Education is regarded as one of the keys to success and development of individuals as well as nations. Significant contributions that educated people have made in different nations and the world at large throughout the history of human existence is evidence of the necessity of education. Because of its importance, people have been working hard in order to shape education so that it can be of more fruitful.
One of the people instrumental in shaping education is John Dewey, a psychologist. Him as one of the prominent psychologists brought an idea that all the children deserve a competent education (Santrock, 2009, p. 3). Besides him, some people who have tried to shape education in areas of: Effective teaching methods, class assessment, class management, characteristic(s) of an effective teacher, and many others. This is clear evidence indicating how the world values education.
However, there are many current existing problems experienced in the world of education such as: School dropout, lack of education necessities especially in developing countries, some cultural and beliefs that hinder education, and many other aspects. Amongst many challenges that education is registering one of those is class retention which is also the major focus of the researchers of this proposal. Researchers in this study are committed to finding out the perspectives of form four students on matters regarding class retention.
Background to the problem
Malawi as a country was introduced with education in late 19th Century by the missionaries who came to African with different interests to be achieved, and one of those was to spread Christianity. Some of these notable missionaries who played such a wonderful role were; Sir Robert Laws, David Livingstone, Joseph Booth, and many others. Among other individuals dedicated to promoting education in Malawi was Joseph Booth. His enthusiasm is appreciated by looking into the support rendered to John Chilembwe one of Malawi's own statesmen.
Despite the reality of the contribution of education in the development of this country and academic personalities generated Malawi, the challenge of class retention has been in existence. In the past, the class retention problem was highly experienced in primary school especially in standard eight. The main cause to that was not lack of intelligence to be selected for secondary schools; but because of insufficient secondary schools which by then were occupied by only few successful students. Because of that, many students were deliberately opting for repeating the class in the quest for the next secondary school selection which was not a guarantee for any student. However, from the past eight years it has been noted that class retention has shifted from standard eight (primary school) to form four (secondary school).
"Grade repetition" (sometimes referred to as "grade retention") occurs when students are held in the same grade for an extra year rather than being promoted to a higher grade along with their age peers" (Brophy, 2006, p. 6). Some of the students who fail to pass the Malawi School Certificate of Education (M.S.C.E.) resort to going back to form three for better preparation.
Even though class retention has been a big challenge to the entire nation of Malawi, the proposed study of this paper has been planned to be conducted in Bwaila cluster in Lilongwe urban. This area has 17 secondary schools which is comprising of 10 government schools and 7 private schools.
Purpose of the study
This research will establish the perspectives of students on the cause(s) of class retention as well as how they feel as they undergo repetition. This study will examine the students' perspectives in three fold as a contribution to class retention:
Their own perspective regarding to their failure.
Students' perception about the teachers' assumption on their failure.
Student's understanding about their parent's viewpoint on their failure.
In order to achieve the goal of this study, the researchers will identify: a school with high retention rate in form four and students who attempted form four more than once. Researchers in this paper have based on the fact that students perceive that they fail MSCE because of inadequate preparation to themselves as well as their teachers.
The preconditions that necessitates success in learners as far passing a class is concerned are very important. There are varying requirements that contribute to qualification of a learner to be promoted to another class or a disqualification from being upgraded to another class. Behavioral theories by Skinner and Hull and cognitive theories will be in focus in ascertaining some requirements necessary for success of learning, passing examinations and tests among learner.
According to Skinner's theory of operant conditioning which states that, "consequences of behavior produce changes in the probability that the behavior will occur" one will postulates that creating specific performance experiences and environments will nullify the possibility of class retention. But the prospects of class repetition among students is attained regardless of the efforts offered by the school, teacher, and even family for the success of the learner.
Skinner's theory portrays the assumption that reinforcement (rewards) presupposes the probability of increasing a specific behavior. (Santrock, 236) Therefore the reward of promotion to another grade is anticipated to generate a behavior in the learner corresponding to the reward in focus. This shows that upcoming compensation of upgrading a learner to another academic level will create a manner of operation in learning that increase the probability of passing rate.
Another theory complementing on the concept of behavior on learning is that of Hull. "A very important aspect of Hull's theory is that it focuses on satisfying needs more than behavioral theorists do. Prior learning, driving forces, limitations, and incentives all play a role in this theory." (Silver et al..2000) Underscoring the reality of needs for a learner in the process of achieving academic excellence, it is imperative to consider how the lack, or availability of these necessary support will affect the results.
Hull's theory further clarifies that the circumstances that will affect a learner will influence his reaction. In this regard, reinforcing positive behavior helps to facilitate learning and in turn pass rate. Unsatisfactory academic results or performance from the learner despite availability of his or her needs calls for a closer attention on finding out the requirements that are central to lessening class retention.
Another factor that should be put into consideration in the case where needs have been provided to the students but not excelling is cognitive theory. Information processing theory which focuses on attention, memory, and thinking establishes the fact that cognitive processes are also predominant in the way students will perform resulting in class retention. (Santrock, pg233) Another cognitive theory in focus is cognitive constructivist which establishes that construction of knowledge and understanding is a significant factor. (Santrock, 233) By looking into these cognitive theories, the supposition is that learner's cognitive abilities which are mostly attached to intelligence play a role on the comprehension of subject matter.
The assumption derived from these theories is that regardless the reward to promotion to another class according to Skinner, learners will still experience class retention. Another supposition is that provision or lack of needs to students does not guarantee their success therefore, according to Hull, they still undergo class repetition. Looking into the perspective of cognitive theorists, the level of cognition in learners is influential on how they will perform during the learning process and assessment tests. It is to these objections that researchers in this paper will examine the perspectives of students on class retention since it is these students that are center of attention in achieving results.
Significance of the study
The findings of the proposed study will provide educators and other education related decision makers with information regarding what students believe and attributes to their MSCE failure. The information will then serve as an input to improving the already existing suggested solutions to the problem. The research will also provide the students with their own prescribed solutions to the problem so that they can be able to pass MSCE without retaining the class. In doing so, the education sector will be aided in advancing the quality of education in the country.
Limitations of the study
The research is projected to face limitations such as time, resources, and availability of data. First, as students at a college, the schedule for this researcher is always busy and tight. Time will not be enough to gather all the necessary information. The participants of the study are also located at a distant place and that will require quite an amount of time. In most cases their schedules will not be in line with the researchers' hence requiring additional time more than planned. Second, resources will not be enough or available at the right time. The major constraining resource is money. This will be required for transport, communicating to the participants through phone calls as well as printing and photocopying questionnaires. Finally, the other limitation will be data. Some participants might not deliberately provide accurate data hence affecting the findings of the research.
For the purpose of this study, the following terms will apply:
Student(s) shall mean form four students in the school under study
Teacher(s) shall refer to a teacher(s) of a form four subject(s)
School shall refer to the school under study
Class retention (repetition) remaining in the same class for an extra year(s) due to failure of other subjects.
There have been various researches by different individuals in the area of class retention. These have brought about a bulk of information necessary and very essential to understand the practice so as to find ways of eliminating or minimizing it. The research that has been conducted in the area of class retention can be divided into three classes: the causes of student retention, the effects of student retention, and the prevention of student retention.
The first approach researchers have taken as a step in order to understand class retention is to identify its causes. Angrist (2001) contended that, "High rates of grade repetition in Latin America are widely seen as symptomatic of poorly functioning public schools" (p. 12). The evidence summarised by Davies (1999) suggests that, repetition among students is mainly due to not only financial constraints but also inefficient policies that would enhance academic excellence from the time of enrollment through the academic cycle. (p. 10). Basing on these arguments, it can be deduced that institutions plays a larger part on causing student retention. These policies could be strict disciplinary measures such as long periods of suspension from classes which requires the ministry of education to intervene. These periods can even prevent the student to concentrate on studies let alone write examinations.
The second direction that researchers concentrated on was identifying the effects of class retention. One author has challenged that, "The confluence of results from research during the past century fails to demonstrate achievement, socioemotional, or behavioral advantages of retaining students. â€¦ students who are retained are more likely to drop out of high school" (Jimerson S. R., 2001, p. 57). This dropout from school could be due boredom, un pleasant remarks from peers, teachers and parents. When the student finds out that he or she is the oldest in the class due to class retention, he or she opt to dropout. In this regard, Brophy concurs with Jimerson on high dropout levels of students who have been retained. However, Brophy in referring to results from previous research further says that class retention gives rise to overcrowding in classes and poor control (Brophy, 2006, p.6). It is difficult for a teacher to control a class which has a large number number of students. In addition to this, overcrowding results in shortage of resources like textbooks.
Another effect of class retention observed by researchers is mostly based on the financial position in running education. There is an increase in amount of bills such as water and electricity and expenditure on food items in case of boarding schools. Establishing the implications of class retention Brophy wrote that, "The application of grade repetition brings extra costs and long-term negative academic and social consequences" (2006, p. 7). Tallying with Brophy on an increased school costs, Patrinos quoted UNESCO (1984) that "repeaters reduce the enrollment capacity of their class, thus preventing other children from being admitted. Repeaters â€¦ cause overcrowding, which raises school costs" (Patrinos, 1992, p. 3). Patrinos went further quoting Jallade that "it was found that repetition rates affect the rate of return to education. Assuming it takes on average two extra years to complete the basic education cycle, and more for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, the returns to schooling were found to drop significantly in Brazil, from 13 percent to 8 percent, after repetition is factored into the calculations" (Patrinos, 1992, p. 2).
Thirdly, other researchers on student retention focused on the ways of reducing retention rate. Focus is on the necessity of preschool, methodology, student-teacher ratio in reducing class retention among students.
One of the studies in early child development done by Currie demonstrates that children that undergo preschool have higher chances of achieving excellent pass rate which prevent them from experiencing class retention. He goes on further establishing the fact that these learners in many learning situations do not require remedial tasks because their performance is above average. (Currie, 2000, p. 13). Currie quoted McMahan (1992) in validating his argument on early child development by saying, "a study of a national sample of 20,000 6th graders conducted by the French government in 1980 found that those who had attended preschool were less likely to have repeated grades" (Currie, 2000, p. 25). According to the stated realities, it is observed that students that undergo preschool have high possibility of doing better in class as compared to those who have not attended kindergarten because of the foundational knowledge acquired from infancy. Hence, reduction of class retention.
Complementing on reduction of class retention rate, one author provides thorough methods of on this matter as saying:
"Establishing a close relationship with students through tutoring which is focused on student progress, closer monitoring and follow up of poor attendance, early identification of under-performing students or students who are 'at risk', the early diagnosis of student requirements for basic skills and additional learning support and the provision of such support as far as possible within student learning programs" (Martinez, 2001, p. 6).
The fundamental understanding according to Martinez is that the type of relationship that a teacher can build with learners is crucial to the success of learning. For the teacher to identify students, he or she has to pay close attention academic development of the learner from enrollment.
To prevent or reduce retention rates, "some schools engaged in low student-teacher ratio and small class sizes to promote student engagement, cooperative learning instructional processes that encourage help when needed from classmates, and non-threatening learning environments" (Lamb, 2004, p. 58). This is helpful for both students and teachers since they have an opportunity of interacting with each other for there is a good teacher-student ratio. This concept of teacher-student ratio is facilitates understanding of taught material which results in low class retention.
After looking at the major categories of previous researches under the name student retention, the proposed research will take a different direction from those already conducted. By investigating the perspectives of affected students in regard to why they fail and retain a class as a way of improving their education as well as how they feel after being retained, this research will provide educators with knowledge from the learner's standpoint and aid in reducing retention rate. Thus, no other known research has taken this direction and trend in Malawi
According to the data that this research seeks to find, it is implied that the research will be in qualitative design. The researchers will identify a school with a highest rate of class retention in the Bwaila cluster of Lilongwe urban. The identified school will be the one under study as far as the purpose of this research is concerned. At the school, the researchers will single out students in form four that have repeated the class from first to third attempts.
Researcher will employ questionnaires and interviews as instruments for data collection. These instruments will be designed to probe into the perspectives of the students as to why they fail and retain a class, how they feel after being retained, and how this affects them in progressing with their studies. For the success and legitimacy of this study, the researchers will seek permission from the identified school authority and consent from the students before administering the questionnaires and conducting interviews. The questionnaire of this research will have structured questions to obtain the fixed perspectives of the students. Following the administration of questionnaires, interviews will be conducted on the same sample for validation and comprehensiveness of the data required.
Thus, data collection will be in three phases. In the first phase, researchers will obtain statistics on students that have repeated form four and their frequency of repetition. The second phase will involve administration of questionnaires to the participants. Thereafter, the third stage of data collection will engage conducting interviews. The sample of the study will include equal proportion of male and female students to find out if at all gender has effects on the perspectives of the students on class retention. Morgan and Krejcie's table for determining sample size will be used by the researchers in singling out the number of participants.
The purpose of the study will be clearly explained to the participants so that they will be aware that the objectives of the research will be used to help students and teachers come up with the ways that will reduce class retention. The questionnaires will be administered as a take home assignment given at the end of the class of the day and collected the following morning upon their arrival at school. This will inhibit the participants from sharing ideas and perspectives as they attempt the questions. Their after, interviews will be conducted during lunch time break which will help in cross checking their written perspectives against their oral perspectives.