Caribbean Teaching Scholar Vol. 1, No. 2, November 2011, 79–92
EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH ASSOCIATION
An analysis of some factors affecting student academic performance in an introductory biochemistry course at the University of the West Indies Victor Mlambo Department of Food Production, Faculty of Science and Agriculture, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago High failure rates at tertiary institutions result in unacceptable levels of attrition, reduced graduate throughput and increased cost of training a nation’s labour force. It is imperative that diagnostic studies are carried out to identify the major factors that are associated with suboptimal academic performance with a view of instituting corrective measures. This study was, therefore, designed to identify and analyse some determinants of academic performance (as measured by coursework exam grades) in an introductory biochemistry (AGRI 1013) course plagued by chronic high failure rates. The course is offered to first year undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science and Agriculture at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus. A survey instrument was administered to a random sample of 66 registered students of AGRI 1013 (representing a 40% sampling fraction) to generate data on demographics (gender and age), learning preference, and entry qualifications. The effect of learning preference, age, gender, and entry qualifications on academic performance (measured as the final coursework mark obtained) was determined. Relationships/associations between gender and learning styles, gender and entry qualifications, age and learning preferences, and age and entry qualifications were analyzed using Pearson’s chi-square test. There were significant (P < 0.05) associations between entry qualifications and both gender and age. However, since entry qualifications did not significantly (P > 0.05) affect academic performance, this association should be of limited concern. None of the investigated factors significantly affected academic performance. This observation could be a consequence of an impressive performance in the coursework exams by a large proportion of students resulting in less variation in the recorded grades. Learning preferences were found to be independent of both the age and gender of students. It was concluded that more determinants of academic performance need to be investigated and that students who are admitted based on a diploma in agriculture may need a remedial course given that their coursework grades, though statistically insignificant were consistently lower than that of the other students. Keywords: high failure rates, introductory biochemistry, learning preferences, mature students, gender, entry qualifications.
Introduction The academic performance of students at the University of the West Indies (UWI) has recently come under the spotlight for a number of reasons. According to a report from UWI’s Office of Planning and Development (2011), 10% of all undergraduate courses offered at UWI, St. Augustine have high failure rates. The
purpose of this report was to initiate a discussion on the possible causal factors and ways of addressing them so that academic performance can be improved. High failure rates are costly to all stakeholders since the throughput of the University is reduced. This increases the cost of training graduates as well as reducing admission opportunities for high school students seeking a University education. Low pass rates impose a huge cost to the Caribbean community 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. In order to ensure that a larger proportion of the Caribbean’s labour force is highly trained, UWI must put in place measures that ensure high completion rates. Much of the attrition that reduces completion rates can be attributed to low...
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