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Ghanaian JSS2 students' abysmal mathematics achievement in TIMSS-2003: a consequence of the basic school mathematics curriculum

J Anamuah-Mensah
DK Mereku


In 2003, Ghana for the first time participated in TIMSS in order to find out how the performance of her eighth graders (JSS2) in science and mathematics compared with those of other countries. This paper presents an overview of the performance of the JSS2 students in the TIMSS-2003 in mathematics, with particular reference to the released items. The analysis of the Ghanaian students' performance on the released items indicated that Measurement, Geometry and Algebra were the candidates' weak content areas. The mean percentage of Ghanaian students making correct responses to the released items in Algebra, Measurement and Geometry were 13.6, 17.3 and 13.4 percent, respectively. For Number and Data, the mean percentage making correct responses to the released items were 22.6 percent and 27 percent. The Ghanaian students found the constructed response items more difficult than the multiple-choice items. The mean percentage of students who were able to provide the correct responses to the multiplechoice items was 21.6 percent while that observed for the constructed response items was 12.1 percent. The paper also presents the results of analyses of Ghanaian mathematics curriculum (textbooks and what teachers taught); and also the BECE-2004 and TIMSS-2003 test items. It was observed that the Ghanaian curriculum places a great deal of emphasis on number and in addition, most (77%) of the items in the BECE elicited responses in the lowest cognitive domain, i.e. ‘knowledge of facts and procedures'. The BECE included only few (12.1%) items that required the students to solve routine problems. None of the BECE items can be classified as one that required some higher level reasoning from the students. The TIMSS on the other hand devoted 36 and 21.6 percent of its items to solving routine problems and reasoning, respectively. It can be argued in this light that the Ghanaian mathematics curriculum does not meet requirements that are currently valued globally in school mathematics. The poor performance is therefore largely a reflection of the nature of school Mathematics curriculum and assessment system that students have experienced in this country in the last three decades. No wonder only 42 percent of Ghanaian JSS mathematics teachers used the mathematics textbooks as the main basis for mathematics lessons. The writers believe that not until Ghana abandons the “new maths” schemes which had remained in the nation's schools since 1975 and adopts textbook schemes that offer what is currently valued globally in school mathematics, Ghanaian students' performance in the subject will continue to be abysmally low.

Mathematics Connection Vol. 5 2005: 1-13

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