oa Malawi Journal of Development Education - The effects of cognitive development, age and gender on the performance of secondary school pupils in science and other subjects

Volume 1, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1729-0783



As in other African countries, pupils in Malawi perform more poorly in science subjects than in other subjects on national examinations. Factors such as the quality of teachers, pupils' prior knowledge, cognitive ability and learning strategies, school environment, home environment and government policies may affect the performance of pupils in science and other subjects. Shayer and Adey (1981), using results from a national survey in England based on Piaget's cognitive development theory, have suggested that much of the science taught in secondary school requires formal operational thinking, yet only a minority of pupils have this ability. This study explored the effects of cognitive ability, age and gender on the performance in science of secondary school pupils in Malawi. The pupils' cognitive ability was assessed using science reasoning tasks and this correlated with their age, gender and performance in four subjects on the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations. The results showed that girls were on average one year younger than boys and had lower cognitive ability than boys in the same class. There was a negative correlation between age and cognitive ability in Form 3 boys and girls, as there was between age and performance on MSCE, which was higher for boys than girls. There was a larger positive correlation between cognitive ability and performance on MSCE for boys than for girls. Possible explanations for poorer performance of older boys and girls are discussed.

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