Causal attributions of failure in mathematics examinations by pupils in selected junior secondary schools in Nakonde district,Zambia

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Silomba, Harry Jordan
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The University of Zambia
This study sought to investigate the causal attributions to failure in public grade nine mathematics examinations in Nakonde district. A mixed method research design utilizing both quantitative and qualitative techniques of research was used in the study. A likert scale questionnaires,focus group discussions and interview schedules were used to collect data. Participants (N=150) were made up of 30 teachers and 120 pupils who were drawn from 6 junior secondary schools. Descriptive statistics and content analysis were used to analyse quantitative and qualitative data respectively. The study provides evidence that pupils attribute their failure largely to external causes than to internal ones. Internal causal attributes included lack of interest/effort, lack of natural ability, inability to study, pupil’s laziness, and pupil’s absenteeism.In this case pupils’ belief was that they were failing not because of their own making but because of factors that were emanating from their external learning environment, including, incompetent teaching, poor teaching methods, subject being difficult, and the works of odds. The results clearly showed that pupils lacked innate talent (i.e. internal stable uncontrollable) of attributing failure to themselves.It was also established that teachers attributed lack of their own effort, ability, interest, incompetence, bad study habits and not making the subject enjoyable as internal factors which contributed to low performance in mathematics. Furthermore, external teachers’ causal attributions such as non motivating environment, school type, peer influence, pupils been unlucky, pupils’ absenteeism, mathematics being difficult, pupils not liking the subject and lack of teaching/learning materials, were considered as additional causal factors to poor performance. Finally it was revealed that effects due to locus of control, stability and controllability, had a detrimental effect on academic performance. The study concluded that lack of innate talent, low self- esteem, lack of interest, negative altitude, anger, feeling of shame, non motivating environment, laziness in teaching and learning led to unpleasant low grades in mathematics. The results of this study confirm the predictions of the attribution theory and are in line with the findings of similar studies conducted in other countries. Recommendations to improve performance include helping pupils to focus on effort as the main driver of success,teachers to intensify guidance and counseling sessions where the importance of doing mathematics is shared. Further, empowering the pupils with the awareness that, they have control over their actions and that they can change outcomes, academic self-esteem can be enhanced and future success optimized.
Mathematics--Study and teaching (Middle school) , Curriculum planning. , Curriculum evaluation. , Mathematics--Study and teaching (Secondary)