The academic performance of students

Categories: Education
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In most Universities the world over today, the academic performance of students has recently come under scrutiny for a number of reasons. For instance, a number of studies have been carried out to identify causal factors of poor academic performance in a number of institutions worldwide. Interestingly, most of these studies focused on the three elements that intervene. Such included, parents (family causal factors), teachers (academic causal factors), and students (personal causal factors) (Diaz, 2003). However, this study investigated the main factors that affect students’ academic performance at The University of Zambia main campus.

Broadly speaking, factors influencing academic performance of students vary from one academic environment to another, from one set of students to the next, and indeed from one cultural setting to another. It however appears that students have worked hard but their input has not been positively correlated to their output. Indeed, this has been revealed in a report from UWI’s Office of Planning and Development (2011), where 20% of all undergraduate courses offered at UWI, St.

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Augustine recorded high failure rates.

This increases the cost of training graduates as well as reducing admission opportunities for high school students seeking a University education. Furthermore, the low pass rates impose a huge cost to the communities in terms of the low number of students graduating and the reduced intake of potential students due to shortage of spaces caused by low throughput.

Therefore, in order to ensure that a larger proportion of the labor force is highly trained, most Universities including The University of Zambia must put in place measures that will ensure high completion rates.

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In the case of The University of Zambia main campus, the failure and dropout rates are higher in such schools like School of Law, School of Engineering and School of Veterinary Medicine, among others.

However, in cases where there are low dropout or exclude rates, at least there should be poor performance making students to merely clear in order to proceed as opposed to getting excellent results. Much of the abrasion that reduces completion rates has been attributed to low academic performance in early pre-requisite undergraduate courses (Scott and Graal, 2007). This problem although may be lightly taken has a profound influence on the communities.

Not only that, it also contravenes the motto of the University, ‘Service and Excellency’ in that there is no excellence when people are poorly performing and failing. In view of the above, the study investigated the main factors that affect students’ academic performance at The University of Zambia main Campus so that appropriate administrative measures can be put in place in order to help the community at large.


The literature review of this study is divided into two components namely, theoretical review which merely reviews theories that relate to the topic under investigation and empirical review which will be composed of studies conducted by other researchers on the same topic.

Theoretical Review There are a number of theories that have been assumed to explain the factors that affect students’ academic performance but for the purposes of this study, only two will be discussed. These include, ‘The Triarchic Theory of Intellectual Abilities’ and the ‘Theory of Mental Self-Government’.

The Triarchic Theory of Intellectual Abilities

According to the Theory of Intellectual Abilities (Sternberg, 1985; 1986:23), three kinds of intellectual abilities exist, namely analytical, creative and practical abilities.

Measures of abilities tend to focus mainly on analytical abilities, whereas all three types of abilities need to be regarded as equally important. Research done by Sternberg (1997b:24) showed that: The more we teach and assess students based on a broader set of abilities, the more racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse our achievers will be. 2. 3 The Theory of Mental Self-Government Furthermore, research by Sternberg emphasises that students’ learning and thinking styles 1 / 34 (Sternberg, 1997a) (which are usually ignored), together with their ability levels, play an important role in student performance (Sternberg, 1992:134; 1994:36-40; Sternberg and Grigorenko, 1997:295).

The Theory of Mental Self-Government refers to an inventory of different thinking styles that gives an indication of people’s preference of thinking patterns. Where the Triarchic Theory focuses on the ability itself, the theory of Mental Self-Government refers to different thinking styles which constitutes preference in the use of abilities (Sternberg, 1990:366-371). As articulated in the above theories, this study adopt the theory of mental self-Government as the most appropriate one in enhancing students ‘academic performance at The University of Zambia main campus.

The reason is that, the learning and thinking styles of students at campus can either be reinforced leading to excellent academic performance or hindered leading to poor academic performance. This is heavily contingent upon the availability and provision of a number of essential facilities such as good study materials, accommodation, conducive learning environment (lecture theatres), good water and sanitation facilities among others. These being available and in provision, students’ potential abilities of being analytical, creative and practical as described in triarchic theory will also become reinforced.

Empirical Review

A lot of studies have been engaged in to identify and analyze the numerous factors affecting academic performance of students in various centers of learning. Their findings identify students’ efforts, previous schooling (Siegfried and Fels, 1979; Anderson and Benjamin, 1994), parents’ education, family income (Devadoss and Foltz, 1996), self-motivation, age of student, learning preferences (Aripin, Mahmood, Rohaizad, Yeop and Anuar, 2008), class attendance (Romer, 1993), and entry qualification as factors that have a significant effect on the students’ academic performance in various settings.

However, the utility of these studies lies on the need to undertake corrective measures that improve the academic performance of students, especially in public funded institutions. Despite the considerable debate about the determinants of academic performance among educators, policymakers, academics, and other stakeholders, it is generally agreed that the impact of these determinants vary (in terms of extent and direction) with context, for example, culture, institution, course of study among others.

Therefore, since not all factors are relevant for a particular context, it is imperative that formal studies be carried out to identify the context-specific determinants for sound decision making. Another study that reviewed some of the factors that influence students’ academic performance stressed out that, students’ learning preferences has a deeper influence on their academic performance. Harb and El-Shaarawi (2006) further stated that, a good match between students’ learning preferences and instructor’s teaching style has been demonstrated to have positive effect on student’s performance.

Reid (1995) defines learning preference as a person’s “natural, habitual and preferred way” of assimilating new information. This implies that individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study is most effective for them. Scholars, who promote the learning preferences approach to learning, agree that effective instruction can only be undertaken if the learner’s learning preferences are diagnosed and the instruction is tailored accordingly (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer and Bjork, 2008). “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember.

I do and I understand,” (Confucius 551-479 BC) – a quote that provides evidence that, even in early times, there was a recognition of the existence of different learning preferences among people. Indeed, Omrod (2008) reports that some students seem to learn better when information is presented through words (verbal learners), whereas others seem to learn better when it is presented in the form of pictures (visual learners). However, it is obvious that in a class where only one instructional method is employed, there is a strong possibility that a number of students will find the learning environment less optimal and this could affect their academic performance.

Felder (1993) established that alignment between students’ learning preferences and an instructor’s teaching style leads to better recall and 2 / 34 understanding. The learning preferences approach has gained significant mileage despite the lack of experimental evidence to support the utility of this approach. To support the above statement, other studies have established a number of methods used to assess the learning preference or styles of students but they all typically ask students to evaluate the kind of information presentation they are most at ease with.

One of these approaches being used widely is the Visual/Aural/Read and Write/Kinesthetic (VARKR) questionnaire, pioneered by Neil Fleming in 1987, which categorizes learners into at least four major learning preference classes. Neil Fleming (2001- 2011) described these four major learning preferences as follows: To start with is a class of visual learners: This consists of students who prefer information to be presented on the whiteboard, flip charts, walls, graphics, pictures, color. Probably creative and may use different colors and diagrams in their notebooks.

Failure to do this, their academic performance would be poorly affected. A class of Aural (or oral) or auditory learners comes as a second one: these students prefer to sit back and listen. They do not make a lot of notes. More often than not, they find it useful to record lectures for later playbacks and reference. This helps them improve their academic performance. The third preference is a class of Read/write learners: these students prefer to read the information for them and take a lot of notes. However, these learners benefit from given access to additional relevant information through handouts and guided readings from their teachers or lecturers.

Failure to avail to them such facilities may retrograde their school performance. Lastly, but not the least is the class of Kinesthetic (or tactile) learners: these learners cannot sit still for long and like to fiddle with things. Prefer to be actively involved in their learning and thus would benefit from active learning strategies in class. Therefore, we can see that, all the different preferences may not be fully met by students and as such they may have a profound influence on their academic performance.

Undeniably, Romer (1993) is one of the first few authors to explore the relationship between student attendance and examination performance. In his widely cited paper, a number of factors have contributed to declining class attendances around the world in the last 15 years. The major reasons given by students for non-attendance include assessment pressures, poor delivery of lectures by lecturers, timing of lectures, and work commitments (Newman-Ford, Lloyd and Thomas, 2009).

Moreover, in recent times, students have found a need to seek employment while studying on a part- time basis due to financial constraints. The numbers of part-time and mature students has also risen sharply. The use of information technology also means that information that used to be obtained from sitting through lectures can be obtained from the internet.

However, given all these developments that either makes it impossible or unnecessary for students to attend classes, the question that needs to be asked is whether absenteeism affects students’ academic performance or not. Interestingly, a number of previous researches on this subject matter seem to provide a consensus that students who miss classes perform poorly compared to those who attend classes (Devadoss and Foltz 1996, Durden and Ellis 1995, Romer 1993, Park and Kerr 1990, Schmidt 1993). Based on these findings a number of stakeholders have called for mandatory class attendance.

Although the existing evidence points to a strong correlation between attendance and academic performance, none of the studies cited attendance from a myriad of confounding students characteristics, (for instance, levels of motivation, intelligence, prior learning, and time-management skill) is a major limiting factor to the utility of these findings and this has been proven also by Rodgers and Rodgers (2003) hence showing a weakness in these studies which this study will take into account.

Durden and Ellis (1995) further controlled for student differences in background, ability and motivation and reported a nonlinear effect of attendance on learning, that is, a few absences do not lead to poor grades but excessive absenteeism does. Further, other studies conducted by Pashler and Bjork (2008) have shown that, prior knowledge, course prerequisites and course combinations determine students’ academic performance in 3 / 34 Universities and Colleges.

Studies conducted from a number of institutions indicate that, students’ prior knowledge, course prerequisites and course combinations had a profound influence on their academic performance. For instance, 70% of those with suitable pre-requisite courses performed better than those with courses that were not matching. This was justified by the fact that, learning is a cumulative process, thus a student admitted with matching courses to the career of their choice will be well prepared for the course material compared to a student with a mismatch of course combinations. It is important for career educators to have an idea of how well the courses correspond to each student in order to complement learning.

Therefore, this study seeks to explore whether the program of study has possible adverse effects on students’ academic performance. Such an analysis would be helpful in the counseling and guidance process of students. Henceforth, the influence of age and gender on academic performance has been investigated in a number of studies with widely differing conclusions. Most of the differences in reported findings are due to varying contexts such as subject of study, age and gender interactions. Previous research has shown that men perform better than women in certain setting while women outperform men in other settings (Haist, Wilson, Elam, Blue and Fosson, 2000).

According to Borde (1998) there is no evidence of academic performance being influenced by gender. However, based on an analysis of close to two million graduating students, Woodfied and Earl-Novell (2006) found that female students outperformed male students and attributed this partly to female students being more conscientious and thus less likely to miss lectures. With regard to the issue of students’ age, studies have shown that, recent changes in educational policies around the world have led to an increase in the number of mature-age admissions in educational institutions.

But a large proportion of undergraduate students were still 19-year olds, the ages of students in classes were then more variable than 10 to 15 years ago. Therefore, the definition of a mature student varies by country with 21, 22 and 25 year old students being classified as mature students in the United Kingdom, United States of America and Australia, respectively (Trueman& Hartley, 1996). In this study review, mature students are defined as those students whose age was greater than 21 years on their first day at the University.

Students who are 21 years of age and younger are classified as ‘young’ students. Mature students thought to lack basic skills required for effective study or to be impaired by age-related intellectual deficits. Mature students tend to be admitted into their programmes with distinctly lower educational attainment than the young students (Newman-Ford, Lloyd & Thomas, 2009). However, when compared to the young students, the academic performance of mature students was as good, if not better (Richardson, 1994). It should, however be pointed out that this comparison depends on the subject matter and types of assessment used.

Richardson (1994:5) concludes his study by making the observation that “Mature students are rather more likely than younger students to adopt a deep approach or a meaning orientation towards their academic work, and were conversely less likely than younger students to adopt a surface approach or a reproducing orientation. ” Furthermore, other studies found that self-motivation, family income, and parents’ level of education contribute to poor performance of some students.

While a positive relationship between self- motivation and academic performance has been established (Zimmerman, Bandura, and Martinez-Pons, 1992), the effect of family income and parents’ level of education on academic performance is far from being unraveled without equivocation.

Socioeconomic status of students and their families show moderate to strong relationship with academic performance but these relationships are contingent upon a number of factors such that it is nearly impossible to predict academic performance using socioeconomic status (Sirin, 2005). The study conducted by Wooten, (1998) whose major objective was to find out the main factors that affect students’ academic performance discovered two key factors that had a profound influence on students’ performance namely; (i) the student’s aptitude and (ii).

The amount of effort the student put forth in the course. He further discovered that, the amount of effort put by a student depends on the student’s grade history, motivation, extracurricular activities, work responsibilities and family 4 / 34 responsibilities. In his findings, aptitude and effort were both significant variables in influencing performance of the traditional students. For the traditional students, grade history, motivation and family responsibilities all influenced the amount of efforts the students put forth.

However, neither extracurricular activities nor work responsibilities influenced students’ efforts. Moreover, motivation was significantly influenced by the students’ self-expectations and their perceptions of the learning environment. Hence, motivation was the only variable that significantly influenced effects. He further discovered that for both traditional and non-traditional students, it was difficult to explain why extra-curricular activities and the work activities variables did not have a significant effect on the effort.

Therefore, this study has a weakness in that, it does not reflect the sample size used in the study for traditional and non-traditional students and there is no proof whether or not other essential variables were controlled in the study. Hence, this study took into account such weaknesses so that accurate results could be obtained. Conversely, a study conducted by Mohamedbhai (2008) at the University of Nairobi, the main JomoKenyetta memorial library, whose main objective was to find out the impact of over enrolments of students on academic performance discovered that, the large number of students than the University could accommodate had a profound influence on students’ academic performance.

The capacity for the University library could not sustain the large student population such that, the University which was designed to accommodate 1,500 students had to cope with 8,000 students a day. A similar study conducted by Bloom (2005) at the University of Eduardo Mondlane showed that, due to over enrolment of students, their academic performance was heavily affected such that, the dropout rate of student in 2006 for the whole University was estimated to be within the range of 15-28%, the larger percentage being for the earlier years.

In 2006, only about 6% of the students completed their degrees in the normal course duration compared to 17% in 2001. Also, in 2006, 41% of the student took one or more additional years to complete their programmes, whereas the corresponding figure in 2001 was 28%. However, from this, there has been deterioration in the students’ academic performance over the past five years at the University of EdourdoMondlane.

However, although the studies needed modification in the sample frame and study design used to gather such findings, they were very helpful in providing us with a podium in which the problem of over enrolment of students at The University of Zambia and the effects it has on their academic performance can be clearly understood.

The study conducted by Principle (2005) at the Puerto Rico University was to find out the factors affecting students’ academic performance in the first accounting course between public and private Universities in Puerto Rico and also to analyze the students’ perceptions on internal and external classroom factors that might influence their academic performance in their first accounting course. A descriptive co-relational research design was used in this investigation.

The population was the students in the first accounting course at public and private Universities in Puerto Rico. The sample size used was 1,721 subjects which included 13 campuses from 3 different Universities out of a total of 65 campuses in Puerto Rico. The campuses were not randomly selected. The researcher selected campuses representing different demographic areas in Puerto Rico.

A Chi-square analysis reflected that, public Universities had a higher number of student failures compared to private Universities. In this case, the grade distribution reports from private Universities demonstrated that, 40-50% of students did not complete or failed in the first accounting course.

The findings of the study also demonstrated that, internal classroom factors positively influenced students’ academic performance in the first accounting course in Puerto Rican public and private Universities. However, the effects of combined external classroom factors were not statistically significant for Puerto Rican Universities. Thus, although other important variables in the study have not been highlighted, this study is quite clear and is assumed to have achieved its purpose.

Hence, this study sought to build on such already existing discoveries to relate to the University of Zambia, but at the same time taking into account the correction of mistakes made by previous researchers in the same area of study. 5 / 34 Hence, this study been conducted at UNZA main campus such weaknesses will be taken into consideration to enhance accuracy of results. On the other hand, the School of Humanities Booklet (2008) states that, the University of Zambia has a long term statutory mandate of it being the highest learning institution in Zambia.

For this reason, this study seeks to investigate how well the institution has been fairing in meeting its long term objectives as follows: Promoting Excellence in Teaching, Research and Community Service. Our Vision: To be a Provider of World Class Services in Higher Education and Knowledge Generation. Our Mission: To Provide Relevant Higher Education through Teaching, Research and Community Service. Our Core Values: Academic freedom, Green Environment, Equity, Integrity, Accountability, Innovativeness and Excellency. Our Management Philosophy:

The University will embrace a participatory Management Style that will motivate employees, provide a work environment that is conducive to high productivity, teamwork in which leadership is by example, Provide effective communication and guidance, which will be accessible to all, and promote individual growth. All these objectives will be closely looked at in order to ensure that the aim of this study is achieved which is to investigate why there has been poor academic performance at the University of Zambia among students despite its core objectives as stated above.


A number of excludes and high failure rates at the University of Zambia main campus year in year out has been so rampant.

The academic performance of a number of students has not been to their expectations. They have been poorly performing. What else has not yet been done to solve the problem? Emphasis on tutorial participation, clinics, and study groups has been stressed by some lecturers to improve the performance of students but to no avail. Furthermore, others have conducted lecture attendance roll calls as an alternative for combating the alarming poor academic performance of students but less positive returns have been achieved.

Nevertheless, the APA systems like in the case of the school of education and humanities have been introduced together with the use of projectors in the delivery of lectures to help the intolerant and slow learning students catch up easily but the expected returns have not helped much to improve the general academic performance of students. Moreover, an internet cafe in the University main Library has being in operation to help students do their research effectively but as if their efforts were in vain, the performance keeps deteriorating. Further, new departments (department of population studies among others) have been created where possible.

More extraordinary, extra-curricular activities have been encouraged and the door to the counseling Centre has been wide open but still the problem of poor academic performance at the University of Zambia still persists. It is for these reasons henceforth that this study seeks to investigate the main factors that affect students’ academic performance at the University of Zambia so that a lasting solution can be provided to improve the quality of education in our country Zambia as a whole.


General Objectives

To investigate the factors that affect academic performance of students at The University of Zambia.

Specific Objectives

To find out the main factors that affects the academic performance of students at The University Zambia. To find out which sex is highly vulnerable to the factors that affect academic performance of student at the University Zambia. To find out what the University management has done to address the factors that affect the 6 / 34 academic performance of students at the University Zambia.


A lot of countries that have developed today placed more emphasis on the importance of the educational system in spearheading technological innovation that resulted in productivity.

A good example in question is the United States of America, Japan and China who formulated sound trajectory policies that increased enrolments rates in Universities and Colleges with an understanding that, advancement in technology is dependent on having well trained students in Universities and Colleges. Equivalently, Singapore which also took the step to invest in science and technology in colleges and Universities has become one of the industrialized economies in the world.

Therefore, advancement in science and technology is dependent on how well a particular country trains its students. However, to have well nurtured students that can think and invent new things to develop the country, there has to be well informed policies at institutional level that creates a good conducive environment for learning. Apparently, such sound policies cannot be created if students’ challenges that may hinder good performance have not been identified and addressed. Therefore, in order for Zambia to develop, it has to emulate countries like Singapore which paid attention to the educational system by creating a good learning atmosphere for University students.

However, the study investigated the factors that affect students’ academic performance at the University of Zambia and it sought to contribute to the body of knowledge on the factors that affect students’ academic Excellency at UNZA in particular and other such government institutions in general. It has been observed that, literature on the factors that influence academic performance of students is quite scarce and when it is available, people have to seek it through the internet.

Thus the findings of this study would be put at the disposal of every student in the library so that information is readily accessed. It is also hoped that the results of this research would contribute to the formulation of sound administrative policies that would curb the factors that contribute to the poor academic performance of students at the University of Zambia so that failure and dropouts rates can be minimized to maintain the motto of the University ‘Service and Excellency’.

As articulated above however, the rationale behind the carrying out of this study was premised on four basic principles namely; the study aimed to contribute to knowledge, policy, theory, practice and as a partial fulfillment for the award of a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Development Studies. Therefore, regarding its contribution to knowledge, the findings of this study will bring to the general awareness of the factors that affect students’ academic performance.

Secondly, it will further communicate the efforts by the University management to address factors affecting students’ academic performance and what management has done to enhance students’analytical, creative and practical abilities according to the Triarchic Theory of Intellectual Abilities (Sternberg 1985; 1986:23). Likewise, higher learning institutions are also beneficiaries of the knowledge this study will generate in that the findings will help them to design strategies to increase students’ academic performance and alleviate attrition rates.

At policy level however, this study will firstly identify the main causes of the factors that affect students’ academic performance ranging from parents- family causal factors; teachers- academic causal factors and students -personal causal factors, (Diaz, 2003). After identifying these, it will help the government policy makers to redesign their strategic management for the institution towards formulating policies that address factors affecting students and in turn reduce their attrition rates.

This will also set a platform for the attainment of the University of Zambia’s long term strategic goals, (School of Humanities Handbook, 2008). Pertaining to theory and practice however, the findings of this study will help in testing the practicability of the adopted theory of mental self-Government as the most appropriate one in enhancing students ‘academic performance at the University of Zambia.

The rationale behind this theory is that, learning and thinking styles of students at campus can either be reinforced leading to excellent academic performance or hindered leading to poor academic performance and this is heavily contingent upon the availability and provision of essential facilities such as good study 7 / 34 materials, accommodation, conducive learning environment (lecture theatres), good water and sanitation facilities among others and hence this is hoped to lead to offering practical solutions that would enhance students’ academic performance.

The fourth and last premise was based on the satisfaction of the researcher’s curiosity on the subject matter and linked to that, the study will be undertaken in partial fulfillment for the award of the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Development Studies.


The study adopted and maintained the use of scientific procedures in its collection of data. The study gathered data on the factors that affect students’ academic performance at the University Zambia Main Campus.

This information was composed of primary and secondary data. Primary data constituted the major source on which generalization was to be based.

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The academic performance of students. (2016, Sep 23). Retrieved from

The academic performance of students
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