What is at the Root of Poor Primary School Performance?
Volume 1, Issue 4-5 / March-April 2009
How do students, teachers, and parents view the poor performance of primary schools in the camp?
Many students attending primary school in the camps perform poorly during exams. Different people hold different opinions about the root of this problem. But what do those who are directly involved—students, teachers, and parents—say about the cause of the problem?
In 2008, 1215 students sat for KCPE exams (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education) from all primary schools in the camp. Only 440 students scored a passing mark of 250 and above, while the majority (775 students) failed to score the minimum half-way mark of 250. One can ask why 64% of students failed their exams and only 36% passed. What is at the root of this poor performance in primary schools here in the camp?
Students: It’s the teachers
Upon talking with some students about the issue, it seemed that the blame rests with teachers.
One student complained that teachers do not explain lessons clearly; as a result, students could not understand the material. For that reason, they did not score good marks on assignments and exams.
Another student said, “Some teachers speak an English that we cannot get.” According to this student, some teachers pronounce or speak English in a way that causes students to “be in a daze” of what they tried to convey. Consequently, students are unable to grasp lessons and eventually perform poorly.
Another student blamed teachers for not explaining lessons in Kiswahili. According to this student, refugee students understand Kiswahili better than English, so teachers should sometimes explain lessons in Kiswahili, especially when they fail to make students understand in English.
Teachers: It’s the students, parents, and pay
Upon listening to some teachers, it seemed that the blame in fact rests with students and their parents. One teacher reported that students were not serious about their education. He cites the fact that students do not respect their teachers, and do not do their assignments as instructed.
Another teacher said that students perform poorly because their parents were not responsible. According to this teacher, if parents could make sure that their children revised their lessons daily and did their assignments, performance could improve.
Parents: A failing system
On their side, parents have a different opinion on the cause of poor performance in primary schools.
One mother blamed the fact that classes are overcrowded, explaining that there are often 80 to 150 students in one class. In such a situation, she says, teachers are unable to monitor students individually. Consequently, teachers cannot identify their students’ weaknesses and address them specifically.
She also added another problem: unqualified teachers. According to her, there are many teachers who are not qualified for the courses they are assigned to. For that reason, they are unlikely to explain their lessons effectively. Students therefore fail their exams because they did not understand lessons in the first place.
Another mother said that students perform poorly because they play too much during school, and because their teachers do not check whether they are absent or not. She explained that it is common to find some students reporting to school only during exams. This, she says, goes unnoticed by many teachers and encourages students to relax at home without much worry of being thrown out of school.
She added that having too much time for playing is also a problem because it causes students to lose their focus and concentration. She wondered why students should go to school to play the entire day while they are supposed to be taught. Another parent, a father, blamed teachers who simply tell students to write down notes from the blackboard without explaining the content. He is also disappointed with teachers who do not give enough exercises to students. According to him, it is impossible for students to perform well when their teachers only give them notes that they cannot figure out, and do not give enough exercises to help students put their knowledge in practice.
He added that students were sometimes given too much time to relax in class when there is no teacher. This, he says, encourages students to build love or sexual relationship that will distract them and eventually make them fail their exams.
The way forward
Having listened to the three groups, it is clear that they blame one another. However, each group addressed important points that can help improve the performance in primary schools. The first point is that students score low marks because they do not understand their lessons. The second point is that parents’ lack of involvement in their children’s education causes children to neglect their daily lessons and do their assignments carelessly.
Students tend to perform well in subjects that they understand well. When parents and teachers follow the education of children closely, they tend to notice their children’s gaps of knowledge in specific subjects. Addressing these gaps in time—both at home and in school—helps children achieve better understanding on those subjects and eventually score good marks.
Students and teachers will probably continue blaming one another for the cause of low performance in primary schools. But, from the midst of their diverse opinions, two points are important to take into consideration: the need to help students understand lessons well; and the need to help parents become involved in and responsible for the education of their children.