges such as poor teaching environment, mathematics departments were not well-managed, inadequate self-practice and students’ poor background in mathematics. Therefore, the researcher recommends teachers to make assessment on the background of their students in to decide teaching methods that can help students perform better in mathematics. Moreover, students should put self-efforts and practice in learning mathematics. Lastly, the researcher recommends future research on individual factors that affects students’ learning of mathematics.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

Mathematics is one of the most important school subjects in the curriculum worldwide. It is a subject that has direct relationship with other subjects, particularly technical and sciences. Mathematics is also a subject that cuts across primary and secondary school as a compulsory subject. Umameh, (2011) in Tshabalala and Ncube, (2013) was of the view that mathematics is bedrock and an indispensable tool for scientific, technological and economic advancement of any nation. In addition to that Davies and Hersh, (2012) see mathematics as the important subject not only from point of view of getting an academic qualification at school or college, but also is a subject that prepares the students for the future as well irrespective of which work of life they choose to be a part of. Mefor, (2014) summarized it all by saying that mathematics relates to everything in the universe from the smallest to the largest.

Umameh, (2011) added that mathematics is intimately connected to daily life and everybody’s life-long planning. Therefore, mathematics is a subject that education and human life cannot function effectively without it. Equally, in Nigeria, mathematics is given all the necessary importance in the curriculum and all policies related to education, right from primary to higher levels. In relation to that Federal Republic of Nigeria (FGN) (2004) categorically stated that mathematics is one of the core or basic subject for all primary and secondary school children. In addition to that mathematics is one of the compulsory subjects that must be passed at credit level by students before getting admission into any tertiary institution in Nigeria.

The Daily Trust of Wednesday, August 25, 2010 as cited by Sa’ad and Usman (2014) reported that “seventy-five per cent of candidates who sat for May/June WAEC 2010 examinations failed to meet the minimum entry requirement into tertiary institutions. Again, the Daily Trust of 21st August, 2014 in Sa’ad and Rabiu (2014) reveals that the recently released WAEC results indicated that over seventy percent fail in November/December results. 86,612 candidates, representing 29.17 percent of the total number of candidates who sat for the NOV/DEC examinations of West African Examination Council (WAEC), obtained credits in five subjects and above, including Mathematics and English language. Again, the WAEC has released its May/June 2014 WASSCE results, recording mass failure in mathematics and English language. Head of National Office, WAEC Charles Eguridu, while announcing the results said “A total of 529,425 candidates; representing 31.28 percent obtained credits”. According to him when compared to the 2012 and 2013 May/June WASSCE, there was marginal decline in the performance of candidates as 38.81 percent was recorded in 2012 and 36.57 in 2013.

Specifically, many studies and authorities presented many causes of poor performance in mathematics among students. For instance, Vudla, (2012) in Tshabalala and Ncube, (2013) was of the view that shortage of well trained teachers, inadequate of teaching facilities, lack of fund to purchase necessary equipment, poor quality of textbooks, large classes, poorly motivated teachers, lack of laboratories and libraries, poorly coordinated supervisory activities, interference of the school system by the civil service, incessant transfers of teachers and principals, automatic promotions of pupils, the negative role of public examinations on the teaching learning process and inequality in education opportunities all hamper the smooth acquisition of mathematics knowledge. In addition to the above causes of poor performance in mathematics, STAN, (2002) as cited by Ojimba, (2012) was of the view that prominent causes of poor performance in mathematics are:

  1. Acute shortage of qualified professional mathematics teachers.
  2. Exhibition of poor knowledge of mathematics content by many mathematics teachers.
  3. Overcrowded mathematics classrooms.
  4. Students negative attitude toward mathematics.
  5. Undue emphasis on the coverage of mathematics syllabus at the expense of meaningful learning of mathematics concepts.
  6. Inadequate facilities and mathematics laboratories

It is however against this background that the researcher decides a research on the factors leading to poor performance in mathematics subject.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The high rate of poor performance of students in Nigeria has been a source of concern to researchers, educators, government and parents over the past years. Obviously, the great importance that education has on the national development of the country made it so. Research report indicated a consensus of opinion about the fallen standard of education in Nigeria (Adebule, 2004). Parents and government are in total agreement that their investment in education is not yielding the desired dividend.

The reports from the West African Examination Council chief examiners indicates that the general performance of the candidates in mathematics for the May/June 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015 examinations did not differ significantly from those of the previous years (WAEC, 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2015). However, the Chief Examiners also reported that candidates’ performance in mathematics is declining and getting worse every year, even the rate of failure in all subjects appeared to have decline when compared to previous years (WAEC, 2013 & 2014), but there is still low percentage of students passing mathematics excellently it is however the aim of the researcher to make research on the student’s performance in mathematics in Nigeria.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The main objectives of this study is to find out the factors leading to poor performance in mathematics subject, specifically the study intends to:

  1. Find out whether there is any relationship between teacher attitudes towards mathematics and students achievement.
  2. Find out the relationship between available mathematics teaching resources and students performance in mathematics.
  3. Examine the school based factors that affect student performance in Mathematics in secondary schools
  4. Find out the socio-cultural factors that affect student performance in Mathematics in secondary schools
  5. Investigate student personal factors that affect student performance in Mathematics in secondary schools
  6. Establish strategies that can be adopted to improve performance in Mathematics by students in secondary schools

1.4 Research Questions

  1. Is there is any relationship between teacher attitudes towards mathematics and students achievement?
  2. What is the relationship between available mathematics teaching resources and students performance in mathematics?
  3. What are the school based factors that affect student performance in Mathematics in secondary schools?
  4. Is there any socio-cultural factors that affect student performance in Mathematics in secondary schools?
  5. Is there any student personal factors that affect student performance in Mathematics in secondary schools?
  6. What are the strategies that can be adopted to improve performance in Mathematics by students in secondary schools?

1.5 Significance of the Study

This study is important to other researchers as a reference on studies concerning students’ performance in mathematics. It is the sincere hope of the researcher that by going through this work, it will make mathematics teachers to help their students perform well in mathematics subject. Teachers will consider students’ cultural backgrounds before actual classroom teaching to know if the students have the basic concepts in particular unit of study in mathematics. Then teachers can be in a position to improve students’ performance in mathematics. The study will also help future researchers to come with findings on how school environments and teachers backgrounds are connected to students’ cultural backgrounds that affects performance in mathematics.

1.6 Limitations of the Study

The foreseen possible limitations in this study were characteristics of the respondents for both teachers and students. The researcher was not able to involve every member of the population but the sample of study was randomly selected from both teachers and students. The head of schools and academic masters were purposively selected while mathematics teachers and students were randomly selected. These were the representative sample for which findings was found from and generalized.

1.7 Delimitation of the Study

The study was done in ordinary level secondary schools in Lagos state. The district was rich in nature resembling to other districts in the country as there were public and privately owned secondary schools. Some of the schools in Lagos state were located in urban and rural areas. Mathematics teachers were in a position to be involved in the sample of study as they would provide reliable information on teaching and learning process and students’ performance in mathematics as they concerned in teachingmathematics.

1.8 Definition of Terms

To set ground for assessment on the factors that leads to poor performance in mathematics Secondary schools, the researcher presented the working definitions for some of the terms used in this study.

1.8.1 Performance

Accomplishing or achievement of specific goals, objectives set in any academic undertaking in basic mathematics.

1.8.2 Teacher Characteristics

This refers to the attributes and practices which contribute immensely to teacher success or failure. These are such as displaying fairness, having a positive outlook, being prepared, using a personal touch, possessing a sense of humor, possessing creativity, admitting mistakes, being forgiving, respecting students, maintaining high expectations, showing compassion, and developing a sense of belonging for students— center around the theme of caring.

1.8.3 School Environment

School environment encompasses physical environment such as buildings like classrooms and teachers’ houses, classroom size, how dark or light it is, temperature, the arrangement of chairs, the noise which affects teachers and students’ attraction.

1.8.4 Curriculum

A sequence of potential experiences, set up in the schools to discipline children and youth in ways of thinking and acting whether it is carried out in groups or individually, inside or outside the school.

1.8.5 Teaching Method

This comprises the principles and techniques used for instruction. Commonly used teaching methods may include class participation, demonstration, recitation, memorization, or combinations of these, teacher centred and student centred methods.

1.8.6 Qualified Teacher

This is the teacher who holds the following certificate such as: Diploma in Education, B.Ed., B.Sc. (Ed), B.Sc. and PGDE, Masters in Education and PhD from a recognized university or college in Nigeria and outside Nigeria.

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations

5.1 Summary

This chapter presents the summary of findings, conclusions and recommendations based on the result of this study. The study was done focusing on factors leading to poor performance in mathematics subject. The study was done in Lagos state involving four secondary schools as the sample of study among 14 schools in Ikeja. Lagos state was selected to represent other districts in Nigeria. It has schools located in rural and urban areas. The district had 14 secondary schools for which 4 schools were randomly selected. The participants of the study were the mathematics teachers; head of schools as administrators and students from form one to form four.

Questionnaires were used in determining the teacher participants’ instructional strategy preferences and extent of use on various instructional strategies as well as the students’ instructional strategy preferences and perceived extent of use. Students’ performance was found to be related with the teacher participants’ instructional strategy preference specifically on demonstration, problem-solving, project and inquiry approach. When teaching methods does not make students understand the lesson they end upfailing.

Results of the study also revealed that there was a significant difference between the teacher participants’ preference of instructional strategy and the student performance in mathematics. Though teachers claimed to apply participatory and student centred methods, it was not there in actual practice. Teachers were exposed to number of workshops and attended many seminars, yet they didn’t bring any changes in students’ performance in mathematics.

The researcher found that if each student could have his/her own books, other supplementary learning materials and practically learning they could perform to great grades in mathematics.

5.2 Conclusions

  1. Majority of the mathematics teachers in selected secondary schools in Lagos region mostly were female. As to educational attainment and length of teaching experience, highest educational attainments of majority of the teachers were bachelor degrees with a very good experienced in teaching mathematics.
  2. Student centred methods, discussion, demonstration; problem solving, project, inquiry approach; cooperative and use of audio-visual instructional strategies were highly preferred by the teacher participants. But this was hindered by the background of the students, nature of school environments, students’ self-effort and family economic status of the students. It end up teachers applying teacher centred method due to that students have a poor background in mathematics.
  3. Lecture methods, discussion, demonstration, problem-solving, project, inquiry approach, cooperative learning and use of audio-visual media instructional strategies were highly preferred by the student participants. They said that they understand when taught using such teaching methods. This means that students were missing something in their learning process depending on their background in mathematics. The researcher had observed that such methods are not practiced as teachers are few, not well paid and time pressure as they have to teach many periods as one of the teacher said in an interview.
  4. There was no significant relationship between the instructional strategy preference of teacher participants and their teaching performance. The preference of teachers on particular instructional strategies does not affect the level of their teaching performance.
  5. There was a significant relationship between the teachers’ use of the different instructional strategies and their students’ performance in mathematics. For example, students doing problem solving, self practice, teachers demonstrating and students contributing in the teaching session what they know about the topic understudy.
  6. Teacher – student relationship has its motivation for both teachers and students.
    It motivates teachers to like attending classes as there is absence of hostility. Also it motivates students to like the subject as they don’t have negative attitude toward their teacher.
  7. Mathematics department has a lot to help in ensuring students perform well in mathematics. But this was hindered and it was not well functioning as there was no actual practice in division of power among head of schools, academics masters and what head of mathematics departments todo.

5.3 Recommendations

5.3.1 Mathematics Teachers

The researcher recommends mathematics teachers to consider students cultural and learning backgrounds in choosing instructional strategies. It is suggested that they align teaching methods with the assessed learning needs and capabilities of students. Teachers may attempt to find a balance of teaching strategies rather than teaching student hence few understand the subject and at last many fail the subject. They may be able to realize the importance of recognizing learning styles, identify students’ differences, and adjust the teaching methods accordingly. By doing that, teachers would be able to deliver content clearly, making every student understand mathematics, motivate students leading better performance in mathematics subject.

Lastly, it is also suggested for the teachers to learn to formulate their way of teaching especially if their school do not have available facilities to support their teaching activity. They may learn to develop their profession and innovativeness in teaching in order to maximize the use of available resources of the school to improve students’ performance in mathematics subject.

5.3.2 Students

The study highly suggest that students take in hand their perception and feedback towards their teachers’ teaching methods in order for the teachers to effectively bring into line their way of teaching to the students’ way of learning. It is recommended that for students to learn effectively, they need to be flexible by using strategies outside their preferences in order to meet the demands of the challenging environment. Students must be ready to be guided in mathematics using learner centred methods, which is the very effective way of teaching. Student must not be lazy by not doing self practice daily. They are also encouraged to actively participate in classroom activities in order to have an enjoyable and satisfying learning outcome.

5.3.3 School Administrators

For school administrators, it is recommended to ensure availability of the instructional materials and facilities for the execution of different teaching methods that are aligned with the teaching methods and students’ learning in classrooms. Effective teaching and learning cannot be achieved in the absence of those instructional materials.
It is also highly recommended that school leaders provide more in-service seminars, trainings and workshops for the teachers focusing more on how the teachers would enable them to align their instructional strategies they prefer and use to the learning preferences and capacities of the students. Furthermore, teachers should also be encouraged by the head of schools to pursue post graduate studies in order to upgrade their instructional competencies even if they have degrees in teaching profession. Lastly head of mathematics departments must be empowered to manage teaching and learning in mathematics. They must be provided with all guides and teaching resources.

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