School performance: The role of early stage learning environments

This project seeks to understand some of the constraints to basic education performance in Ghana by focusing on the influence of classroom environments on pupil learning outcomes. Its objectives are to assess the quality of the learning environment in kindergarten and first grade primary classrooms and to determine the extent to which the environment correlates with pupil performance.

The design of the study will involve a mixed method approach to collect primary qualitative and quantitative data on classroom environment, teacher and school characteristics, and student performance. The survey will collect information on the physical environment through direct observation of classroom and on the intellectual environment through observation of teacher-pupil interactions and a detailed teacher questionnaire. Pupils will have a brief interview followed by tests of literacy, numeracy, and reasoning. The study plans to collect data from 50 randomly selected public schools from four districts in the Greater Accra, Eastern, and Central regions to provide a sample of urban, peri-urban, and rural schools.

Research on school quality in Ghana tends to focus on the more tangible infrastructural measures such as teacher training, pupil-teacher ratio, and seating places. These factors are undeniably important and continue to be significant predictors of student performance. However, it is necessary to study the other dimensions of school quality to understand the variation in student performance that the conventional measures of school quality cannot explain. Studies of learning environments are better suited to understand pedagogical issues such as teaching style, student engagement, and quality of instruction time. Over the past two decades, many industrialised countries have invested substantially in research related to classroom learning environments because of the positive association between the quality of the environment and student learning and achievement.

This study seeks to extend the learning environments research to the Ghanaian context by answering the following research questions:

  1. How conducive are classroom environments for learning?
  2. Which teacher characteristics create a stimulating learning environment for pupils?
  3. Can learning environments explain school variations in student performance?

The learning environment comprises two aspects – physical and intellectual. For the purpose of this study, the physical environment will be the layout, lighting, crowding, noise, smell, and presence of visual aids for learning. The intellectual environment will focus on the ability of the teacher(s) to provide a cognitively stimulating environment for students. We attempt to quantify this nebulous concept in three ways: teacher preparation, classroom communication, and teacher sensitivity to student needs. The intellectual environment also references access to books and educational toys.

This project responds to concerns about the quality of Ghana’s basic education system due to consistently poor performance in the Basic Education Certificate Examination. As such, there will be an inception forum at the start and a dissemination workshop at the end of the project to engage with stakeholders. The project will also distribute policy briefs to the Ministry of Education, the Ghana Education Service, and the National Inspectorate Board.