Even though a different set of constraints and challenges in education has been faced worldwide, educational development has been actively promoted by means of adapting to rapid global changes (Peretz, 2009). Ensuring quality of education is one of the six Education For All goals agreed by over 160 governments during the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000; almost every country around the world has committed to enhancing education quality in an effort to achieve the goals of EFA by 2015. Governments seek to offer students an education that equips them with skills, knowledge, and wider perspectives so that students can participate in the social, economic and political lives of their nations (UNESCO, 2009).
The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has prioritized educational sector as a key area for national development: capacity building and human resources development is one of the key strategies of the Rectangular Strategy in the third term of the national assembly (RGC, 2004). Cambodian education system is divided into four levels: pre-school education, primary education, secondary education (lower and upper) and higher education. Students from the age of three to five years old are allowed to enroll in pre-school education. To get basic education, students have to at least spend six years of primary education and three years of lower secondary education. After graduating from lower secondary education, students are provided options to continue to upper secondary education or enter secondary -level vocational training programs provided by the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MOLVT). Students can also have chances to pursue their studies in university or vocational training after completing upper secondary education (UNESCO, 2008). The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) has emphasized education quality at all levels – basic, secondary and higher education because it can produce the well-educated and skilled students in order to meet the needs and requirement of the growing labor market.
Education at upper secondary level is the foundation for higher education. After upper secondary school, students should have capacity to continue their studies at higher education or to specialize their studies (MoEYS, 2004). To achieve this goal, students are provided options to select the program of study: sciences and social studies. Additionally, students are required to study at least ten subjects which are compulsory to complete upper secondary education. To completely graduate from upper secondary school, students are assessed based on the scores earned at Grade 12, the final grade of upper secondary education, and the score of the national examination (UNESCO, 2008).
1.2 Problem Statement
The achievement of high school students has been a great concern to educators, parents, and government. Even though measures have been taken to improve the quality of education, a large proportion of high school students perform poorly in the classroom (P. Pal, personal communication, October 10, 2010). Furthermore, some students are likely to play truant or miss their class very often. As identified in UNESCO National Education Support Strategy, the cost burden, the need for the students to work and a lack of understanding the importance of formal schooling are some of the reasons behind the low grade 12 completion rate (UNESCO, 2010).
1.3 Research Objectives
There has been little qualitative research conducted on perceptions of students and teachers towards the factors influencing the students’ academic performance in high school in Cambodia. Therefore, the intent of this study is to identify those factors influencing students’ academic performance in high school. Investigation into the factors that might influence students’ academic performance in high schools may contribute to enhancing students’ learning abilities in upper secondary education as well as helping them to pursue their higher education easily.
1.4 Research Questions
This study aims to answer the following research questions:
How do teachers and students perceive factors influencing students’ academic performance?
What are the differences in perceptions between teachers and students toward factors contributing to students’ academic performance?
1.5 Significance of Study
This study is particularly significant for two main reasons. First, it will increase understanding of and contribute to the literature on students’ academic performance in high school in Cambodia. Second, it is hoped that the findings of this study will contribute to helping all stakeholders, namely, parents, teachers, school communities, and central agents to strengthen efficiency and quality of education in upper secondary education.
1.6 Definition of Concept
Page, Thomas, and Marshall (as cited in Ogunbanjo, 2001) defined school performance as an action of a person or group when given a learning task. In education, performance refers to achievement in carrying out of a task, assignment or course. Academic performance is the level of success determined by grade point average at the end of the semester (Lamsis, 2010). Thus, in this study, academic performance is generally taken to mean students’ ability and achievement in the school work as measured by tests results, performance or behaviour during lessons, grades and reports.
1.7 Proposed Chapter
This research study is organized in five chapters. Chapter one will consist of introduction dealing with background information of the study, problem statement, research objectives, research questions, significance of the study. The past literature, which was conducted in different settings around the world, will be examined in chapter two. Next, the research methodology will discuss in detail the participants, method, instruments, tools, data collection, data analysis, ethical consideration and limitation of the study in Chapter three. In Chapter four, finding and discussion will be identified. Finally, conclusion and recommendation will also be discussed in chapter five.
Factors which influence student’s performance have been identified as including classroom management, quality of teaching staff, family social-economic status, lack of teaching facilities, inadequate student discipline, lack of student commitment, emotional problems, curriculum contents, learning situation, inadequate teacher instruction, and not enough parental involvement (Asikhia, 2010; Legotlo et al., 2002 ; Nguyen & Griffin, 2010).
In the study by Asikhia (2010), the focus of the investigation was on the perception of students and teachers on the causes of poor academic performance among secondary school students in Ogun State, Nigeria. The results of teachers’ perception indicated that teachers’ teaching qualifications and students’ background had a smaller effect on the students’ poor performance but teachers’ methods of teaching influence poor academic achievement. Students, on the other hand, thought that teachers’ qualifications and students’ home environment influenced their poor performance in school while teachers’ method of teaching and learning materials did not.
In the study of factors influencing poor performance of grade 12 learners in two high schools in Limpo province in South Africa, Rammala’s study (2009) discovered that parents’ low-level of education, high unemployment rate, child-headed family, unpredictable home environment, emotional problems, lack of facilities, unavailable learner support materials, lack of discipline, redeployment of education, unfamiliarity of new curriculum influenced students’ performance in the classroom.
In a similar research study conducted in Nepal, Subedi (2003) demonstrated the factors influencing high school student achievement. This study simply aimed to investigate the effect of resources and class size on student performance. The research revealed that the availability and use of resources had a significant effect on student performance. Class size also caused negative effect to student achievement.
In a research article by Legotlo et al. (2002), the focus of investigation was on perceptions of stakeholders towards causes of poor performance in grade 12 National Examinations in a province in South Africa. The results in this study revealed that inadequate resources, lack of discipline and poor morale, problems concerning the implementation of government policy, and lack of parental involvement were major causes of poor student performance.
In a research study by Ogunbanjo (2001), the focus of the investigation was on the factors influencing the academic performance of underachieving learners in a South African secondary school with an inhibitive learning climate. In order to get in-dept understanding of underachieving students’ learning performance, a qualitative method was applied. The findings of this study identified the factors as influencing the academic performance of underachieving learners: negative attitude of learners towards their school work, negative attitudes of teachers towards learners and inflexible teaching methods by teachers, lack of parental supervision, undisciplined behavior in class, learner absenteeism, insufficient learner support material, non-encouragement from parents for learners to study, excessive home chore, demotivation and low moral towards teaching as a career, overcrowding classrooms, lack of support from the department and school administration, lack of facilities and resources, lack of parental involvement, inadequate funding of schools, lack of parental supervision, peer pressure, lack of parental guidance and supervision, learners’ lack of discipline, indiscipline by learners, illiteracy among parents, and poor insight of learners about the value of education.
Taken together, the results, of course, indicate that overcrowded classes, lack of facilities and resources, inflexible teaching method, and lack of parental involvement are supposed to be the fundamental factors which negatively influence the students’ academic performance in high schools.
3.1 Research Design
Qualitative researchers share in the understandings and perceptions of others and explore how people structure and give meaning to their daily lives (Berg, 2009). In a qualitative research, a case study design is used to significantly focus on one phenomenon, which the researcher selects to understand deeply regardless of the number of sites or participants for the study (Mcmillain & Schumacher, 2001). Since this study mainly aims to identify key factors that students and teachers perceive as influencing academic performance in a high school, the case study approach will be employed in this study.
3.2 Participant and Sample
The target participants in this study will be teachers and students in a high school in Kandal province. I will contact the school principal initially to propose my study and receive the approval before proceeding and contacting potential participants. A purposive sampling method will be employed in this study because I aim to explore in detail participants’ reasons for performing poorly in their studies. The sample of this study will consist of 4 students and 2 teachers from high school in question. Both male and female participants will be selected. The teachers’ sample will be the class teachers who regularly facilitate any activities in classroom while 11th-grade students will be chosen in this study. The students’ sample will include students who learn with the selected teachers.
3.3 Data Collection
Unlike a quantitative method, a qualitative data gathering procedures often involve spending a lot of time in the natural setting under study or with the research participants collecting relevant information unobtrusively (Gay, Mills & Airasian, 2009). Choosing data collection strategies is a process of deciding among available alternatives for collection and corroboration of data and of modifying one’s decisions to capture the reality of the phenomena (McMillan& Schumacher, 2001). As the purpose of this study is to gain in-depth understanding of the factors contributing to students’ academic performance, participant observation, semi-structured interviews and informal conversation will be carried out to collect the data.
The interviews will consist of open-ended questions and will be tape-recorded (see Appendix below for the details). Individual face to face interview and informal conversation will be used for teachers and students. I will make an appointment with the participants and inform them about the reasons of conducting this study, and request for their consent to participate in my study, before carrying out interviews. The participants will be provided options to select convenient time and comfortable place for the interviews in order to ensure full cooperation and trust. I will bring a tape recorder on scheduled interviews, and with the participants’ permission, record the interviews which will be expected to take around 1 to 2 hours and occur in the school campus or outside the school. Interview questions will follow a general list of topics. The purpose of these interviews is to allow those involved in a school to describe in detail their perceptions and experiences. In addition to these interviews, I will carry on informal conversations with participants at the beginning or end of the meeting to gain more specific concepts and experiences about the influencing factors on students’ academic performance.
Participant observation will be also employed to collect data. The emphasis during observation is on understanding the natural environment as lived by participants without manipulating (Gay, Mills & Airasian, 2009). After getting permission from school principal, I will visit the school for two weeks and significantly observe what goes on in classroom and during recess periods. The observation checklist will mainly focus on time management, environment in the classroom, teaching method, and behavioral patterns of students. Each observation will take around 45 minutes. Additionally, field notes will be written at the end of each observation describing in detail the setting and activities during the lessons. To assure the accuracy and details of these notes, I will spend several hours for recording notes after leaving the field. Official documents of the school such as students’ attendance record, and yearly academic report will be taken with permission of the school principal, teachers and students.
3.4 Data Analysis
Data analysis is begun from the initial interaction with participants and continued that interaction and analysis throughout the whole study (Gay, Mills & Airasian, 2009). As data are collected from the participants, I will examine and reexamine the data in search of themes and patterns in the data. Also, prior data and newer data will be continually compared to reduce less useful data. After gathering the data from the field setting, I will listen to the tape recordings, transcribe the interview tapes and analyze the participants’ responses. I will organize and prepare all data into different types of information depending on the sources of information. In addition, I will read through all data collected carefully to obtain general idea of information. Coding process will be used to organize information into categories or themes. Then these themes will be chronologically sorted into table display in order to discuss interconnected themes. Finally, I will make interpretation of themes.
3.5 Ethical Consideration
Before starting the data collection, I will ask the permission and approval from school principal, teachers and students for observation or tape-recorded interviews. I will explain the study objective verbally and in writing to participants and tell them truthfully that their involvement is voluntary. I will fully explain any potential benefits to school principal, teachers, and students as a result of my study. Additionally, the participants will be informed of all data collection devices and activities. If at any point during the course of the interview the participants decide they no longer desire to continue, they will feel free to simply stop the interview. To avoid any harm to the participants, their names and school will be held in strictest confidence and will never be attached to any data or report that may result from this research. I will treat the participants with respect and give the participants pseudonyms. Personal identifiers will not be included in the research report released to the public in order to avoid the identification of participants. The participants will be told that their responses will be kept confidential and that no one known to them will have access to the information provided and no one can link the analyze to their names. Also, verbatim transcriptions and written interpretations and reports will be made available to the participants.
3.6 Limitation of the Study
This proposal has some specific limitations. First, the researcher will only conduct this study in a high school in a province in order to identify influencing factors on students’ academic performance. Second, since the study will be conducted in a small number of students and teachers in a high school in Cambodia, so the results will not generalize the factors influencing students’ academic achievement in all high schools nationwide. Third, the purpose of this research is not to provide broad generalizations, but to provide an in-depth analysis of factors influencing students’ academic performance in high schools. Finally, some activities, events and information which occur at specific period of the school calendar will not be captured during a short period of visit by the researcher.