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Original research article, perceived causes of students’ poor performance in mathematics: a case study at ba and tavua secondary schools.

- 1 Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts, Suva, Fiji
- 2 School of Information Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Physics, The University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji

Poor achievement in mathematics is an issue of great concern for many countries across the globe. Fiji is one of the countries in the South Pacific experiencing the same trends, pressures, and concerns. This study aims to seek the views of stakeholders (students, teachers, heads of departments, and school heads) with regards to the causes of poor achievement in mathematics at the senior grades of secondary schools in the districts of Ba and Tavua, Fiji. A descriptive design using both quantitative and qualitative approaches were utilized whereby data were collected from 201 upper secondary school respondents comprising 171 students, 16 mathematics teachers, 7 department heads, and 7 school heads from seven randomly selected schools in the districts of Ba and Tavua. The study found that the students had a negative attitude toward mathematics. It was also found that an ineffective mathematics curriculum in secondary schools was the reason behind poor performance in the subject. Moreover, many of the primary school teachers lacked potential and competence to teach mathematics at primary school levels, and this largely contributed toward the lack of interest amongst students, hence translating into poor achievement at both upper and lower secondary levels. On the other hand, however, it was gathered that secondary school teachers were rather positive, good quality, performing, and fully qualified as far as the teaching of mathematics and delivery of the subject matter was concerned. Review and amendments to the year 12 and 13 mathematics curriculum, use of technologies to teach mathematics, improving the quality of primary school mathematics teachers, reducing the emphasis on exams, introducing internal assessments, projects, and field work in the mathematics curriculum were a few of the significant recommendations made from this study.

## Introduction

Globally, mathematics is regarded as one of the most important subjects in the school curriculum [ 1 ]. It is the foundation of scientific and technological knowledge that contributes significantly toward the socioeconomic development of a nation [ 1 – 6 ].

Mathematics plays a vital role in everyday life of so many people [ 7 , 8 ]. According to [ 2 ], mathematics is one subject that affects all aspects of human life at different levels. A study by [ 9 ] claimed that both education and human life do not effectively function without the knowledge of mathematics. In formal education, mathematics forms the basis of many of the sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, and IT disciplines as well as the nonscience disciplines such as accounting, economics, geography, and even physical education, music, and art [ 1 , 4 , 6 , 7 , 10 – 15 ]. It is one of the most important subjects in the school curriculum, which acts as a bridge for all knowledge [ 3 ]. Studies by [ 16 , 17 ] stressed that mathematics is the bedrock and a tool for the scientific, technological, and economic advancement of any country. It is a common belief of educationists that no one can make progress in any field without having the basic knowledge of mathematics [ 18 ]. According to [ 1 , 8 ], mathematics is the foundation of science and technology without which a nation will not prosper and achieve economic independence. That is why mathematics is one of the leading core subjects in the secondary schools’ curriculum.

Personnels require mathematical skills in various disciplines, workplace, and sectors. Even things like the hydrogen bomb, missiles, space crafts, and satellites would not have been possible without the knowledge of mathematics [ 19 ]. Mathematics has its application in a wide range of informal settings, including vegetable selling, sewing, fishing, construction work, shopping, purchasing, carpet laying, video games, cabs and buses, farming, entertainment, sports, and everyday family activities [ 20 , 21 ]. Ultimately, the survival of any human being in this competitive world is almost impossible without the knowledge and skill in mathematics.

Despite the highly decorated and recognized importance of mathematics and the fact that it is the prerequisite for most of the subjects, poor achievement and lack of interest in mathematics (and STEM) among students remains as an issue of concern in schools, colleges, and universities in developed and developing countries alike [ 22 – 25 ]. Mathematics continues to be one of the most challenging subjects in schools as perceived by students [ 7 , 26 – 28 ]. There is a general impression that its very nature complicates mathematics. Because of this impression, majority of students have a phobia for this subject [ 9 , 29 – 31 ]. Besides, mathematics students of the 21st century enter mathematics classrooms with a serious lack of fluency and reliability in numerical and algebraic manipulation and simplification, problem-solving, and negative attitude [ 28 , 32 , 33 ].

It is quite evident that students with good mathematical skills can think analytically and have better reasoning abilities. That is why mathematics is used as an essential entry requirement for most of the courses at the higher education institutes, especially for courses relating to science, technology, and engineering disciplines [ 22 ]. Reference [ 34 ] claimed that the number of students enrolling in higher level mathematics courses had declined significantly. Due to this, there was an increase in mathematically underprepared students enrolling in undergraduate courses leading to curtailed enrollments and low pass rates in higher education (HE) institutes. Fiji with three major higher education institutions, namely, The University of the South Pacific, The Fiji National University, and The University of Fiji face the same challenge of decline in the quantity and quality of applicants enrolling for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses due to low pass rates in mathematics at years 12 and 13 national examinations [ 22 , 25 , 28 , 35 ]. Many Fijian students fail to meet the basic entry requirements for HE institutions in STEM courses that require either a pass or a higher cutoff mark in mathematics [ 36 ]. The domino effect of this over the years has forced HE institutes to remove the high cutoff marks for specific disciplines in order to avoid losing on students [ 37 ].

The Fijian government and its academic stakeholders have long been investing profoundly in the education sector. The government over the past few years has been providing initiatives such as transport assistance (bus fare and boat fare subsidies), free textbooks, and grants to uplift the standard of education in Fiji [ 11 , 38 ]. Despite such massive investments in education and the important role that mathematics plays in society, there has been a continuous trend of poor achievement in mathematics, especially at the years 12 and 13 grades of secondary schools in Fiji. The national examination results of FY12CE and FY13CE is demonstrated in Table 1 .

TABLE 1 . Performance in years 12 and 13 mathematics national examinations.

Studies by [ 16 , 39 , 40 ] claimed that the continual trend of poor achievement in mathematics is a function of cross-factors related to students, teachers, and schools. It is evident from several studies that student, teacher, and curriculum factors seem to have a significant effect on mathematics achievement [ 1 , 16 , 33 , 41 , 42 ].

While there are anecdotal pieces of evidence on why we are facing low achievement, there has been a dearth of formal and high-quality research in this area. The present study intends to carry out a thorough investigation on the student, teacher, and curriculum factors by cross-examining the views and perceptions of students, teachers, heads of the mathematics department, and the school heads. The article analyses and discusses the views of the respondents on the factors contributing to students’ poor achievement in mathematics, especially at the senior grades of selected secondary schools in the west of Fiji Islands. The findings of this research would provide an empirical insight to the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU), Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts (MEHA), Higher Education Institutes (HE), and other relevant academic stakeholders to bring about effective reviews and reforms in the education system in order to improve the achievement of students in mathematics at the senior secondary grades. It is anticipated that the recommendations of this study would bring about a positive mental attitude and perception of students toward mathematics. Moreover, the way mathematics is taught in both primary and secondary schools has to be changed.

## Secondary School Mathematics Reforms in Fiji

The secondary school mathematics in Fiji has not seen any significant structural changes in the past 3 decades. Whereas almost all areas of the curriculum have changed to fit better with the context of Fiji, it is still an academic system that is driven by examinations [ 43 ]. The examination system in mathematics at the secondary level, which currently has external examinations at years 10, 12, and 13, is an entirely written examination in mathematics with no form of internal assessments.

However, for several years, the Overseas School Certificate and the General School Certificate Examinations from the United Kingdom were adopted in the Fijian education system. Then in the 1960s, came the switch to the New Zealand syllabi and examinations—the School Certificate and the University Entrance Examinations. The former was dropped and the latter replaced by local examinations in 1989 [ 44 ].

There were no significant changes in the mathematics curriculum for the next 2 decades until internal assessments came into effect. In 2011, Fiji Junior Certificate Examination was abolished, and internal assessment was implemented in all the secondary schools in Fiji [ 45 ]. It was anticipated that the reform in the curriculum would allow teachers to adopt a student-centered approach, shifting the focus of instruction from the teacher to the student. The shift from the teacher-centered approach would have allowed a student to be free from the constant pressure and trauma of external examinations. Form six (year 12) and form seven (year 13) examinations remained since they play an important function in the selection of students for further education and employment opportunities.

However, a report presented to the cabinet by the Education Minister in 2015 stated that the raw results for the external examinations showed very low mean marks and percentage pass rates in years 12 and 13 examinations which portrayed a failure in the education system. Mathematics recorded a percentage pass of 7.5%, one of the lowest performing subjects’ among all the other subjects in Fiji Year 13 external examination in 2014 [ 35 ]. The predicament was seen to be due to the removal of external exams up to year 11, and thus, poorly prepared students passed on from one year to the other without their teachers and parents knowing the true status of the students’ level of attainment that year. Removal of scaling was further proposed and passed by the cabinet to reflect a student’s true ability as results in mathematics in the past showed exaggerated percentages and averages that did not correctly portray the true stock of knowledge that the student had acquired [ 46 ].

In 2015, the honorable minister for education, Dr. Mahendra Reddy, further stressed that the Fijian curriculum was below the standard of some of the countries, whose graduates were more competitive at an equivalent level [ 47 , 48 ]. Dr. Reddy claimed that the graduates from HE institutes were fraught with lack of soft skills, lack of competency in English proficiencies, unwilling to think outside the box, and had poor research skills [ 47 ].

In the year 2018, the repercussions of poor achievement in mathematics were felt when the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts identified an immediate shortage of mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, and industrial arts teachers anticipating the shortage to continue in the foreseeable future [ 49 ]. The shortage of teachers in STEM disciplines is attributed to poor achievement in mathematics at senior secondary grades since very few students are able to qualify for such courses. Most of these elite students who qualify and graduate prefer joining the private sector rather than teaching, contemplating better pay scale, and faster promotion chances, the trend shared by other countries in the South Pacific region [ 22 ]. To add on, MEHA has gone to the extent of hiring retired industrial arts teachers who wish to rejoin the service as assistant teachers. In few cases, teachers of nonengineering discipline are even appointed by the school administrators to take up the role of teaching engineering subjects at secondary schools due to the shortage of industrial arts teachers in the country. Also, some graduates who do make it to the teaching programs for STEM courses prefer to migrate to neighboring countries after few years of service, for attractive and better salary packages in comparison of what is paid to teachers locally.

Removal of scaling in national exams; preparation of localized and prescribed textbooks; reintroduction of national exams in year 10; introducing standard exams for years 9, 10, and 11; upgrading the quality; and providing detailed solutions of past year national exam papers were few of the reforms that took place over the past 4 years. Still, the result in mathematics at years 12 and 13 grades, the number of students enrolling at universities for STEM programs, and the number of graduates in mathematics, science, and technology continued to decline significantly.

## Literature Review

The continuing trend of poor achievement in mathematics in Fiji secondary schools raises concerns to the Fijian government and the stakeholders on whether or not the Fijian education system can supply graduates who possess the essential skills to enable them to cope with the ever-evolving technological society. Several studies have attributed students’ low achievement in mathematics to student, teacher, and curriculum factors. For this study, students’ attitude and perception toward mathematics, teachers’ attitude, and perception toward mathematics, teaching methodologies of mathematics teachers, quality and performance of mathematics teachers, and the effectiveness and relevance of mathematics curriculum were the five factors identified to be influencing students’ achievement in mathematics at the senior grades of secondary schools in Fiji. The following review summarizes from the literature the above five factors that contributed to the low achievement of students in mathematics.

## Attitude and Perception of Students Toward Mathematics

First, attitude determines the effort a student is likely to put in his or her learning of a subject. It refers to someone’s basic liking or disliking of a subject [ 13 , 50 ]. Several studies have been carried out in many countries to find the factors that influence the students’ performance in mathematics. Among these factors, student attitude and perception is one significant factor that has been consistently studied [ 13 , 51 – 55 ]. Studies such as [ 2 , 3 , 43 , 55 ] attributed challenges to teaching mathematics to the negative attitudes and perception of students as they perceive mathematics as a difficult subject to pass. A recent study by [ 1 ] found out that 92.50% of students hated mathematics, whereas 86.25% had unjust fear toward mathematics. The prolonged fear and anxiety of students in mathematics ultimately generates a negative attitude of students that becomes relatively permanent in future [ 56 ].

On the contrary, a study by [ 2 ] on the three colleges of Ghana found that students had a positive attitude toward mathematics with a willingness to learn. However, they are uncomfortable due to the conditions around them. These conditions do not necessarily mean that a student is always liable for his or her poor achievement. However, to date, while there have been local studies assessing school teachers’ preparedness for mathematics [ 57 ] and secondary students’ attitude in science [ 25 ] and ICT [ 58 , 59 ], there has been no research carried out locally to assess students’ attitude and perception toward mathematics. This requires views from students, teachers, heads of departments, and school heads to gain deeper insights into students’ lack of interest and low achievement in mathematics at the senior grades of secondary schools in Fiji.

## Attitude and Perception of Teachers Teaching Mathematics

Second, the question that arises here is can the students be blamed for the poor attitude toward mathematics? According to [ 60 ], teachers’ negative beliefs about mathematics have a strong influence on students’ attitude and achievement in mathematics. Studies such as [ 6 , 53 , 54 , 61 , 62 ] have stressed on teachers’ attitude in mathematics being the significant determinant of negative attitude among students. The way students perceive teachers’ characteristics will affect their attitude toward mathematics [ 5 , 57 ]. Teachers’ personal and professional characteristics play a significant role in students’ liking or disliking of mathematics. Studies by [ 53 , 62 ] show that boring teachers, teachers’ lack of commitment, teachers’ personality, students’ failure to understand the topic, and the poor performance of students in exams relate to teachers’ negative attitude. While there is a dearth of relevant studies in Fiji, an international study by [ 6 ] has found out that the majority of the mathematics teachers in secondary schools display a positive attitude toward teaching mathematics. However, there are no recorded observations of this issue in Fiji. Therefore, an in-depth and comprehensive formal research needs to be conducted to find the general trend of local teachers’ attitude toward teaching mathematics and if this attitude affects their students’ attitude toward performance in mathematics.

## Teaching Methods Used by Mathematics Teachers

Third, several studies have attributed poor academic achievement of students to the deficiency in teaching method(s) used by mathematics teachers [ 1 – 3 , 63 – 65 ]. According to [ 65 ], teachers employ wrong teaching methods of learning, which results in general hatred for the subject by the students. The author further concluded that if mathematics is to be appreciated by students, teachers must use new pedagogies and technologies that can stimulate students to gain interest in mathematics classes. A recent study by [ 1 ] found that 85.63% of students claimed that poor teaching methods of some mathematics teachers scare students from the subject. According to [ 66 , 67 ], in the current era of education, students are encouraged to discover and build their knowledge through active participation. Teachers should incorporate methods that involve active participation of students, considering students’ interest. A local study by [ 68 ] justified that due to the exam-oriented system, teachers are too much concerned with finishing the syllabus and drilling the students with the exam questions and answers. He further stressed that teachers are reluctant and sometimes hesitant to use other approaches to the teaching and learning of mathematics as it would take up too much time and are deemed irrelevant to passing exams.

## Quality, Performance, and Qualification of Mathematics Teachers

Moreover, great teachers are quality and better performing teachers who tend to inspire people around regardless of any challenges or barriers. Quality, performance, and qualification of mathematics teachers are other important factors that significantly influence the attitude and achievement of mathematics students. It is evident through research that the achievement of students is strongly linked to high-quality and qualified teachers [ 68 ]. A recent study by [ 1 ] revealed that the majority of the students indicated that their teachers did not have enough potential to teach mathematics. Most of the mathematics teachers do not make the teaching of mathematics practical and exciting due to inadequate training at HE institutions or lack of training for preservice teachers on the 21st-century pedagogies in mathematics, which ultimately leads to negative attitude and poor achievement in mathematics among students. It is, therefore, important that both preservice and in-service training are essential for the quality professional development of the teacher [ 2 ]. Studies by [ 28 , 69 ] have emphasized that technology is essential in teaching and learning mathematics. Some secondary schools in Fiji, such as Nadi Sangam Kuppuswamy Memorial College, Swami Viveka Nanda College, Tilak High School, and Vunimono High School, have already blended ICT entirely in years 12 and 13 of the school curriculum. A recent local study by [ 70 ] emphasized that ICT in this modern era allows various innovative and creating assessments to be incorporated in lessons, which were not possible using traditional assessment methods. He further added that the workload of teachers is significantly reduced by the use of ICT, allowing teachers to utilize more time to focus on the key role, that is, to enhance learning among students. Many primary and secondary schools have plans underway to integrate ICT in every classroom [ 10 , 13 , 72 ]; however, investing in such initiatives still proves to be an expensive affair for many schools in Fiji. Another local study conducted by [ 10 ] shows that together with the implementation of ICT in the teaching and learning curriculum, students need to have relevant skills such as computer competencies and computer self-efficacies in order to successfully and effectively utilize these tools for their learning processes. Additionally, students also need to have relevant digital literacy skills in order to survive and thrive in this digital world [ 71 , 72 ]; hence, the teachers as mentors of the students need to have relevant digital literacy skills themselves.

Also, teachers play a very crucial role in integrating ICT in the school curriculum, and without proper training, knowledge, and competency of teachers, ICT may fail to deliver its expected outcome in education. Use of ICT, mobiles, laptops, podcasts, videos, Internets, and other assistive technologies improve the way mathematics is taught and enhance students’ understanding of the basic concepts more rapidly and effectively. However, a study by [ 73 ] found that mathematics teachers are not fully utilizing these facilities in their classroom teaching. According to [ 9 ], most of the mathematics teachers do not even make the teaching of mathematics practical and exciting. They are not competent enough to teach mathematics dynamically, which leads to negative attitude among pupils implying improper guidance by the teachers as well. A study by [ 74 ] concluded that the lack of competent mathematics teachers leads to the failure of students in mathematics in Nigerian secondary schools. Teacher’s language and background knowledge of the content contributes significantly toward academic achievements [ 75 ]. A study by [ 72 , 76 ] shows that linguistic and conceptual comprehension is a matter of concern. Mathematics teachers need to give a clear explanation to students about mathematical concepts where both language and a basic understanding of the concept is required to ensure each student understands rather than left confused. A study by [ 77 ] proved that teachers’ clarity, communication skills, content knowledge, and assessment procedures significantly impact students’ achievement in mathematics. To add on, studies such as [ 1 , 74 , 78 , 79 ] have attributed students’ low achievement in mathematics to lack of qualified mathematics teachers teaching at secondary schools. To address such issues in the South Pacific, a new cohort-taught pedagogical model known as the Science Teachers Accelerated Program (STAP) was introduced by The University of the South Pacific (USP) for those in-service science teachers outside the vicinity of USP campuses have to upskill and upgrade their qualifications through cohort teaching [ 22 ]. The program has mixed delivery modes and leverages heavily on ICT tools and technologies, including tablets and virtual classrooms [ 23 ], which have proven to be statistically significantly effective and productive in terms of quality and qualification of science teachers teaching at secondary schools in the South Pacific.

## Effectiveness and Relevance of Mathematics Curriculum

Finally, a study by [ 80 ] described the curriculum in developing countries as too compact and exam-oriented. For teachers and stakeholders, the exam results of the schools are of great concern to them. Thus, due to the exam-oriented system, teachers are too much concerned with finishing the syllabus and drilling students with the exam questions and answers [ 68 ]. In the same view, [ 81 ] claimed that curriculum and assessment in Fijian schools do not serve the actual purpose effectively and efficiently. Examinations are not able to assess the attitude of students, leaving an important facet of life underdeveloped and probably the reason for not attaining quality. He further claimed that the gap in the curriculum content and the forms of assessment to achieve the outcomes has labeled the Fijian education system hapless. The Education Commission Report 2000 even reflected that the exam-oriented curriculum does not allow for outcome-based teaching and learning to progress. In many developing countries, several studies and researches have been carried out on curriculum and examinations influencing students’ interest and achievements in mathematics [ 7 , 81 – 84 ]. Local studies by [ 85 , 86 ] recommended that the Ministry of Education should review the curriculum to make it relevant and flexible to the diverse needs of different regions and background of the students. Reference [ 5 ] emphasized that the curriculum that currently exists focuses primarily on impoverished ideas about student learning or are based on no model of learning at all. It is quite evident that the mathematics content and assessments at years 11, 12, and 13 are dominated by arithmetic and is broad, non-contextualized, and irrelevant to real life when compared to years 9 and 10.

The majority of the local research works from the literature were conducted in primary schools, which focused on limited factors affecting performance in mathematics. At the same time, there are several factors responsible for students’ poor achievement in mathematics. Therefore, the study intends to contribute to the existing literature investigating the above five factors contributing to poor achievement in mathematics at the senior grades of secondary schools in the Western Division of Viti Levu, Fiji.

## Research Objectives

The aim of this study was to examine and assess the factors that contribute to students’ poor achievement in mathematics at the senior grade (years 12 and 13) of secondary schools.

The study sought to:

a) assess students’ attitude and perception toward mathematics at senior grades of Tavua and Ba secondary schools

b) assess student perception on teachers’ attitude toward teaching mathematics at Tavua and Ba secondary schools

c) evaluate the qualification of mathematics teachers of Tavua and Ba secondary schools

d) identify teaching methods used by mathematics teachers of Tavua and Ba secondary schools

e) student and teacher perception on the effectiveness of the current mathematics curriculum at the senior secondary grades.

## Research Questions

Specifically, this study aims to answer the following research questions:

a) What is the students’ attitude and perception toward mathematics at senior secondary grades?

b) What is the student perception on teachers’ attitude toward teaching mathematics at senior secondary grades?

c) What are the teaching methods used by mathematics teachers at senior secondary grades?

d) What are the qualifications of mathematics teachers in Tavua and Ba schools?

e) What is the student and teacher perception on the current mathematics curriculum at the senior secondary grades effective?

## Methodology

This study is a descriptive study in which a cross-sectional survey research design was adopted. The data for the research were collected by the use of questionnaires, interviews, and student focus group discussion. The target population was 201 respondents which comprised 171 students, 16 mathematics teachers, 7 department heads, and 7 school heads from seven randomly selected secondary schools in the districts of Tavua and Ba. Random Sampling technique was used to select the seven secondary schools from a population of 14 secondary schools within the districts of Ba and Tavua. The sample, therefore, represented 50% of the population of Ba and Tavua secondary schools. The mathematics teachers, heads of departments, and the school heads were a part of the sample, who answered the questionnaires and also took part in the individual interviews as per the schedule. The stratified random sampling technique was then used for the selection of students from years 12 and 13 by obtaining a list containing recent overall academic results of each student in order to group them with varied abilities. This was done to ensure that the views of all the students with different abilities are equally represented. Furthermore, the purposive sampling method was used to select the students for the focus group discussion. Students within the Ba community were identified by the principal researcher, who were very inquisitive about the study’s objective and were outspoken to give personal and true opinions for the study. All the respondents were assured of confidentiality and their identity anonymity to protect the privacy of each respondent and to get the required information, which are the true opinions of each respondent. The appointments with the school heads were made and the consent of each respondent was also taken prior to the field research.

## Research Tool Development and Pilot Study

There were four sets of questionnaires designed for each group of respondents (students, teachers, heads of departments, and school heads). The questionnaires were almost the same except for the content being rephrased to suit the opinion of the different groups of respondents. The questionnaire utilized the Likert scale to collect quantitative data for the research along with a section for suggestions and recommendations to curb the issue of poor achievement in mathematics. Three sets of interview questions were then designed. This was only for the mathematics teachers, heads of departments, and school heads. The students were not considered to be interviewed due to time constraints and a busy schedule for students after the reopening of schools post–COVID-19 lockdown in the country. Students were rather selected for the focus group discussion that was held at one of the libraries in the Ba town. The interviews and the focus group discussion only collected the qualitative data for the research. Pilot testing of these tools was also done in the two secondary schools in the district of Ba and Lautoka, which were not part of the sample. This was done to establish the clarity, meaning, and comprehensibility of each item in the tools. After the pilot study, the research tools along with the responses were discussed among the co-researchers for further review and amendment for its reliability and validity. A Cronbach alpha test using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) was carried out. The alpha value of 0.86 indicated that the questionnaire was valid and reliable for the study.

## Demographic Characteristics of the Respondents

From the target population of 201 respondents, 181 respondents comprising of 151 years 12 and 13 students, 16 mathematics teachers, 7 heads of mathematics department, and 7 school heads answered the questionnaire. The same 16 mathematics teachers, 7 heads of the mathematics department, and 6 school heads from the 181 respondents group were the respondents who were also interviewed. The remaining 20 respondents from the target population were the years 12 and 13 students from the four secondary schools in the Ba district. They volunteered to be part of the student focus group discussion. From the 13 secondary schools in the districts of Tavua and Ba, 7 schools were randomly chosen to be the sample of this study. Data on Table 2 indicate the gender distribution of the participants in the study.

TABLE 2 . Gender of respondents.

## Results and Discussion

a) Research question 1: What is the attitude and perception of students toward mathematics at senior secondary grades?

Students, teachers, heads of the mathematics department, and the school heads selected for the study were asked to give opinions on years 12 and 13 students’ attitude and perception toward mathematics. Each of the students selected expressed views on their own attitude and perception toward mathematics while the teachers, heads of mathematics department, and the school heads expressed their opinion on students’ attitude and perception toward the subject. The responses obtained are presented in Table 3 and Table 4 , as shown below.

TABLE 3 . Students’ attitude and perception toward mathematics—student perception.

TABLE 4 . Students’ attitude and perception toward mathematics—educators perception.

Table 3 shows that majority of the students perceived mathematics as a difficult subject. Students’ responses for each item showed that more than 50% of the students had a fear of mathematics as a subject and preferred learning other subjects, with the majority not wishing to continue with mathematics at the university level.

Table 4 shows responses from the 30 educators. More than 50% of the educators also perceived that students found mathematics a difficult subject and mostly failed because they had mathematics phobia. Looking at the educators’ responses, more than 50% believed that students lacked mathematics basics and hardly participated in any classroom activity. The responses from both the students and teachers were similar and derived from the “SA” and “A” columns. The following were a few of the responses from the interviews and student focus group discussions on how students perceive mathematics.

“I enjoyed and liked mathematics in my first three years of primary school only. Now I hate this subject. I do not see any reason why should we study mathematics? Where is it used in real life?” Student FG 13.

“I was really doing well in mathematics till year 4. Then I was taught by a teacher who always confused me. The explanations were not clear and understandable. The same teacher taught me in year 5 and from then I have lost interest in the subject.” Student FG 2.

“Students have a preconceived idea that mathematics is difficult. Till we change their attitude, we will never be able to achieve a better result in mathematics. Mathematics has to be made compulsory along with English in order to make them realise that they have to study and pass the subject if they want to achieve something in life”. Principal 2.

“Mathematics is a scoring subject. My teacher teaches us so well. She always motivates us to learn, but I do not know the basics. When now I am eager to study, I still find mathematics going over my head. I can answer few simple questions but when it comes to complex exercises, I just lose hope again.” Student FG 19.

“Students have a negative attitude and perception from primary school. Due to the ministry’s policy on compulsory education till year 12, they are just getting promoted. A child not knowing the previous year work is rarely able to grasp the concepts in the current year. It becomes very difficult for teachers in a classroom of over 30 students to go over basics and then teach them the concept.” Teacher 5.

“Mathematics is just numbers. It is so boring. Why are there no projects in mathematics like other technical subjects? I love to do technical drawing and computer studies as it has projects. In technical drawing we do practicals and projects which makes me enjoy the subject.” Student FG 12.

“My mathematics teachers work really hard. Some even take extra classes such as afternoon classes, Saturday classes and evening classes. Teachers go to the extent of going to students home and teach. Despite these efforts, some students do not bother. They do not even show interest and take advantage of extra efforts by our department teachers. Fact is that it is not their fault totally. They do not have a good foundation. By the time they reach year 12 and 13, mathematics is perceived to be a foreign language to them. They know that no matter how hard they try, nothing would change as they would still fail.”

b) Research question 2: What is the teachers’ attitude toward teaching mathematics at senior secondary grades?

The students were asked to give opinions on teachers’ attitude toward teaching mathematics at senior secondary grades.

Table 5 shows the student perception of the teachers' attitude in Tavua and Ba secondary schools. From the results, close to 85% of the students perceived that the teachers had a positive attitude toward teaching mathematics and always motivated them to learn. This is derived from the percentage of responses given under the “SA” and “A” columns. Similarly, teachers had been positively conditioning students at the senior grades; however, students’ prolonged negative mindset about mathematics from primary school failed to gain positive predilection for the subject. The teachers provided the students with summary notes for easier understanding and provided recaps before beginning new lessons. About 50% of the students indicated that their teachers' incorporated games, fun, and technology while teaching mathematics. Overall, the teachers’ attitude was positive in the delivery of mathematics lessons to the students.

c) Research question 3: What are the teaching methods used by mathematics teachers at senior secondary grades?

TABLE 5 . Student perception of teachers’ attitude toward teaching mathematics.

For this question, Table 6 was used as a guideline for the type of teaching methods used by the educators. In total, 23 educators answered this question and the results are presented below.

TABLE 6 . Teaching methods.

Data obtained from analyses show that 46.4% of the mathematics teachers used interactive lecture method, 24.3% use learner-centered method, 16.6% used teacher-centered method and 12.7% use collaborative learning method in their mathematics lessons. There were mixed reactions to the type of methods employed by the mathematics teachers of Tavua and Ba secondary schools. From the results it was evident that few of the teachers still preferred teacher-centered method (lecture method) of teaching their mathematics lessons. Many researchers have argued that the lecture method is a passive, ineffective, and antiquated teaching method used by teachers that would soon become obsolete [ 87 ]. However, few teachers find lecture method to be useful in covering a substantial amount of content, especially with large class sizes [88].

d) Research question 3: What are the qualifications attained by the mathematics teachers?

The survey also captured the mathematics and teacher training qualifications. The results are shown in Figures 1 and 2 .

FIGURE 1 . Highest level of mathematics teachers’ qualification.

FIGURE 2 . Teacher training qualification of mathematics teachers.

Figure 1 shows that majority of the teachers at secondary schools have degree qualifications with 24% having post graduate qualifications. The teachers with Diploma are upgrading their qualifications to degree. Figure 2 shows the teacher training qualifications and 100% of the teachers’ have teacher training qualification ranging from secondary teacher training certificate to post graduate diploma in education.

e) Research 5: Is the mathematics curriculum in senior secondary grades effective and relevant?

A 14-item Likert scale was developed to assist in detecting the nature and effectiveness of the mathematics curriculum at years 12 and 13 grades as opined by the respondents of Tavua and Ba secondary schools. The responses obtained are presented in Table 7 , as shown below.

TABLE 7 . Effectiveness and relevance of mathematics curriculum.

Out of 181 respondents, 145 (79.6%) have indicated that mathematics textbooks are very much dominated by arithmetic. It mostly deals with numbers, calculations, and complex computations. Also, 124 (68.5%) respondents agreed that the current mathematics curriculum at the senior secondary grades focuses only on examinations. In comparison, 101 (55.8%) respondents have shown that the mathematics curriculum in the senior secondary grades focuses mainly on the product (performance in exams) instead of the process (learning and understanding). This strongly agrees with the study by [ 43 ] who also identified the exam-oriented curriculum as one of the challenges in the senior grades of secondary schools in Fiji. Furthermore, the data obtained showed that 100 (55.2%) respondents have indicated that the mathematics curriculum at senior secondary grades is broad and lengthy compared to the other subjects. It was quite evident that majority of the teachers, heads of mathematics department, and school heads in the interviews have expressed disappointments regarding the current mathematics curriculum at the senior grades of secondary schools in Fiji.

“Curriculum is broad and lengthy and does not address the needs of students who wish to pursue further studies outside mathematics, science, and technical subjects.” (HOD Interview 5).

“Content of Year 13 has very less relevance to the real life.” (Teacher 13).

“People are not interested in certain topics because they do not find it relevant to real life.” (Student FG 5).

“Years 12 and 13 mathematics curriculum needs to be reviewed and the numbers of strands need to be reduced to incorporate more time for project work/class-based assessments.” (HOD Interview 5).

“Experienced teachers or department heads are the best stakeholders in terms of consultation and amendment of mathematics curriculum. Furthermore, there has to be consistency in external exam papers from year to year” (HOD Interview 5).

“The mathematics curriculum needs to be realigned to suit the Fijian context and the need of students.” (HOD Interview 2).

“Some students totally lose interest in mathematics upon reaching years 12 and 13 and therefore focus on subjects with projects to get a good aggregate. They ignore mathematics as they know that there is no chance of passing mathematics purely through exams.” (HOD Interview 6).

“External exams need not to be abolished but the weighting should be inclusive of projects and class internal assessments.” (HOD Interview 5).

There had been very poor results over the years in year 12 and 13 external exams. This means both the examination and the curriculum do not serve its purpose.” (HOD Interview 7).

• The overall mean response of the students, teachers, heads of the mathematics department, and school heads indicates that the mathematics curriculum at the senior grades of secondary schools is ineffective and irrelevant and therefore needs to be reviewed.

The data below show the rating of respondents’ perception of factors that contribute to poor achievement in mathematics. Out of 181 respondents, only 93 entries were analyzed since the remaining 88 entries were invalid. The responses obtained are analyzed in Figure 3 below.

FIGURE 3 . Factors that contribute to poor achievement in mathematics (A) . Students’ attitude and perception toward mathematics (B) . Teachers’ attitude toward teaching mathematics (C) . Teaching methods used by mathematics teachers (D) . Quality, performance, and qualification of mathematics teachers ( E) . Poorly developed curriculum and examinations.

Figure 3 revealed that students’ attitude and perception toward mathematics (58.1%) and poorly developed curriculum and examinations (34.3%) were the factors perceived to be significantly contributing to students’ poor achievement in mathematics at the senior grades of secondary schools. The respondents perceived that teacher attitude (2.2%); teaching methodologies (2.2%); and teacher quality, performance, and qualification (4.3%) had the least impact on students’ poor achievement in mathematics.

## Limitations and Strengths

There was a dearth of local literature on poor achievement of students in mathematics and as such international literature was mostly referred to as a guide. Furthermore, time constraint was a factor since the principal researcher holds a full-time academic position during the time of this project. Hence, the sample schools chosen were around the vicinity of the principal researchers’ district origin. Despite these limitations, the study utilized an expansive approach to study different dynamics contributing to students’ poor achievement in mathematics from the views of students, teachers, heads of departments, and the school heads. The findings of the study also depict the notion of the problem faced in the teaching and learning of mathematics.

## Conclusion and Recommendations

The study was carried out to examine and assess the factors contributing to the poor achievement of students at the senior grades of Tavua and Ba secondary schools in Western Fiji. Students’ attitude and perception toward mathematics, student perception on teachers’ attitude toward mathematics, teacher methodologies, teacher qualification, and student and teacher perception on the current curriculum in mathematics were the factors studied for this research. The study found that students had a negative attitude and perception toward mathematics. Furthermore, students perceived that mathematics teachers had a positive attitude toward teaching mathematics and are fully qualified to teach mathematics at secondary school levels as far as the teaching of mathematics and delivery of the subject matter was concerned. The method of teaching by the mathematics teachers was also appropriate and was fairly justified; however, limited use of technologies by the mathematics teachers in teaching mathematics was a matter of concern among most of the students. Furthermore, the study revealed the students and educators perceive that the current mathematics curriculum for years 12 and 13 are ineffective. This implied that students’ negative attitude and perception toward mathematics and the ineffective mathematics curriculum are the significant factors perceived to be significantly contributing to poor achievement of students in mathematics at the senior secondary grades. Moreover, many of the primary school teachers lacked potential and competence to teach mathematics at primary school levels, and this largely contributed toward the lack of interest among students, hence translating into poor achievement at both upper and lower secondary levels were found to be the reasons for students’ negative attitude and poor performance at secondary schools. The following recommendations are made based on the findings of the study: The mathematics curriculum at both years 12 and 13 need to be reviewed and amended in order to allow outcome-based teaching and learning to take place. The relevance and application of mathematics in real life should also be reflected in the curriculum.

The teachers, heads of departments, and the school heads have strongly emphasized ( via interviews) the need for MEHA and CDU to involve all the academic stakeholders including even the students and mathematics teachers in regards to any consultation, reviews, and amendments to the school curriculum. Exams should not be the only method of assessing students’ performance in mathematics. Internal assessments/field work/projects need to be a part of mathematics curriculum to understand mathematics better and at the same time develop interest among students with diverse needs. Students tend to learn better with technologies. There is a need for teachers to incorporate 21st century teaching tools, gadgets, and technology in teaching mathematics. Technology provides additional opportunities for students to see and interact with mathematics concepts and develop a positive attitude and perception toward the subject. Teacher quality should not be compromised at any cost, especially teachers who are responsible to teach the foundation of mathematics in primary schools. Content-focused teacher training to be implemented for primary school teachers in Fiji to teach specialized subjects in schools in order to build a good foundation among students and maintain positive attitude and perception of students toward mathematics across all levels.

## Data Availability Statement

The raw data supporting the conclusion of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

## Author Contributions

Study conception and design: SC and KC; data collection: SC; analysis and interpretation of results: SC, AP, and VC; draft manuscript preparation: SC and KC. All authors reviewed the results and approved the final version of the manuscript.

## Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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Keywords: low academic achievement, teacher quality, curriculum, mathematics in schools, teacher attitude

Citation: Chand S, Chaudhary K, Prasad A and Chand V (2021) Perceived Causes of Students’ Poor Performance in Mathematics: A Case Study at Ba and Tavua Secondary Schools. Front. Appl. Math. Stat. 7:614408. doi: 10.3389/fams.2021.614408

Received: 06 October 2020; Accepted: 04 February 2021; Published: 23 April 2021.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2021 Chand, Chaudhary, Prasad and Chand. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Samlesh Chand, [email protected]

## This article is part of the Research Topic

Analytics and Mathematics in Adaptive and Smart Learning

## Promoting students’ interest and achievement in mathematics through “King and Queen of Mathematics” initiative

Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning

ISSN : 2397-7604

Article publication date: 29 August 2022

Issue publication date: 30 March 2023

The study explored the impact of the King and Queen of Mathematics Initiative (KQMI) in promoting students’ interest in learning mathematics and improving their achievement. The specific objectives of the study focused on the impact of the initiative in promoting interest in mathematics, assessing the contribution of the initiative to students’ achievements and investigating challenges encountered by the initiative.

## Design/methodology/approach

The study used a case study design with a mixed-method approach. One ward secondary school was involved. The sample size was N = 79, where 77 were grade three students in a science class and two teachers. Data collection involved documentary review, observation and interviews. Data analysis employed both content analysis and a dependent t -test to determine the effect size of the initiative.

The findings revealed that KQMI had a significant impact on improving performance in mathematics among students ( t (71) = −7.917, p < 0.05). The study also showed that male students improved their performance more than their counterparts throughout the KQMI. The mathematics teacher revealed that students still need assistance to solve mathematical questions with different techniques to develop the expected competencies.

## Research limitations/implications

The initiative was conducted only in one school, limiting the findings’ generalization. Also, the innovation faced different challenges, such as accessing adequate resources and students with little knowledge of mathematics, which the initiative aimed to address.

## Practical implications

Pedagogical innovations enhance the promotion of students’ interest in learning mathematics and hence improve their performance. Also, through pedagogical innovations, teachers improve their teaching skills and practices from students’ feedback.

## Originality/value

The KQMI is a new pedagogical innovation modified from the existing innovations such as game-based method, task design, mobile learning and mathematics island.

- Mathematics
- Students’ achievement
- Students’ interest
- Pedagogical innovation

Kihwele, J.E. and Mkomwa, J. (2023), "Promoting students’ interest and achievement in mathematics through “King and Queen of Mathematics” initiative", Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning , Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 115-133. https://doi.org/10.1108/JRIT-12-2021-0083

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Jimmy Ezekiel Kihwele and Jamila Mkomwa

Published in Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning . Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode .

## Introduction

Mathematics is an abstract subject; hence, it causes many students to lose interest, thus resulting in low achievement ( Yeh et al. , 2019 ). Apart from an abstraction of mathematics causing low interest in students, experiencing anxiety about learning mathematics also has contributed to disliking the subject ( Summer, 2020 ). This paper explores the contribution of pedagogical innovation in promoting students’ interest in learning mathematics hence improving achievement.

Lack of interest in learning mathematics results in low achievement. Interest is one of the attitudinal and influential variables that are predictors of students’ achievement in learning or avoidance of learning mathematics ( Singh et al. , 2002 ). Studies have shown the trend of poor performance in mathematics in many parts of the world ( Mazana et al. , 2020 ; Mbugua et al. , 2012 ; Ndume et al. , 2020 ; Sa'ad et al. , 2014 ). The trend of poor performance is associated with students’ low interest in studying mathematics. Students feel the subject is boring. Factors such as teachers’ lack of innovative pedagogies, the subject’s broad content and students’ inadequate practices amplify students’ low interest in learning ( Shoaib and Saeed, 2016 ). Pedagogical innovations in facilitating learning play a central role in addressing the challenges of students’ low interest and achievement in the subject.

Peteros et al. (2020) assert that recognizing and awarding students for their improved performance helps them boost their confidence and interest in the subject. An enjoyable learning environment significantly impacts students’ interest in studying mathematics and improves their performance ( Mazana et al. , 2019 ). Despite the expected positive results from implementing the innovation to promote interest to learn mathematics and improve performance, Maass et al. (2019) warn that implementing innovation in the classroom is a challenging and demanding activity that requires teacher’s commitment and motivation. The King and Queen of Mathematics Initiative (KQMI) adopted the awarding and recognition of students with improved achievement. The subject teacher crowned students the title of King or Queen to kindle students’ interest and make mathematics learning more enjoyable.

## The status of students’ achievement in mathematics

Globally, students’ performance in mathematics has been a challenging issue given its importance in this era of science and technology. In Nigeria, Sa'ad et al. (2014) report that students perform poorly in mathematics, citing students’ negative attitudes and lack of innovative teaching methods as the cause. In Kenya, Mbugua et al. (2012 ) report similar factors for low achievement in mathematics. Peteros et al. (2020) report that, in the Philippines, the level of performance in mathematics in 2020 was low as the majority of students (53.01%) performed below the average. The implication is that many teachers fail to make the mathematics learning process enjoyable for students. Mazana et al. (2019) report that developing a positive attitude among students is when they enjoy the subject through various innovative and engaging methods. This positive attitude has a significant impact on improving achievement in the subject. Studies have revealed that apart from students struggling with mathematics achievements in Pakistan, female students have performed better than male students ( Khan et al. , 2018 ). In the light of the above, it necessitates emphasizing pedagogical innovations to eliminate the challenges and enhance students’ achievement in mathematics.

In Tanzania, the state of performance in mathematics subject is low. Ndume et al. (2020) show that the pass rate of mathematics in form four national examination is 16%. The trend of failure in the subject is high as research shows that in 2012 alone, 69% of form four students failed in the subject ( Mazana et al. , 2020 ). Mazana et al. (2019) reported factors associated with low achievement in mathematics as (1) students’ attitude towards mathematics, (2) the perception that the subject is complex, (3) low level of self-confidence, (4) bad grades attained in the classroom tests discourage students, (5) poor background and (6) irrelevance of the content to real-life situations.

As Mazana et al. (2019) posit, the persistence of the factors results in a small number of passing in form four national examination results. It implies that few students will continue in science subjects in advanced secondary education and at the university level. Despite increasing students from 240,160 in 2014 to 435,345 in 2020, the pass rate has remained low, as shown in Table 1 . The pass rate had progressively decreased from 2.82% in 2015 to 0.09% in 2020. This performance decrease manifests the necessity of applying pedagogical innovations to promote interest and improve students’ achievement in learning mathematics.

Due to poor performance in mathematics and the associated factors, teachers have been innovating and experimenting with various initiatives to promote students’ interest in learning the subject to improve achievement. Some of the pedagogical innovations include mobile learning in mathematics ( Ndume et al. , 2020 ), mathematics island ( Yeh et al. , 2019 ) and task design ( Coles and Brown, 2016 ).

Therefore, this study explores the KQMI in promoting students’ interest and achievement in mathematics. The initiative intends to create an enjoyable learning environment while focusing on recognizing and awarding students to promote interest and improve achievements in mathematics.

## The genesis of KQMI

The KQMI is a pedagogical innovation of mathematics teachers at the school. The KQMI primarily was adopted from a nearby primary school called Tuishime, where higher achievers were crowned the titles of King for a male and Queen for a female student at the end of the academic year, i.e. November each year. The event took place on Parents’ Day at the school to inspire students to work hard and improve their achievements.

The KQMI started in a new academic year in January 2020 at Lemara Secondary School, where this study was conducted. A mathematics teacher called Jamila adopted the initiative, and she was committed to seeing students’ mathematics achievement improve in the school where she taught. Mostly, ward secondary schools (secondary schools built in each ward in Tanzania are classified by a generic name as ward secondary school) are regarded as low-quality schools because they are newly established, under-resourced and located in catchment areas, i.e. the villages in the vicinity, affecting classroom attendance due to dropouts. Notably, the enrolled students always have an average or low performance in Primary School Leaving Examination. For example, in many ward secondary schools, the pass rate in mathematics is between 5 and 8% lower than that of well-established public and private schools. As a result, students will achieve low in mathematics in national examinations.

Interestingly, most students in many ward secondary schools fail in mathematics while passing other science subjects such as biology, chemistry and physics. According to Mazana et al. (2019) , mathematics is a compulsory subject at the lower secondary level; hence, students who aspire to continue with any science or business combinations at the upper secondary level must have a pass in mathematics. This requirement hinders their dream as they cannot join science subjects in advanced levels of learning as they did not pass mathematics.

The teacher at Lemara Secondary School was motivated to adopt and implement the KQMI to address the challenge of massive failure in mathematics and the need to help these students to reach their dreams of continuing in higher levels of education in mathematics, science and business subjects. The implementation of KQMI involved the third-grade science class where the teacher was assigned to teach. Since the class expected to sit for the grade four national examination the following year, the initiative gave the teachers and students more time to learn.

The KQMI involved a weekly mathematics test competition where it crowned one male and female student who emerged with the highest score as King and Queen of Mathematics for one week. Every Friday, the teacher administered a test and could ask for help from other teachers in administering and invigilating the test. After every three months, students sat for comprehensive tests. The mathematics teacher who implemented the KQMI dedicated her time to helping students as she had to work extra hours to make the initiative realistic, attainable and sustainable. The extra work included marking students’ tests during the weekend and spending hours for remedial classes on the weekdays. In some cases, the teacher had to incur costs for printing tests which is rare for many teachers. The King and Queen received a special badge to identify them and recognize their efforts and achievement, and they had to strive hard to retain their titles.

## Problem statement

Studies have shown that students’ performance in mathematics is poor, and the data have confirmed this poor performance trend ( Mazana et al. , 2019 , 2020 ). The crucial factors include the perception that mathematics is a complex subject and the lack of self-confidence among students due to their low grades. Despite students’ poor background in mathematics, the mentioned factors have resulted in a negative attitude towards the subject, which has affected their interest, thus, leading to poor performance in the subject. The introduction of KQMI focused on promoting students’ interest in the subject to attract self-confidence and improve mathematics achievement. The study then focused on exploring whether the KQMI has a significant impact on promoting students’ interest in learning mathematics and improving their performance.

## Research questions

How has KQMI promoted students’ interest in learning mathematics?

To what extent the KQMI has succeeded in improving students’ achievement in mathematics?

What challenges affect the implementation of the KQMI?

## Research hypotheses

The KQMI has a significant impact on improving students’ achievement in mathematics.

After implementing the KQMI, female students will achieve better mathematics than male students.

## Literature review

Focusing on an educational paradigm rooted in critical pedagogy, the Socratic method, futures studies, and peace education, this essay takes the position that classrooms of the future should be transformed into safe harbours where students are afforded the opportunity to explore, deconstruct and share knowledge of themselves, their experiences, and the world in which they live. ( 2016 , p. 1)

Based on the above call for pedagogical innovations to enhance learning, promoting students’ interest to learn mathematics and improving their achievement in the subject is the central focus. The following section presents a review of these aspects.

Harackiewicz et al. (2016) define interest as “an individual’s momentary experience of being captivated by an object and more lasting feelings that the object is enjoyable and worth further exploration”. In the context of learning, Wong and Wong (2019) define interest as the state of engaging students in learning mathematics while enjoying the learning process. This study considers interest as the state of students being confident and free in interacting with teachers and colleagues in learning mathematics while showing they like and enjoy the learning process. Emefa et al. (2020) define interest as a psychological state occurring during the interaction between a person and a specific subject or activity, including the process of willingness, attention, concentration and positive feeling towards that particular subject or activity.

Interest is a construct of motivation and other constructs like perceived control, collaboration involvement and efficacy ( Ahmed, 2016 ). Also, Järvelä and Renninger (2014) concur that the concept of motivation is broader than interest, implying that interest, together with other factors, results in motivation. Knoll (2000) added that interest is a significant initiator of motivated behaviour; hence, before a student is motivated in learning, one must be interested first. Järvelä and Renninger further assert that interest is a cognitive and affective motivational variable that advances through four phases: (1) triggering of interest, (2) sustained, (3) emerging interest and (4) extending to a more well-developed individual interest.

In their study, Toli and Kallery (2021) provided the characteristics of interest that include increased attention, efforts, effects and experience. They used a situational interest development model to enhance students’ interest in learning science. The findings revealed a significant positive correlation between students’ learning outcomes and interest in the subject.

The study focused on interest as a single construct without relating to other aspects of motivation. It explored students’ psychological state towards their willingness to participate, learn attentively and concentrate on the subject happily. As Harackiewicz et al. (2016) presented, all the four interest-enhancing initiatives, attention-getting settings, contexts evoking prior individual interest, problem-based learning and enhancing utility value, were considered in the KQMI. Again, Singh et al. (2002) reveal that motivation and interests serve the goal of enhancing students’ achievement in mathematics.

## Pedagogical innovations to promote interest in learning mathematics

Improved students’ performance in mathematics begins with students’ interest in liking the subject. Students’ interest is an internal aspect that develops in a given environmental setting ( Azmidar et al. , 2017 ). These traits manifest students’ interest in learning mathematics. In their research, Wong and Wong (2019) found no significant correlation between students’ interest in the subject and performance. Their study further revealed that being interested in learning mathematics includes liking the subject, answering questions in mathematics class, desire to learn more about the subject and anxiety to know all about how to do mathematics problems. However, Frenzel et al. (2010) found that promoting students’ interest in learning mathematics was more beneficial to low achievers as they improve their performances over time. This finding contradicts Wong and Wong’s (2019) reports, however, they gave the factors concerned with the insignificance of interest and achievement.

Motivation has also been considered an essential factor in promoting students’ interest in learning mathematics. Yeh et al. (2019) assert that a low level of motivation results in low interest in learning mathematics and hence low achievement. This assertion indicates a correlation between students’ interest and their academic achievements. They further argue that game-based teaching methods engage learners, encourage critical thinking and construct motivation. Although Otoo et al. (2018) opine that motivation has no significant impact on promoting interest, such assertion has received little support from scholars.

Again, studies have uncovered various aspects of improving students’ interest in mathematics. According to Yeh et al. (2019) , three aspects indicate students’ interest in the subject: attitude, initiative and confidence. They further describe that students’ liking of the subject significantly influences their attitudes. The initiative is from participating voluntarily in mathematics activities even beyond class hours. Confidence is the ability to ask questions or request the teacher to re-explain concepts during the lesson. Hackett and Betz (1989) also confirm that confidence is central to enhancing students’ interest in learning and improving the subject’s achievement. Self-confidence enhances students’ interest, whereby self-confidence depends on the perceived usefulness of the content, background knowledge and the level of anxiety among students ( Otoo et al. , 2018 ). In this regard, promoting students’ interest in learning mathematics depends on students’ internal factors.

Teachers use motivation strategies such as rewards, recognition, encouragement and praise to boost students’ interest in learning mathematics ( Kashefi et al. , 2017 ). Another pedagogical innovation used was the Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract approach to raise students’ interest in studying mathematics ( Azmidar et al. , 2017 ). The approach starts with concrete objects to perform mathematical operations, followed by pictorial and the last move to abstraction. This process implies that interest also depends on external factors from students learning environment.

Therefore, developing students’ interest in learning mathematics depends on internal and external factors. Counselling, consultations and assessment results identify students with challenges and take time to understand them to help identify internal factors and use them in assisting. The external factors may include rewards, recognitions, remedial classes and praise. Teachers need to be aware of this and design pedagogical approaches that consider both factors. Combining these strategies bears a solid contribution to promoting students’ studying interests.

## Pedagogical innovation in improving students’ achievement in mathematics

Without suitable teaching methods and effective use of time allocated for teaching, many students will fail to improve their academic achievements ( Mosha, 2018 ). Students have struggled to develop mathematical skills, which probably implies that the teaching methods used were less effective and impactful. The struggle has led to various pedagogical innovations to promote students’ achievement in the subject.

Innovative teaching methods significantly improve students’ achievement in mathematics ( Abd-Algani, 2019 ). Such teaching methods include evaluation for learning, digital tools and applications, constructive learning principles and differential teaching. Yeh et al. (2019) developed a game-based method to enhance students’ learning environment. Their innovation found that the teaching method increased students’ mathematics achievement ( Abd-Algani, 2019 ). Task design is also considered a pedagogical innovation that intends to enhance students’ learning, understanding and achievement in tests ( Coles and Brown, 2016 ). Coles and Brown further mention the principles of implementing task design: (1) lesson delivery beginning with contrasting examples to spark curiosity among students, (2) students showing similarities and differences and (3) students naming the differences are directly linked and results in learning.

Despite the efforts to implement pedagogical innovations to improve students’ achievement, teachers and students encounter some challenges. Teachers fail to implement innovative approaches in schools due to limited material and time resources and huge workloads ( Abd-Algani, 2019 ; Kashefi et al. , 2017 ). Apart from the challenges that teachers face, on the side of students, the readiness to learn, the level of motivation and background issues act as challenges ( Wang et al. , 2018 ). Wang et al. further reveal that ability of teachers to apply pedagogical innovations in classroom settings depends on the methodological resources they have at their disposal. The resources are necessary to support and ensure the effectiveness of innovative pedagogies used in teaching and learning.

However, the innovations implemented might enhance students’ interest and hence achievement in the subjects, but several other factors also significantly contribute to students’ learning and achievement. Students’ ability, attitudes and perceptions, socio-economic variables, parent and peer influences, school-related variables, family and home environment, motivational variables and instructional time affect students’ achievement ( Singh et al. , 2002 ). This study also compared students’ performance before, during and after the KQMI. The purpose of the comparison focused on understanding the consistent influence of other factors apart from the KQMI on students’ achievements in mathematics.

## Theoretical framework

Several studies have shown the application of the Interest-Driven Creator (IDC) theory in promoting students’ interest in learning mathematics ( Wong et al. , 2020 ; Wong and Wong, 2019 ). The theory shows the issues that contribute to creating and sustaining students’ interest in learning. From the IDC theory, Wong et al. (2020) came up with a model that involves three stages and focuses on developing and maintaining interest in learning. The model stages are Triggering, Immersing and Extending. According to Harackiewicz et al. (2016) , triggering implies catching students’ interest through attention-catching situations or environmental stimuli that ignite a reaction or response, while immersing means a maintained response to engage in learning activities/tasks. Harackiewicz et al. further reveal that extending means internalized behaviour of re-engaging in particular learning activities and tasks as the outcome of the former two stages (see Figure 1 ).

## Methodology

Design of the study.

A case study design was adopted to understand the effectiveness of the innovative initiative that aimed at promoting students’ interest in learning mathematics and improving their performance. A case study was appropriate because the design involved intensive analysis of individual units within a case. A researcher focuses on the process of tracing and allows multiple ways of collecting information ( Creswell, 2014 ; Denzin and Lincoln, 2018 ). In this case, the unit was a specific class, grade three, in a school. The design was flexible enough to allow multiple data collection methods, i.e. interviews, observation and documentary review.

Lemara Secondary School was the area of study. It is one of the ward secondary schools within Arusha Municipality in Arusha region, located in the northern part of Tanzania. Historically, ward secondary schools were introduced in 2004 when Tanzania implemented the Secondary Education Development Programme phase two (SEDP II). SEDP II aimed to expand the enrolment rate in secondary schools since many students failed to proceed with education after completing the primary level. Ward schools mushroomed quickly, and they started operating while under-resourced with both teaching and learning materials and the number of teachers. These challenges persisted for a long time – the poor performance in form four national examinations among ward secondary schools confirms this (see Table 1 ).

Lemara Secondary School, established in 2005, is a co-education school. Currently, the school has grade one up to grade form four students. Mathematics is one of the compulsory subjects for all students, whether they specialize in science, business or arts subjects.

## Participants and the KQMI context

The study involved form third grade (form three) science class in 2020. The class fits in the study because science class requires a good command of mathematical skills; hence, promoting their interest and performance in mathematics could significantly impact their science subjects. The participants in the study were 77 students (40 females and 37 males) and two teachers (a mathematics teacher and the head of the school).

Despite the KQMI involving weekly tests to find the King and Queen of another week, it involved teachers’ use of participatory teaching methods and remedial sessions to help the low achievers who were willing to be assisted. The study did not focus on the weekly scores but on the examinations stipulated on the school calendar; midterm, terminal and annual examinations. These tests gave a clear understanding of the performance trend during the implementation of the KQMI. The winners each week were crowned and given a special badge to wear for the whole week while exempted from all school activities outside the classroom. Wearing the special badge and the exemption from activities meant recognizing their weekly achievement, thus attracting many students to compete for such respectful recognition.

## Data collection methods

Data collection methods involved documentary review, classroom observation and interviews. The data collection process considered teaching, learning and assessment practices conducted from January 2020 to November 2020. These data collection methods allowed researchers to interact with practitioners involved in action research within their contexts. Through interacting with the practitioners, the researcher obtained adequate and rich information concerning the implementation of KQMI. The methods ensured that appropriate data were collected to provide evidence for evaluating the implementation of KQMI. Qualitative data analysis employed content and narrative analysis. Quantitative data analysis employed a t -test calculation to find whether the initiative had a significant impact on improving students’ mathematics performance.

Interviews: The mathematics teacher who implemented KQMI, the head of the school, and six selected students participated in the interview. The mathematics teacher was purposively selected because she was the one implementing the KQMI at school. The head of the school has vital information concerning supporting and monitoring the initiative. Further, the head of the school occasionally observed the teaching and learning process in mathematics class to improve students’ interest in learning the subject. Students were selected from each test, the highest and lowest achiever, making six students from four tests administered. Two students won the crowns twice, making six students participate in the interview instead of eight.

Documentary review: The researcher reviewed several documents, such as students’ score records, to gather relevant information. The score involved students from science class (KQMI class) and other students (non-KQMI class). The KQMI class scores were taken before, during and after the initiative. In the non-KQMI class, the researchers took the scores from examinations before and after the initiative. Also, the researcher reviewed the mathematics teacher’s lesson plan to understand how the teacher planned the lessons and the kind of recommendations she gave for improvement.

Observation: Researchers conducted classroom observation to understand the noticeable changes in students’ behaviours like participating in discussions, attendance and asking questions.

## Data analysis plan

Data analysis involved statistical analysis and coding data into categories and themes based on the data type obtained. The scores obtained from the documentary review were analyzed using a t -test to determine whether the initiative significantly impacted students’ performance. Again, the analysis involved Cohen’s D statistical calculation to determine the effect size of the KQMI on students’ performance. The study had two hypotheses: (1) showing that the initiative has a significant impact on students’ performance and (2) showing that after implementing the initiative, female students would perform better than male students. Data from observation and interviews were coded and developed into themes – direct quotations from respondents supported the findings.

## Dependability, trustworthiness and credibility

Multiple procedures ranging from the data collection to analysis ensured the research’s dependability, trustworthiness and credibility ( Creswell, 2012 ). The study employed a triangulation method involving multiple data collection methods such as interviews, observation and documentary review (see Table 2 ).

## Ethical consideration

The researcher adhered to all research ethics. The researcher handled data confidentially while maintaining anonymity after obtaining participants’ consent to participate in the study ( Auerbach and Silverstein, 2003 ; Creswell, 2007 ). Respondents were informed about the purpose of the research. Participants granted their consent, and the researcher protected all respondents from physical, psychological and political harm or risk. The information collected and presented did not disclose participants’ identities to maintain anonymity. Ensuring anonymity, the researcher used pseudo names during the data presentation.

The study intended to explore the impact of KQMI in promoting students’ interest in learning mathematics and improving their achievement. Further, the study intended to uncover the challenges teachers and students faced during the initiative’s implementation. The findings have revealed that students revived their learning interests as they engaged more in learning activities. Achievement gradually improved as the average increased from 17.6 to 29.8 in the first year of implementing the KQMI. Despite the promising results of the initiative, teachers’ commitment and material and financial support emerged as threats to the KQMI’s sustainability. The following sections present these findings in detail.

## The KQMI in promoting interest in learning mathematics

In teaching, I mainly use demonstration and activity-based methods to show them how to solve various mathematical problems. Later, I give them questions that they must solve, as I had demonstrated. Also, I conduct remedial classes in the evening for those who wish to come and share their difficult areas. I also adopted a mathematics clinic strategy from one of my friends, though it was for all classes, not only the science class that I implemented the KQMI. I did this because students had varying levels of confidence as some could not speak in front of the class, but when they came alone, they shared the challenging part of their learning. (Mathematics teacher, 2021)

The findings again have revealed that students’ classroom behaviours have changed positively as they actively participated in the learning activities. The findings revealed that students demonstrated passive learning behaviour before KQMI, but after the initiative, they showed interest in the subject as they actively engaged in learning activities. Now students asked questions, responded to the teacher’s questions and assignments and participated in discussions, particularly trying to link concepts they have learned in the classroom. They tried to link what they have learned with its application in real-life situations. Further, students request the teacher repeat what they did not understand well, as shown in Table 3 . The act of students asking questions to the teacher, participating in discussion and requesting to reteach concepts they did not understand well implies that they have improved their confidence hence understanding the subject. The KQMI enhanced students’ academic engagement since it increased the number of students attending remedial classes, unlike before. The academic engagement proved that students previously were afraid or disliked the subject due to low interest.

Students started spending more time studying mathematics than in other subjects, which improved performance in mathematics and not in the other subjects. Students living in school hostels were found in the class around 10 pm, solving mathematics questions in groups. One of the teachers on duty observed this situation while walking around the school premises. (Mathematics teacher, 2021)

Previously [when] you enter the class knowing there will be no questions, so even the preparations were not intensive enough. Nevertheless, as they started asking many questions and asking to repeat or clarify using simple language, I started having intensive preparations for lessons so that I may not seem less prepared or fail to respond to some questions. Also, I started taking a variety of books in classrooms. But most importantly, I used the feedback to identify and provide assistance to low achievers. (Mathematics teacher, 2021)

## The trend of students’ achievement in mathematics during the KQMI

In the second research question, the focus was to determine whether the initiative improved students’ achievement and to what extent. The findings have revealed improvement in students’ achievement in mathematics. The mean in test 1 was 17.6, increasing to 29.8 in test 4. The teacher administered test 1 in March 2020, where students learned and covered a few topics compared to test 4 at the end of November after covering all the topics required in form three class.

The study compared students’ achievement through mathematics scores before and after implementing the KQMI. The scores before KQMI were taken from the form two standardized examination, while after the initiative, the scores were from the national form four examinations. The findings revealed that the performance in form two examination before the initiative was 31.2% of the KQMI class achieved the pass grades while only 6.6% of the non-KQMI class achieved the pass grades. After the initiative, 35.1% of KQMI class achieved a passing grade, while only 1% of the non-KQMI class achieved a passing grade. The grading is classified in a range of scores as A = 75–100% (Excellent), B = 65–74% (Very good), C = 45–64% (Good), D = 30–44% (Satisfactory) and F = 0–29% (Fail). A grade from A–D is a pass and a grade of F is a fail.

The comparison of mathematics achievement, as shown in Table 4 , reveals that, despite the increment in complexity and quality of the content covered, the KQMI class had a low doping rate compared to that of the non-KQMI class. Before the initiative, 46.75% of students in a KQMI class obtained a passing grade, while a non-KQMI class had 6.6%. After implementing the initiative, 35.1% of students in a KQMI class obtained a passing grade compared to 1% of students in a non-KQMI class. Although the achievement had dropped for both classes, the KQMI class did not have a sharp drop.

The findings have shown that the KQMI has improved students’ achievement in mathematics. The study had two hypotheses for testing the significant impact of the initiative on students’ performance. The first hypothesis stated that the KQMI has a substantial impact on promoting students’ achievement in mathematics. The dependent t -test was employed to understand the effect of the KQMI in improving students’ performance. The study found that the initiative was statistically significant as the p -value was 0.000 in all pairs tested; hence, it rejected the null hypothesis and supported the research hypothesis.

The second research hypothesis stated that after implementing the KQMI, female students would perform better than male students. Despite the mathematics teacher and the head of the school being females, they have not inspired female students to improve their achievements. The study expected female students to have more self-confidence because of a female mathematics teacher. The findings contradict Khan et al. ’s (2018) study that female students outperform male students when a female teacher instructs a subject. In test 1, as the initiative started, there was no significant difference in achievement between male and female students, t (71) = 1.351, p > 0.05. However, in test 4, it was found that there was a significant difference in achievement as males performed better than female students, t (74) = 2.951, p < 0.05. In this view, the research hypothesis, “After implementing the KQMI, female students will have higher achievement in mathematics than male students”, was rejected, and the null hypothesis was accepted. Again, the descriptive statistics in Figure 2 reveal that in all tests except test 3, males had a higher average than female students. Therefore, the findings confirm that the initiative was less effective for female students than male students. This finding contradicts Khan et al. ’s (2018) report that females perform better than males in mathematics (see Figure 3 ).

The researchers calculated the pair of tests to determine the effect size of the training programme. The findings revealed that the T1*T2, T1*T3 and T1*T4 pairs had Cohen’s D greater than 0.8 hence implying the effect size of the training is as large as shown in Table 4 . The effect size of tests (see Cohen’s D in Table 4 ) revealed that as the number of topics increased and tests became comprehensive, the initiative’s effect reduced; for example, T1*T2 Cohen’s D is 1.55, wherein T1*T4 Cohen’s D is 0.99. However, as calculated in the t -test, the later pairs found that there was no significant improvement from test 2 to test 3 and test 3 to test 4 ( p > 0.05) (see Table 5 ).

## Challenges encountered during the implementation of KQMI

The study found that the teacher spent her weekend marking the tests or assignments and recording the scores to announce winners every Monday morning. Further, the teacher designed special badges for winners as a sign of recognition to the entire school. Hence, the initiative required intrinsic motivation of individual teachers and commitment regardless of little assistance from school management. In this view, other mathematics teachers were hesitant to join the initiative citing it as it adds more responsibilities to the workload they already had. As a new initiative without any reference for its success, it received little assistance at the school level. The school did not provide the required resources and facilities. The teacher used her resources like money and time to manage the initiative. The head of the school confirmed the findings as she said, “ We do not have enough resources to support every new initiative. But some creativity means added responsibility, so many teachers are against it. It should come from within to be successful .”

The teacher reported some discouragement from fellow teachers as they did not assist in administering tests or marking. In some cases, the mathematics teacher requested some students from higher classes to assist in administering and invigilating the test. The teacher wrote the test on the board, so it was tedious somehow and forced the teacher to have few questions than her prior expectations.

On the side of challenges-facing students, the study revealed that they were inspired to work hard and win the title, hence placing more effort in learning mathematics than other subjects. During the interview, the teacher revealed, “ Some teachers complained that students are focusing on only one subject. This situation, to some extent, lowered their performance in other science subjects. However, I asked them to motivate them using different strategies. I could not change my initiative because I wanted my students to improve their achievement .”

Apart from the King and Queen, I prepared badges for the most improved girls and most improved boys, who moved to one or more grades higher than the previous one. The challenge I faced was that some students scored very low and believed they would never improve, so they never put effort to improve no matter how the teacher assisted and motivated them. Also, I learned and changed how to recognize them due to some students’ discouragement as they believed they would never win or be recognized. (Mathematics teacher, 2021)

## Discussions

Pedagogical innovations have proved to effectively promote students’ interests in learning mathematics ( Mazana et al. , 2019 ). The innovations help students to discard their long-rooted beliefs that mathematics is complicated and they cannot perform well. The KQMI, as pedagogical innovation, has significantly improved students’ interest in learning mathematics and improved performance through the designed teaching methods such as task-based ( Coles and Brown, 2016 ) and mathematics clinic. These task-based teaching and mathematics clinics are in the immersing stage in the theoretical framework where students engage in learning activities that develop interests in learning ( Wong and Wong, 2019 ). The initiative’s outcome saw students change their classroom behaviours where they became active in interacting and showing interest in the subject.

Through innovations, students activate their interests to participate in classroom activities and better use their private time to learn and solve mathematical problems. The findings have proved the improved achievement after the KQMI, as the first hypothesis has confirmed. However, the hypothesis predicted that female students would outperform male students because the mathematics teacher was female, but female students achieved lower than their counterparts. This finding led to the rejection of the second research hypothesis and accepted the null hypothesis. The findings resonate with Hackett and Betz (1989) and Chouinard et al. (2007) , who found that sex difference in mathematics self-efficacy correlates with sex variation in mathematics achievement.

In a sustained context, Wong et al. (2020) term self-directed learning as extending interest as students make meaningful internalization of the learning behaviour. Sa'ad et al. (2014) support the finding as they reveal that a lack of pedagogical innovations harms students’ academic achievement. Recognizing the achievement boosts students’ self-confidence; hence, it makes them free to make trials in solving problems, asking questions and urging the teacher to reteach some concepts they have not well mastered. This finding resonates with Peteros et al. (2020) that recognition boosts students’ confidence and interest in learning mathematics. Students with a high level of confidence are likelier to have high achievements in the subject ( Hackett and Betz, 1989 ).

Wong et al. (2020) affirm that triggering interest involves facilitating an activity that elicits initial interest. In this study, award-winning and recognition triggered students’ interests in participating actively in learning tasks and seeking assistance for improvement. The recognition, awards and good scores triggered students to engage in various activities. Students who developed an interest in learning mathematics have significantly improved the subject’s achievement. This finding contradicts the findings of Wong and Wong (2019) that there is no significant correlation between students’ interest and their performance. Since they spend more time learning and practising, it makes them more confident and internalizes the taught skills, making it easy to apply the learned skills even in tests and examinations ( Azmidar et al. , 2017 ; Frenzel et al. , 2010 ).

Implementing pedagogical innovations such as KQMI requires teachers’ self-commitment and intrinsic motivation ( Maass et al. , 2019 ). There are a few obstacles that jeopardize the sustainability of the initiative. The teacher experienced a lack of recognition at the school level, and assistance from fellow teachers threatened pedagogical innovations’ prosperity. The lack of cooperation is a challenge for mathematics teachers and the other teachers who may be motivated to try their innovative strategies in teaching their subjects. School management should motivate teachers and students to use pedagogical innovations by providing resources and facilities. Using personal resources among teachers and students demotivates them and obstructs the innovation to deliver the expected outcome.

## Conclusions

The study intended to explore the impact of KQMI in promoting students’ interest in learning mathematics and improving their achievement. The initiative has promoted interest as students actively participated in learning activities. Comparing the achievement before and after the initiative and with other non-KQMI classes, the KQMI has significantly improved students’ achievement in mathematics. Pedagogical innovations such as KQMI have effectively promoted students’ interest in learning mathematics at Lemara Secondary School which saw their interest revised and achievement improved. Apart from the promising results of the initiative, teachers’ commitment and material and financial support emerged as threats to the sustainability of the pedagogical innovation. Supporting these pedagogical innovations is vital for sustainability and achieving a maximum outcome in improving general performance among the students.

It is crucial to pilot the initiative in other schools to determine its contribution to promoting interest and achievement in mathematics. Teachers should be provided with motivation and capacity-building training to adopt and implement pedagogical innovations such as the KQMI. Teachers and students should get the necessary support to improve mathematics performance, especially in under-resourced ward schools that lag in national examination results. Future studies should first focus on implementing the initiative in more schools and assess its impact on promoting students’ interests in learning mathematics and improving performance. Secondly, studies should aim at strategies to inspire more teachers to engage in pedagogical innovations and foster cooperation. The pedagogical innovation and collaboration will enhance teachers’ continuous professional development to see them transform their classroom teaching practices.

Interest development model modified from Wong et al. (2020)

Mean comparison in four administered tests

Mean comparison between male and female students in four tests

Form four national examination mathematics pass rate in seven consecutive years

Changes in students’ behaviour during the implementation of KQMI

Funding : The authors declare that this research received no funding from any organization or agency.

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## Effects of school-based physical activity on mathematics performance in children: a systematic review

- S. Sneck ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4216-6167 1 , 2 ,
- H. Viholainen 3 ,
- H. Syväoja 1 ,
- A. Kankaapää 1 ,
- H. Hakonen 1 ,
- A.-M. Poikkeus 4 &
- T. Tammelin 1

International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity volume 16 , Article number: 109 ( 2019 ) Cite this article

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The benefits of physical activity (PA) on children’s health and wellbeing are well established. However, the benefits of PA on academic performance and particularly on mathematics performance warrant systematic analysis. Mathematics is one of the core subjects in school education globally.

We systematically searched, analysed and synthesized the literature on the effects of school-based PA interventions on mathematics performance in children aged 4–16. A total of 29 studies consisting of randomised trials and other interventions with control groups were identified through a systematic search, and 11 of them provided sufficient data and appropriate design for a meta-analysis.

Of the 29 studies involving 11,264 participants, positive overall effects of a PA intervention on mathematics performance were found in 13 studies (45%) and neutral overall effects in 15 studies (52%). Only one study reported a significant negative result for a subgroup of children in the first half of the intervention. In a risk-of-bias assessment, 12 studies had low, 17 moderate, and none had a high risk of bias. The meta-analysis of 11 studies suggested an overall small positive effect (ES = 0.23) of the interventions. Only one study in the meta-analysis indicated a negative effect in one of the intervention groups.

## Conclusions

Adding PA to the school day may enhance children’s mathematics performance or has no negative effects on performance. Several types of PA interventions can be recommended to be added to the school day.

## Introduction

Physical activity (PA) is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure [ 1 ]. There is extensive evidence indicating that participating in PA is associated with a variety of benefits for children and adolescents, including better physical health [ 1 , 2 ] better cognitive and mental health [ 3 ], a more positive physical self-concept [ 4 ], enhanced global self-esteem [ 4 ], and improved academic outcomes [ 5 , 6 ]. Furthermore, higher PA levels in adolescence have been shown to be positively related to the number of years of post-compulsory education and long-term labour market outcomes [ 7 ], which translate into both personal and societal benefits.

Worryingly, however, increasing numbers of school-aged children spend a high proportion of their time in sedentary activities, both at school and during their free time [ 8 ]. Physical education (PE) lessons tend to constitute the only occasions providing organized PA during the school day, and it is argued that the role of PA during the school day has not been sufficiently promoted in most countries [ 9 , 10 ]. Somewhat different criteria are used internationally to measure PA, but a common finding is that the amount of PA during the school day is typically small. Globally, less than 20% of children on average are physically active for the recommended 60 or more minutes per day [ 11 , 12 ]. Less than half of children in the US meet the guidelines of 30 min of PA during a school day [ 13 ].

Childhood inactivity has been shown to have detrimental effects not only on children’s physical and mental health but possibly also on their cognitive and academic performance [ 5 , 14 ]. To respond to the current low levels of PA among children, interventions have been conducted in the past two decades in several European countries, North America and Australia to increase the amount of PA during the school day. The interventions have not only modified children’s cardiovascular disease risk factors [ 15 ] but increasing evidence indicates that PA interventions do not have negative effects on children’s academic performance, cognitive function or on-task behaviour and may even benefit academic performance, particularly in mathematics [ 6 , 16 , 17 ].

Several mechanisms or mediating factors may underlie the effects of PA on academic performance among children. Human and non-human brain research suggests that PA has both acute and lasting effects on the structure and function of the central nervous system, and PA is hypothesized to promote children’s development via effects on brain systems that underlie cognition and behaviour [ 18 , 19 , 20 ]. There is evidence indicating that PA affects cognition by, for example, influencing the management of energy metabolism and synaptic plasticity [ 21 ].

Recent studies support the assumption that PA may affect executive functions [ 22 , 23 ]. Executive functions involve inhibition, working memory and cognitive flexibility [ 24 ], which in turn have been found to be associated with achievement in both reading and mathematics [ 25 ]. Several intervention studies have indicated that PA during the school day is positively associated with increased attention and time-on-task [ 26 , 27 ]. It is also acknowledged that PA can improve children’s cognitive, emotional and behavioural school engagement [ 28 ] and thus affect achievement positively. However, the findings on links between PA interventions and cognitive performance in children are still relatively rare and inconsistent [ 6 , 16 , 29 ].

Children’s motor development and related cognitive learning may be another mediating mechanism explaining the positive effects of PA on academic performance. This is suggested by studies showing that children’s physical growth, motor development and cognitive development are closely linked [ 30 , 31 , 32 ]. Many cognitive skills, such as visuospatial skills, rapid automatized naming and memory skills, contribute to arithmetic learning [ 33 , 34 ]. Peng and colleagues [ 35 ] suggest that deficits in processing speed and working memory are across-age salient cognitive markers of mathematical difficulties. Memory and processing skills might be influenced when PA is added to mathematics instruction or to the school day. For instance, Mullender-Wijnsma and colleagues [ 36 , 37 ] used repetition and memorization strategies to promote numerical processing speed in their PA intervention study.

It has also been demonstrated that emotional experiences are linked to mathematical achievement [ 38 ]. Sorvo and colleagues [ 39 ] reported that children as young as eight may experience anxiety about mathematics-related situations and about failure in mathematics. Therefore, including PA in mathematics lessons may affect emotional experiences and thus benefit children’s mathematics performance.

Mathematics is one of the core curriculum subjects, and the role of mathematical skills in modern technological societies is unquestionable [ 40 ]. However, in the past decade, concerns about children’s declining interest and performance in mathematics have been expressed internationally [ 41 , 42 , 43 ]. Children’s low interest in mathematics may be partially because mathematics is a subject in which students are reported to spend up to 76% of lesson time in sedentary work [ 10 ]. If increasing the amount of PA during math lessons or the school day proves to yield higher engagement, interest and enjoyment and in turn contributes to better mathematics performance, a strong argument could be made to introduce more daily PA in schools. To the best of our knowledge, reviews investigating the effects of school-based PA on academic performance in general have been conducted, but this is the first review specifically investigating the effects of PA on mathematics performance.

The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis is to address the following questions: (a) Do school-based PA interventions have an effect on children’s mathematics performance? (b) What are the characteristics of PA interventions with positive effects on math performance?

We followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) guidelines in conducting and reporting on this systematic review. The study selection flow is presented in Fig. 1 .

Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) study selection flow diagram

## Eligibility criteria

We used the population, intervention, comparison, outcomes (PICO) model to set the eligibility criteria for the systematic review [ 44 ]. Population: Intervention participants were 4–16 years old. Studies investigating subgroups of children were accepted (e.g. overweight children). Intervention: Controlled trials or other pretest–posttest experiments were included. Both between-group and within-subject designs were accepted. The studies investigated the effects of added school-based (or preschool-based) PA on children’s mathematics performance. PA took place immediately before, during or after school lessons or at break time or was in the form of PE lessons. Comparison: Only studies with baseline measurements and control groups were included. Outcomes : Studies using scores from standardized or norm-referenced, basic arithmetic or curriculum-based mathematics tests were accepted. Types of study reports: Peer-reviewed full-text academic journal articles published in English between January 2000 and November 2018 were examined.

## Study selection and data collection

We searched ProQuest, PsycINFO, SPORTDiscus and Medline in January 2018 for studies to include in this review. The following search terms were employed in Medline: (‘math*’ or ‘arithmetic*’ or ‘numeracy’) AND (‘physical activit*’ or ‘exercise’) AND (‘school*’). The same keywords, slightly modified to adapt to those typical for the search engine, were used in the other databases. An additional search was completed in November 2018 using the same strategy. The complete search strategy details are presented in detail in Additional file 1 .

Altogether, we identified 438 studies through the database searches; 325 were retained after removing 113 duplicates. An additional seven studies meeting the inclusion criteria were found through a search of previous systematic reviews on related topics [ 6 , 45 ] or through searching the reference lists of studies already included. The titles and abstracts of the remaining 325 articles were screened by SS, HV, A-MP and TT. Disagreements were resolved through discussion. Based on consensus decisions, 44 full-text articles were included in the next step. This involved an examination of the full-text articles by SS and HS before finally selecting 29 full-text articles. See the flow diagram in Fig. 1 . The main reasons for excluding studies during the process were: 1) No baseline measurement for math performance was conducted 2) The interventions did not have a control group 3) Math performance was measured by teachers’ report cards. Detailed data from the included articles were extracted into Microsoft Excel by SS and HS (Table 1 ). Where available, pretest–posttest group means were collected to conduct a meta-analysis. Ten original authors were contacted by e-mail to acquire missing data for the analysis. The original authors were given three weeks to reply and were reminded once about the request. Supplementary data were received from three authors. Sufficient data for a full meta-analysis were available for 11 studies.

## Risk-of-Bias assessment

A risk-of-bias assessment of the final sample of 29 studies was conducted using combined, modified criteria previously used by Lonsdale [ 46 ] and Van Sluijs [ 47 ] and following the guidelines of the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions [ 44 ]. Some slight modifications were made to the risk assessment criteria to adapt to experiments conducted in the fields of education and psychology. It is acknowledged that experimental and quasi-experimental designs to evaluate the effects of policy and programs need to have adequate statistical power to detect meaningful size impacts. Therefore, the criterion of power calculation was added to the assessment [ 48 ]. Each study received ‘0’ (does not meet the criterion) or ‘1’ (meets the criterion) for each criterion based on an analysis of the reporting in the original article.

## Meta-analysis procedures

Only randomized controlled trials were included in the meta-analysis to ensure high-quality interpretation [ 44 ]. Effect size (ES) estimates were calculated using Cohen’s d. Only post-intervention (not mid-intervention) mean (M) values were used in the analysis. For between-group designs, Cohen’s d was calculated as follows:

where \( {M}_{treatment}^{t1},{M}_{treatment}^{t2},{M}_{control}^{t1}\ \mathrm{and}\ {M}_{control}^{t2} \) are the baseline (t1) and post-intervention (t2) means in the treatment and control groups, and SD pooled is the pooled standard deviation.

The I2 statistic was calculated [ 49 ] to evaluate heterogeneity among the studies, and the following values were used for interpretation: < 30%, mild; 30–50%, moderate and > 50%, high heterogeneity [ 50 ]. Pooled ES estimates and 95% confidence intervals were calculated using a random effect model. The ES estimates and confidence intervals of individual studies and pooled estimates are presented in Fig. 2 . A decision was made to consider ES ≥ 0.8 large; ≥ 0.5 medium and ≥ 0.2 small [ 51 , 52 ]. As heterogeneity was found to be large in the sample of 11 studies, a moderator analysis was performed. Meta-regression analyses were conducted to assess the relationship between ES estimates and the following study-level variables: participants’ age and duration and type of intervention. Further analyses were conducted using the statistical software package R (version 3.4.3). The 95% confidence intervals for the ES of individual studies, heterogeneity and meta-regression estimates were calculated using the MBESS package [ 53 ].

Forest plot. Pooled ES estimates and 95% confidence intervals were calculated using a random effect model. ● Individual study effect sizes were calculated using Cohen’s d. ♦ Summary effect size

## Systematic review of study characteristics

A total of 29 intervention studies were included in the systematic review. A descriptive summary of the characteristics of the reviewed studies is presented in Table 1 . The countries of origin of the studies are as follows: USA [ 14 ], Australia [ 5 ], Denmark [ 2 ], the Netherlands [ 2 ], Norway [ 2 ], Sweden [ 2 ], Croatia [ 1 ] and Greece [ 1 ]. The participants ranged in age from 4.7 to 16 years old. Two of the studies were conducted in a preschool setting [ 54 , 55 ]. The total number of participants in the intervention and control groups ranged from 29 to 1214 children [ 56 , 57 ]. The intervention participants comprised 11,264 children.

Standardized or national-level mathematics tests were employed in 22 studies to measure mathematics learning outcomes. The remaining studies employed custom-made tests that typically assessed basic arithmetic skills or were based on local age-level curriculum goals. Many studies employed more than one type of mathematics test [ 36 , 56 , 58 , 59 , 60 , 61 ]. The length of the interventions varied between 1 week [ 62 ] and 3 years [ 63 , 64 ]. Of the 29 studies, 5 investigated the acute effects of PA interventions, that is, a short PA session lasting 5–40 min took place right before a mathematics test.

The content of the interventions varied greatly. In 11 studies, PA was integrated into mathematics lessons and included curriculum-based mathematics goals [ 10 , 36 , 37 , 40 , 54 , 55 , 62 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 66 ]. Positive results were reported in 5 (45%) of these 11 studies [ 36 , 54 , 55 , 62 , 63 ]. Only one study reported significant negative results [ 37 ] for a subgroup of 8-year old children in the first half of the intervention. Two studies reported partly positive and partly neutral results [ 40 , 66 ].

In five studies, the intervention consisted of extra PE lessons, more intense PE lessons or other extra teacher-led PA during the school day [ 58 , 67 , 68 , 69 , 70 ]. Three out of five interventions showed positive results on mathematics performance [ 68 , 69 , 70 ], while one study reported partly positive and partly neutral results [ 58 ]. One of the studies reported neutral effects [ 67 ]. It is noteworthy that some of these studies involved subgroups; da Cruz [ 58 ] studied only girls, Gao and colleagues [ 70 ] studied only Latino children and Davis and colleagues [ 68 ] studied only overweight children.

Five intervention studies involved short PA breaks during lessons or in the middle of the school day [ 56 , 57 , 59 , 71 , 72 ]. The length of PA breaks varied between 5 min and 20 min, and there could be several breaks during a day. Two of the five studies indicated positive results [ 56 , 71 ] and the rest reported neutral effects.

The remaining three long-term interventions used a combination of various types of PA [ 60 , 73 , 74 ]. The interventions included, for example, PA breaks, integrated PA, active transportation to school and PA homework. These interventions had no overall effect.

In four of the five studies investigating the acute effects of PA on math performance, PA sessions took place right before math performance testing sessions [ 61 , 75 , 76 , 77 ]. The PA sessions lasted approximately 20–30 min and varied in intensity. Two of these studies indicated positive effects of PA sessions on math scores [ 61 , 76 ] and two indicated neutral effects [ 75 , 77 ] One of the acute effect studies employed 5–20-min breaks during math lessons [ 9 ]. In this study, math scores proved to be higher after 10- and 20-min exercise breaks but not after 5-min breaks. See Table 1 for all the details.

In some of the reviewed PA interventions, additional findings were reported for subgroups of participants. Howie, Schatz and Pate [ 9 ] reported that classroom exercise breaks had a positive effect on mathematics scores for participants with lower IQ, higher aerobic fitness or lower school engagement. Beck and colleagues [ 40 ] reported that average mathematics performers (not low performers) benefited from math-related gross motor activities but not from fine motor activities. In a large Norwegian study [ 73 ] ( n = 1129), subgroup analysis indicated positive intervention effects for pupils with the poorest math baseline scores. In a later analysis, a negative trend (not a significant effect) in mathematics performance was found for middle and high-performing girls [ 74 ]. In a study by Sjöwall [ 67 ] subgroup analyses revealed no favourable intervention effects for children with low baseline fitness or cognition.

## Results of meta-analysis

Data for meta-analysis were available for 11 studies. Some of these studies included two different intervention conditions and/or two separate mathematics outcomes, thus leading to two to four different ES estimates for these studies. The results of the analysis are presented in Fig. 2 . Small ESs (0.2 ≤ ES ≤ 0.5) were detected in six intervention studies. Moderate ESs (≥ 0.5) were found for four interventions. One of the interventions indicated a small negative ES (− 0.24) [ 59 ]. The rest indicated no effect (− 0.2 ≤ ES < 0.2). Overall, on average a small positive effect (d=0.23) was found for all the interventions. The level of statistical heterogeneity between the intervention groups was high, I 2 = 69.6%. In the moderator analysis, the age of participants (β = − 0.051, p = 0.045) and the duration of intervention (β = − 0.003, p = 0.002) were found to explain heterogeneity. The type of intervention was not found to influence ESs. See Table 2 for a full analysis.

## Results of risk-of-Bias assessment

The results of the risk-of-bias assessment analysis are shown in Table 3 . Of the 29 studies, 12 were rated as having a low risk of bias (> 67% of total score) and 17 were rated as having a moderate risk of bias (between 33 and 67% of the total score). None of the studies was rated as having a high risk of bias. Only eight studies reported power calculations to determine sufficient sample sizes. Of those reporting positive effects of PA on mathematics performance, power calculations were provided in five [ 36 , 58 , 61 , 64 , 74 ].

The purpose of this systematic review was to examine the effects of school-based PA interventions on children’s mathematics performance and to detect and identify the features of effective interventions. The review indicated that 45% of the 29 intervention studies included in the analysis based on a rigorous literature search showed positive effects, and the meta-analysis of 11 studies suggested an overall small positive effect of school-based PA interventions on children’s mathematics performance. Only one study indicated significant negative effects in a subgroup of participants. Taken together, the results of this review provide evidence to support the assumption that increasing school-based PA can have positive effects on children’ mathematics performance and that it does not have harmful effects on performance. The findings seem to be in line with earlier reviews investigating academic performance in general [ 6 , 16 , 17 ].

The moderator analysis revealed that older age of participants and longer duration of intervention were negatively associated with ESs. This suggests that younger children may benefit more from PA interventions than older children and that longer interventions are not necessarily more effective than shorter ones.

This review included various types of PA interventions —physically active mathematics lessons integrating PA into academic learning goals, the introduction of PA during or after school, adding short PA breaks during academic lessons or in the middle of the school day and bursts of activity right before mathematics testing. There was no clear evidence indicating that some of the types of PA would be more effective than the others. However, increasing the amount of traditional PE lessons did not seem to have a positive effect on mathematics learning, whereas PE lessons with more intense PA did make a difference. In their earlier review and meta-analysis Alvarez-Bueno and colleagues [ 17 ] concluded that curricular PE lessons seemed to be the most appropriate type of PA to improve children’s academic achievement, although integrating PA in classroom lessons also benefited mathematics-related skills. Hence, drawing conclusions on what type of PA works best remains a challenge.

Subgroup analyses showed that students’ cognitive abilities may have an effect on how much they benefit from increased PA with respect to math performance gains. Two studies [ 9 , 74 ] suggested trends implying that children with lower IQ or baseline achievement and low school engagement may benefit more from PA interventions than other participants. Nonetheless, Beck and colleagues [ 40 ] reported conflicting results. Studies focusing on overweight children [ 68 ] and children with a minority background [ 70 ] reported some positive effects of PA on math performance. Although interpretations need to be made with caution, the analyses suggest that children experiencing barriers to learning might benefit more from increased amounts of PA in school than other children.

The findings of acute effect studies by Phillips and colleagues [ 61 ] and Travlos [ 76 ] indicated that the timing of PA during the school day may be important, thus providing support for the view that the placement of PA breaks before cognitively challenging tasks may be beneficial. The results of Howie and colleagues [ 9 ] suggested that 5-min PA breaks may be too short to have effects on math performance, whereas breaks lasting 10 or 20 min may have beneficial effects.

Many of the reviewed studies included measures of other outcomes, for example, measures of cognitive skills, executive functions, behaviour, brain activation and language achievement. Further examination of these factors in future studies would be helpful in determining how or why PA might affect mathematics performance. For instance, Beck and colleagues [ 40 ] have argued that favourable effects of motor activities on academic performance may be accounted for by changes in the visuo-spatial short-term memory and improved attentional resources. In the study by da Cruz [ 58 ] participation in a PA intervention was found to be positively associated with changes in both inhibition and mathematics fluency. Davis and colleagues [ 68 ] evidenced increased prefrontal cortex activity in study participants and suggested that cognitive changes might be the result of neural simulation rather than being mediated by cardiovascular benefits. The results of a study by Elofsson and colleagues [ 55 ] showed that children’s motor skills explained almost 16% of the variation in mathematical measures.

Despite the positive effects shown in almost half of the reviewed interventions, it is unclear whether PA per se was the cause of those positive effects. For instance, Mullender-Wijnsma and colleagues [ 36 ] suggested that academic engagement or an innovative teaching method consisting of repetition and memorization techniques might partially explain the positive effects of their PA intervention. Although only designs with an intervention vs. control condition comparison were included in the review, alternative explanations for positive intervention effects cannot be ruled out. That is, it is possible that instead of or in addition to direct effects of increased PA, it was the attention from adults, a change in routine or pedagogical practices and increased engagement and enjoyment that produced the positive results. It is probable that children may experience psychological changes due to the social interaction that occurs during PA sessions [ 18 ]. These perspectives require further investigation.

Because some learners associate anxiety or dislike with mathematics lessons, it is relevant to note that some of the interventions integrating PA and mathematics reported positive experiences by teachers and students, and student engagement during lessons was also enhanced [ 78 ]. Learning activities that are engaging promote small group social interaction and de-emphasize competition, thus enhancing learning [ 45 ].

Three recent large-scale Scandinavian multicomponent interventions [ 60 , 67 , 73 ] where various types of PA were added to the school day did not indicate significant positive effects on mathematics performance. This may be because Scandinavian school days already include regular breaks, weekly PE lessons and a pedagogy that activates children. This raises the question of whether there may be an upper limit after which the increased amount of PA no longer improves academic achievement. Nonetheless, the finding that academic performance is not harmed by additional PA is important because of the beneficial effects of PA on children’s physical and mental health.

One of the strengths of this review is that only studies with baseline measures and control groups were accepted for analysis. Furthermore, only studies using random control trial designs were included in the meta-analysis. Studies with teacher-reported grades without any test scores were not included in the sample, as grades are often tied to local and national educational culture and curriculum. The risk-of-bias assessment was added to the analysis to provide information at the evidence level, and it revealed no studies with a high risk of bias.

There are some limitations to this study that must be noted. The number of high-quality studies on the topic is still low, which posed challenges, particularly as regards the meta-analysis. Missing data in the original articles or deficiencies in study designs reduced the pool of studies eligible for ES analysis, which might affect the strength of the conclusions. The large statistical heterogeneity of the results may reduce the reliability of the meta-analysis and hence the overall effects size should be interpreted with caution. On the whole, heterogeneity of the results may be due to different educational contexts, measures of mathematics performance and nature of PA selected for the intervention. Some methodological challenges were identified in the original studies, such as the lack of power calculations or evaluations of treatment fidelity. The commitment of participants was a factor that compromised interpretations in some of the studies [ 60 ]. Even though nationally used curriculum-based tests are needed, future studies should preferably utilize internationally acknowledged tests and task types for basic mathematical skills [ 56 ].

Despite the promising results, more replication studies with similar measurement, adequate sample sizes and carefully planned control groups are needed to establish a potential causal relationship between PA and academic performance [ 16 , 29 ]. Regarding the theoretical basis upon which assumptions about the mechanisms behind the effects of PA can be drawn and tested, a clear need exists for merging neuroscientific, psychological or educational theorizing and concepts to better understand the mechanisms behind the effects of PA on children’s academic performance. More research is needed to answer questions such as the extent to which we can reduce the time spent in sedentary activities and not compromise the academic learning of children.

Schools have a key role in introducing and integrating PA into children’s everyday lives. Accordingly, every opportunity should be explored and made use of in the school curricula and pedagogical practices to diminish the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle. The information presented in this review and meta-analysis provides some evidence to back the supposition that adding more PA to the school day and to lessons in the form of PA breaks, extra PA sessions, more intense PE lessons or PA integrated into academic lessons may enhance children’s academic performance and mathematics learning. The results of this systematic review and further studies can help convince educators and policy makers to recommend the addition and effective integration of PA into the school day.

## Availability of data and materials

Most of the data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article and its supplementary information files, or in the published original articles included in the review. A small amount of data (math test means missing in the included original articles) were received directly from original authors and are available on request from the corresponding author.

## Abbreviations

Effect size

Methods for the Behavioral, Educational, and Social Sciences

Moderate to vigorous physical activity

- Physical activity

Physical education

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The study is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland. OKM/79/626/2018.

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## Contributions

SS, HS and TT designed the study. SS, TT, HV and A-MP developed the search strategy and SS conducted the search. SS, TT, HV, HS and A-MP screened studies for inclusion. SS and HS extracted the data and conducted the risk of bias assessment. AK, HH and SS conducted the meta-analysis. SS drafted the manuscript and SS, TT, HS, HV and A-MP contributed to the final manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Sneck, S., Viholainen, H., Syväoja, H. et al. Effects of school-based physical activity on mathematics performance in children: a systematic review. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 16 , 109 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-019-0866-6

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## Relationship between interest and mathematics performance in a technology-enhanced learning context in Malaysia

- Shu Ling Wong 1 &
- Su Luan Wong ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-7824-314X 1

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The primary aim of this preliminary study is to examine a possible association between interest and mathematics performance among Malaysian students in a technology-enhanced learning environment. The Mathematics Interest Inventory was administered to 40 students to measure students’ interest towards mathematics, while a mathematics test was used to measure students’ mathematics performance. Results of the descriptive statistical analyses revealed that the students were relatively interested in mathematics. Correlational analyses showed that interest was not significantly correlated to mathematics performance among the students. Nevertheless, a significant relationship between interest and mathematics performance was found among students who had lower mathematics performance. The findings of this study pointed to the importance of igniting interest among students with lower mathematics performance given its strong link to mathematics performance. The Interest-Driven Creator theory served as an anchor in the theoretical framework of the study and it was discussed within the context of mathematics learning.

## Introduction

In Malaysia, mathematics is a compulsory subject for all primary and secondary school students. Over the years, Malaysia has participated in international assessments like Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). In 1999, when Malaysia first participated in TIMSS, its eighth-grade students’ mathematics performance was above average with a mean score of 519, and Malaysia ranked 16th out of 38 countries (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2013 ). However, over the following years, Malaysian eighth-graders’ mathematics achievement in TIMSS showed a declining trend whereby in TIMSS 2011, they attained a low mean score of 440 and Malaysia ranked 26th out of 45 countries (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2013 ). Nevertheless, in TIMSS 2015 the mathematics score improved by 25 points to an overall score of 465 (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Hooper, 2016 ). Malaysia was one of the 18 countries which had shown improved mathematics performance in TIMSS 2015 as compared to TIMSS 2011 (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2017 ).

On the other hand, the results in PISA 2009 showed that nearly 60% of the 15-year-old Malaysian students who participated in the assessment were below the minimum benchmarks of mathematical literacy set by PISA, which is required to participate effectively and productively in life (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2013 ). Later in PISA 2012, the mathematics performance was subpar again, and Malaysia was placed 52nd out of 65 participating countries, with a mean score of 421 that was below the OECD average (OECD, 2014 ). In brief, the findings from these international assessments suggest that there have been fluctuations in Malaysian students’ mathematics performance.

As widely believed, interest has a vital role in mathematics learning (Heinze, Reiss, & Franziska, 2005 ; Yu & Singh, 2016 ). Hidi and Renninger ( 2006 ) describe interest represents a psychological state of engaging or having the tendency to reengage in a particular content in the course of time; it was categorised into individual interest and situational interest. According to Ainley ( 2006 ), interest is defined as an affective state that refers to the subjective experience in learning. In this study, interest is operationally defined as students’ affective state of being engaged in mathematics learning whereby students enjoy the learning process. Heinze et al. ( 2005 ) carried out a study on 500 German students who were at the seventh grade and eighth grade to explore their mathematics achievement and interest as well as the association between the variables. The study concluded that interest towards mathematics learning could be considered as a predictor for mathematics achievement (Heinze et al., 2005 ). Sauer ( 2012 ) found that students’ interest towards learning is one of the contributing factors in successful academic performance. A study conducted on 511 secondary students in Nigeria showed that academic achievement and interest in learning are significantly correlated (Kpolovie, Joe, & Okoto, 2014 ). Also, Gilbert ( 2016 ) showed that students with a higher level of interest in mathematics had lower performance-avoidance goals for both types of mathematical tasks which required high and low cognitive processes. Moreover, Thien and Ong ( 2015 ) pointed out that mathematics anxiety and mathematics self-efficacy did affect Malaysian students’ mathematics performance while Pantziara and Philippou ( 2013 ) revealed that self-efficacy in mathematics can directly affect students’ interest in mathematics.

In contrast, Yu and Singh ( 2016 ) reported an unanticipated result which showed that the relationship between interest and mathematics performance was insignificant. The study adopted interest and self-efficacy as the motivational variables and concluded that teachers’ emotional support influenced students’ interest in mathematics. Yu and Singh ( 2016 ) explained that interest might not be a direct predictor of mathematics performance, and it could be due to the reciprocal effects with personal variables (i.e. self-efficacy or self-regulations) or school-related variables (i.e. classroom practices). In a related vein, Thien and Ong ( 2015 ) highlighted that in PISA 2012, unlike affective variables like mathematics self-efficacy and anxiety, mathematical interest did not significantly relate to Malaysian students’ mathematics performance. In view of these inconclusive findings, this study intended to investigate the relationship between interest and mathematics performance among Malaysian students in a technology-enhanced learning environment.

## Theoretical framework: Interest-Driven Creator (IDC) theory in learning mathematics

Many studies have put effort in intervening an approach to promote and develop students’ interest in mathematics learning. The IDC theory suggests that students can be nurtured as creators after they have engaged in interest-driven learning activities regularly with technology support (Chan et al., 2018 ). There are three anchored concepts in the IDC theory, namely, interest, creation, and habit, whereas each of them will go through to a continuum learning activity that subsequently forms a loop (Chan et al., 2018 ).

Firstly, the interest loop comprises three coherent components which are triggering interest, immersing interest, and extending interest (Wong, Chan, Chen, King, & Wong, 2015 ). In the IDC theory, stimulating curiosity is one of the processes in triggering situational interest; however, presenting attractive learning subject matters is inadequate for this purpose. To provoke situational interest, teachers or instructional designers should scaffold knowledge deficit, which subsequently can help students be immersed or fully engaged in the learning process by providing optimum levels of challenging learning tasks. As for the final component in the interest loop, it explains that utility implications of the learning content are crucial for sustaining students’ interest (Wong et al., 2015 ). In relation to mathematics learning, students’ interest can be promoted by firstly presenting a mathematical problem that is able to provoke and confront students’ prior knowledge, and scaffold students to tackle challenges that help students gain successful experiences and finally present the practical value of the learning content.

Next in the creation loop, there are three components which are imitating, combining, and staging (Chan et al., 2018 ). According to Chan, Looi, and Chang ( 2015 ), the early stage of learning process includes imitation from a model, as an attempt to understand the model’s ideas, methods, or ways of doing things. Then, students will choose what to retain or remove, and come up with their own interpretation or ideas as a result of ‘combination’. To complete the creation process, students should be provided with a platform to present their product (Chan et al., 2015 ). In the context of mathematics learning, the creation loop can be operationalised as simply as a mathematics problem-solving situation in a classroom. Mathematics teachers usually demonstrate a step-by-step method to approach a mathematics question, and in return, students are asked to imitate the process for a similar question. When students are able to solve the question on their own, it can be known as a completed ‘combination’ process as they have acquired the skills and knowledge to answer a mathematics question. Staging can be as straightforward as showing their working solution on the board in the classroom to their peers.

Finally, the habit loop consists of three components: cueing environment, routine, and satisfaction (Chen et al., 2015 ). In the view of the IDC theory, it is important and possible to develop a positive learning habit to nurture a lifelong interest-driven creator (Chen et al., 2015 ). Although the habit formation process takes time and is highly related to students’ affective characteristics and cognitive behaviours, teachers should begin with easy and simple habits; therefore, it comes down to the question of what is the learning habit teachers would like students to form (Chen et al., 2015 ). Regarding learning mathematics, there are a few fundamental and important learning habits like memorisation of the multiplication table, the accurate and systematic way of writing mathematics equation, or an analytic approach in solving mathematics questions. In the process of developing students’ interest towards mathematics, it is inevitable that students are required to be innately involved in solving a mathematics problem regularly, and that is when habits comes into play, to help them be comfortable, familiar, and most importantly, answer a mathematics question correctly as guided by the teacher. In the long term, as conceptualised in the IDC theory, students’ satisfaction towards learning can be increased with increasing successful experiences (Chan et al., 2018 ; Chen et al., 2015 ).

When taken together, from the IDC theory perspective, nurturing interest in learning mathematics includes provoking students’ interest with scaffolding mathematics problems, guiding students to tackle the challenges, providing utility value of the learning content, enabling students to imitate the approach of solving a mathematics question, allowing them to answer on their own and presenting it to teacher or peers, and lastly, guiding students to form fundamental habit in arithmetic learning process in every step of the way. It would be reasonable to assume that the aforesaid discussion provides a glimpse of how the IDC theory can be applied to guide the design of learning activities in mathematics. The potential of the IDC theory is far-reaching but more studies need to be carried out to validate its application in the learning context across various disciplines.

It is believed that interest has a vital role in students’ learning performance (Gilbert, 2016 ; Heinze et al., 2005 ; Kpolovie et al., 2014 ; Sauer, 2012 ). However, interest may not be a direct predictor of mathematics performance (Yu & Singh, 2016 ) and may not significantly relate to Malaysian students’ mathematics performance after factoring in the results from PISA 2012 (Thien & Ong, 2015 ). Therefore, this preliminary study leveraged on the IDC theory to understand more about the relationship between interest and students’ mathematics performance in the Malaysian context.

## Objective of the study

The objective of the study is to explore the association between interest and mathematics performance among Malaysian students in a technology-enhanced learning environment from the perspective of the IDC theory. Specifically, the following research questions will be answered:

What is Malaysian students’ interest profile towards mathematics in a technology-enhanced learning environment?

Is there any relationship between interest and mathematics performance among Malaysian students in a technology-enhanced learning context?

## Description of the instructional context

The mathematics instructions aim to achieve two learning objectives under the topic of Loci in Two Dimensions, which is Chapter 9 in Form Two (Grade 8) mathematics syllabus (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2002 ). The topic was chosen in this study because nearly 43% of the topics in mathematics syllabus for secondary education in Malaysia are related to geometry (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2004 ). There are two learning objectives under this topic which are to (1) understand the concept of two-dimensional loci and (2) understand the concept of the intersection of two loci.

Geometer’s Sketchpad (GSP) was used as a supporting tool in this study. It is a dynamic geometry software that can be used to create, explore, and analyse a broad range of mathematical concepts such as geometry, algebra, calculus, and trigonometry (Steketee, Jackiw, & Chanan, 2001 ). In this study, GSP was utilised to demonstrate the concept of loci by showing the points moving according to the mathematically defined conditions. As per the learning objectives of the topic, there were four types of loci in different conditions, and hence GSP was used to explain the concept for every condition.

In relation to the interest component of the IDC theory, in order to stimulate curiosity and challenge students intellectually to stimulate interest in the learning topic, students were asked to answer the question, ‘Do you think that every passenger in every capsule of the London Eye will be seeing the same view of London, after they have completed the Ferris wheel ride?’. The question is meant for students to reason why every capsule is moving at the same path, which will be related to the definition of locus whereby it is the pathway of moving points under a certain condition (e.g. every capsule is moving at a constant distance from the centre of London Eye). An example of the GSP teaching material is included in Appendix 1 .

For the creation process, the mathematics instructions were structured in a way that students could observe how teachers construct locus for every specific condition. The teacher used the opportunity to emphasise the importance of using the correct mathematical tool (i.e. compass and ruler) to construct an accurate geometrical figure. When students were able to imitate the process to construct the correct locus for certain conditions, it is known as a complete ‘combination’ process as they have acquired the skills to approach the questions under these learning objectives.

The habit in the mathematics learning process is important to facilitate mathematical understanding in the long term. For this reason, it is critically important to draw an accurate geometrical figure with correct tools (teachers relate the importance to the nature of work of an architect). Therefore, to form the habit of constructing accurate figures, students were asked to use a ruler to draw straight lines and use a compass to draw a circle and the right steps to draw a perpendicular line and angle bisector.

This is a correlational research whereby the association between two variables was investigated. A questionnaire and a mathematics test were administrated to measure interest and mathematics performance, respectively. The Mathematics Interest Inventory (MII) comprising 27 items which was originally developed by Stevens and Olivárez ( 2005 ) is used to measure students’ interest towards mathematics. MII is a seven-point scale, ranging from 1 = not at all true of me to 7 = very true of me, which was used for all items in this instrument. There are 11 reversed items in the instrument, specifically items 11 to 20 and item 26. These negatively stated items were reverse-scored before the scores were computed at the data analysis stage.

Mathematics performance is measured by a mathematics test that questions on the topic of Loci in Two Dimensions, which is Chapter 9 in the Form Two (Grade 8) mathematics syllabus (Ministry of Education Malaysia, 2002 ). The mathematics test comprises six questions with a total minimum score of zero and a maximum score of 20. Nine periods of mathematics lessons were used for this study (30 min for each period). The first seven periods were used for mathematics instructions and the last two periods were for administration of the MII and mathematics test.

The content validity of the instruments was established through a panel of expert comprising a mathematics lecturer, an educational psychologist, and an expert in the field of educational technology. All of the experts were lecturers in public universities in Malaysia. The experts identified and modified double- and multiple-barrel items, and they recommended modifications to some words and phrases of the items in order to align them to the objectives of this study. Modifications to the items were made with the written permission from the respective authors. The reliability of the MII was established with Cronbach’s alpha value at .82 which is categorised as highly reliable according to Cohen, Manion, and Morrison ( 2007 ).

The 40 participants in this study were from two intact classrooms from two national public secondary schools in Selangor state, Malaysia. Geometer’s Sketchpad (GSP) was used in both classrooms to demonstrate the concept of locus to achieve the learning objectives. GSP is a dynamic geometry software that can be used to create, explore, and analyse a broad range of mathematical concepts such as geometry, algebra, calculus, and trigonometry (Jackiw, 1991 ).

## Results and findings

Students’ interest profile towards mathematics in a technology-enhanced learning context.

Interest towards mathematics was measured among the 40 students, and the interest mean score is 4.70 with a standard deviation of 0.64. The mean score is only slightly higher than the mid-point of the scale (4.0) which represents the neutral interest disposition. The mean score suggests that the students were in between ‘not sure’ and ‘somewhat true of me’ in accordance with interest disposition towards mathematics. This suggests students are inclined to have a positive disposition towards learning mathematics.

Table 1 presents students’ interest towards mathematics. With regards to the items related to positive valence, i.e. item one until ten, the majority of them agreed the descriptors were very true of them. Among others, for the descriptor ‘I want to know all about how to do mathematics problems’, 45% of the respondents agreed that this is very true of them, 42.5% agreed that it is very true that knowing a lot about mathematics is helpful, and the same percentage of them choose to work on mathematics.

With regards to negative experience related to mathematics which includes being cognitively challenged by mathematics and thus choosing to avoid it, majority of the respondents were not sure about it. For instance, 37.5% of them were not sure if they want to stop and start working on something else when they are working on mathematics. There are one-fourth of them who were not sure, but 20% thought that it is somewhat true that they get mad easily when working on mathematics. It is notable that there were 37.5%, 17.5%, and 7.5% of the respondents who agreed they are wasting time on mathematics at the levels of very true, true, and somewhat true of them, respectively.

## Relationship between interest and mathematics performance

The relationship between interest and mathematics performance was explored using the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient. The rule of thumb by Cohen et al. ( 2007 ) was used for interpreting the results of r values in this study. No significant relationship was established between interest and mathematics performance for the 40 students, at r = 0.24 with p = 0.14. The strength of the relationship was considered as small (Cohen et al., 2007 ), and there was not much overlap between the two variables as only 5.7% of variances were shared between them. It should be noted that the mean score of their mathematics performance is 9.08 out of 20 (SD = 3.88) and this indicates that the students did not pass the mathematics test as a whole.

To further investigate the association between interest and mathematics performance, students were divided into two groups with different levels of mathematics performance. The first group (group 1, n = 20, higher mathematics performance) had a mean score of 10.73 (SD = 3.87) for mathematics performance which was considered as a pass. Group 1 had a mean score of 4.61 (SD = 0.47) for interest. On the other hand, the second group (group 2, n = 20, lower level of mathematics performance) had a mean score of 7.43 (SD = 3.20) for mathematics performance which was considered as a fail. Group 2 had a mean score of 4.78 (SD = 0.77) for interest. The results indicate that students in group 2 with lower mathematics competency had a slightly higher level of interest compared to that of students in group 1 with higher mathematics competency.

With regard to the higher mathematics performance group, there was no significant relationship between interest and mathematics performance at r = 0.12 with p = 0.62. There was only 1.4% of shared variances between the two variables for this group of students. In contrast, the lower mathematics performance group established a significant relationship between interest and mathematics performance at r = 0.52 with p < 0.05. According to Cohen et al. ( 2007 ), the strength of the significant relationship was large with 27.04% shared variance. This suggests that interest towards mathematics helps to explain approximately 27% of the variance in this particular group of students’ mathematics performance.

## Discussion and conclusion

The aim of this study is to examine the association between interest and mathematics performance in a technology-enhanced learning environment among Malaysian students in Form 2 (Grade 8). Students were inclined to like mathematics but at the same time did not quite see the benefits of learning the subject. In other words, students understood the importance and practical implication of mathematics subject but seemed to perceive learning mathematics as unnecessary. In relation to the relatively low mathematics test scores, it seems possible that these results were due to students’ frustration and helplessness while answering the test questions could have been challenging to them. This result is similar to that of PISA 2012 in which Malaysian students had significantly higher levels of instrumental motivation and mathematical interest compared to OECD average but had a higher level of mathematics anxiety than OECD average too (OECD, 2014 ; Thien & Ong, 2015 ). One possible reason for this is that students could be feeling anxious about mathematics while being well aware of its utility value in the Malaysian education context. This is because they will need to gain a pass in general mathematics in order to gain admission to many institutions of higher learning.

The findings of the present study indicate that interest is not significantly related to mathematics performance in general, especially among those with higher mathematics performance. However, interest towards learning mathematics has a significant positive relationship with mathematics performance for those with low mathematics performance. These results reflect those of Köller and Baumert ( 2001 ) in which relationship between academic interest and mathematics achievement is weaker when learning activities are driven by extrinsic values like wanting to get good grades in the examination or avoiding negative consequences from not performing well. It was argued that interest becomes a more critical antecedent of mathematics performance when the instruction is not highly structured (Köller & Baumert, 2001 ). Yu and Singh ( 2016 ) argued the reciprocal effects like personal variables (self-efficacy) and classroom practice may be the reasons that interest is not a direct predictor of mathematics performance. In relation to this study, a possible explanation for this is that students who were in the high mathematics performance group were driven to learn for extrinsic reasons and their mathematics learning activities in the classroom probably were more structured as they have better mathematics competency, and hence, despite having lower level of interest towards mathematics, they could still perform better in mathematics test. When seen through the lens of the IDC theory, interest towards mathematics of this higher performance group of students can be developed by scaffolding the knowledge deficit and explaining the utility implications of the learning content to sustain their interest towards the learning content.

On the other hand, students who were weaker in mathematics had more interest in the subject as compared to those who were better in mathematics. Findings of the present study are in line with those of PISA 2012 where Malaysian students had higher than OECD average level of mathematics interest, but the mean scores for mathematics performance were lower than OECD average (OECD, 2014 ; Thien & Ong, 2015 ). In the context of the IDC theory, this group of students probably have interest towards mathematics but requires more help at the creation stage where students have to analyse, evaluate, and create in the ‘combining’ stage (Chan et al., 2018 ). It may be that this group of students requires more help in ‘imitating’ where a spectrum of learning activities needs to be given to guide students to remember, understand, and apply the demonstrated mathematics problem-solving methods (Chan et al., 2015 ). For instance, this group of students might need more time to internalise the steps to construct a locus for certain conditions. This means that the teacher probably needs to facilitate more frequently than usual for the step-by-step demonstration of constructing an accurate locus.

As stipulated in the creation loop of the IDC theory (Chan et al., 2015 ), students were not able to progress towards creating their version of understanding of teacher’s demonstration in learning mathematics, if they have not fully made sense of the inputting information from their model, i.e. mathematics teacher. In the same vein, it should not be neglected that it is a primary priority for students to develop interest as imposed in the interest loop (Wong et al., 2015 ), before they can be facilitated for creation process in learning mathematics, especially for students with low mastery level of mathematics. This could be achieved by stimulating curiosity through presenting knowledge deficit with mathematics problems, allowing students to tackle the problems, and presenting practicality of the learning content. Subsequently, as described in the habit loop (Chen et al., 2015 ), these learning activities have to be conducted regularly in order to nurture an interest-driven mathematics learner while fundamental habit in learning mathematics could be formed in the process too.

In conclusion, this study, though preliminary in nature, it would be reasonable to assume that the students who participated in this study were relatively interested in mathematics although it appeared that their interest in mathematics may have been driven by the examination grades. However, the link between interest and mathematics performance was weak for those who had a higher level of performance in mathematics but stronger for those with lower mathematics performance. Obviously, more needs to be done by teachers to spark the interest among students who were weaker in mastering mathematics given its significant relationship with mathematics performance. Thereafter, students should be exposed to a broad range of learning activities regularly in order to allow them to imitate problem-solving skills in mathematics from their teachers, and such repetitive behaviours will hopefully translate into learning mathematics habits. At this point in time, it can only be speculated that the IDC theory may have a bigger impact on lower mathematics achievers than higher achievers when applied into the learning designs of learning activities.

## Limitations of the study

This preliminary study has several limitations. Given that it was our first attempt to apply the IDC theory into the mathematics learning activities, more work needs to be done to concretise the instructional design of the activities. The IDC theory was primarily used to explain the exploration on the relationship between mathematics interest and mathematics performance in this study. The data of interest in this study were collected through questionnaires alone. It was based entirely on students’ honesty and how they perceived their interest disposition towards mathematics. It also must be recognised that only two classes of Form 2 (Grade 8) students from two different public secondary schools in the state of Selangor, Malaysia, were included in the study. As such, the results from this study cannot be generalised beyond this group of students.

In addition, other variables or factors that were not considered in the current analysis that could have been impactful include students’ prior knowledge on the learning topic, gender, and previous mathematics learning experience and performance. It is important to point out that the causal implications between interest towards mathematics learning and mathematics performance cannot be established as the correlational analysis does not reveal the causal effect among variables.

Suffice to say, this study has contributed in some ways to the current articulation of the IDC theory as seen from the Malaysian perspective given ‘that there is a symbiosis between theory and practice, and, for educational research, they cannot flourish without each other, even though they may have difficulty in living both with and without each other’ (Morrison & van der Werf, 2012 , p. 399). We hope that the essence of the relationship between the IDC theory and the findings of this study will solidify the tenets of the theory and move it forward for better understanding and development in the community.

## Availability of data and materials

Availability of data and materials upon reasonable requests.

## Abbreviations

Geometer’s Sketchpad

Interest-Driven Creator

Mathematics Interest Inventory

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Program for International Students Assessment

Standard deviation

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study

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## Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Research Management Centre of Universiti Putra Malaysia for funding this project (GP-IPS/2017/9540000).

This work was financially supported by the Putra Grant-Putra Graduate Initiative (IPS) under Research Management Centre, Universiti Putra Malaysia (Project number: GP-IPS/2017/9540000).

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## Contributions

ShLW planned and implemented the study in close collaboration with Prof. SuLW. ShLW collected and analysed the data and collaborated in interpretation of results with Prof. SuLW. ShLW drafted the manuscript. Prof. SuLW edited the manuscript. Both authors revised the draft in all stages of finalisation. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

## Authors’ information

Wong Shu Ling recently graduated from Universiti Putra Malaysia with a Master of Science degree in Educational Technology in 2019. She is currently a doctoral student at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Dr. Wong Su Luan is a professor at the Department of Science and Technical Education, Faculty of Educational Studies, Universiti Putra Malaysia.

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One of the section of GSP materials used in the mathematics instruction. The same version is available in Malay language too.

‘Animate point’ was clicked to show the movement of capsule A which illustrates the definition of a locus where it is the pathway of moving points under a certain condition.

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Wong, S.L., Wong, S.L. Relationship between interest and mathematics performance in a technology-enhanced learning context in Malaysia. RPTEL 14 , 21 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41039-019-0114-3

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## Math anxiety is more closely associated with math performance in female students than in male students

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## Cite this article

- Xiaodan Yu 1 na1 ,
- Huimin Zhou 1 , 2 na1 ,
- Panpan Sheng 3 , 4 na1 ,
- Bingqian Ren 5 , 6 , 7 ,
- Yiguo Wang 1 ,
- Haitao Wang 1 &
- Xinlin Zhou ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-3530-0922 5 , 6 , 7

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Objective: Math anxiety has been shown to correlate negatively with math performance among students. It remains unclear whether this relationship differs between boys and girls. The current study aimed to examine gender differences in the link between math anxiety and math achievement in elementary and secondary school students. Methods: All students involved in the study (17,382 fourth-grade students and 11,346 eighth-grade students) completed a math-anxiety questionnaire and several math-achievement tests. Results: Math anxiety and math achievement were negatively correlated in both boys and girls. The moderating effect of gender on this correlation was significant, and the correlation was stronger in girls than in boys, regardless of grade. Conclusion: The link between math anxiety and math achievement is stronger for girls than for boys, which suggests we should pay more attention to how girls react emotionally to math.

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## Data Availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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## Acknowledgements

This study has been supported by the STI 2030—Major Projects 2021ZD0200500, the MOE (Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China) Project of Humanities and Social Sciences [No. 18YJC190030] and Qingdao Municipal Planning Project of Social Sciences [No. QDSKL2001017].

## Author information

Xiaodan Yu, Huimin Zhou, and Panpan Sheng are the first authors of the paper. They contributed equally.

## Authors and Affiliations

Teaching Center of Fundamental Courses, Ocean University of China, Shandong, China

Xiaodan Yu, Huimin Zhou, Yiguo Wang & Haitao Wang

Qingdao Experimental School, Shandong, China

Huimin Zhou

Office of Student Affairs, Tianjin Ren’ai College, Tianjin, China

Panpan Sheng

Faculty of Psychology, Tianjin Normal University, Tianjin, China

State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, Beijing Normal University, 100875, Beijing, China

Bingqian Ren & Xinlin Zhou

IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Beijing Normal University, 100875, Beijing, China

Siegler Center for Innovative Learning, Beijing Normal University, 100875, Beijing, China

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## Contributions

Xiaodan Yu, Haitao Wang and Xinlin Zhou designed experiment and revised the manuscript. Xiaodan Yu and Haitao Wang collected data. Xiaodan Yu, Huimin Zhou, Panpan Sheng, Bingqian Ren analysed data and wrote the manuscript. Yiguo Wang revised the manuscript.

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Yu, X., Zhou, H., Sheng, P. et al. Math anxiety is more closely associated with math performance in female students than in male students. Curr Psychol 43 , 1381–1394 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-023-04349-y

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## Factors Affecting the Mathematics Performance of Mathematics Major Students

Mathematics is one of the subjects that is taught in all Schools and Universities. It is usually viewed by students as difficult subject. This study aimed to determine the factors that affect the Mathematics performance of Mathematics major students and the extent of each factor. Further, it sought to determine the challenges encountered by the respondents in learning Mathematics. The study has three research questions and it made used of the explanatory-sequential research design. Relevant literatures were reviewed on theories and findings that emerged from different authors. There were 57 respondents involved in the study, 47 from 1 st year to 3 rd year Mathematics major student and 10 from 4 th year students at Notre Dame of Midsayap College. Data collection was done by using questionnaires. The findings showed that factors that affect Mathematics performance are the sources of the challenges in learning Mathematics. It also indicated that learning Mathematics is affected by numerous factors such as needs, interest, and seriousness of the subject matter, teachers' practices and methodologies, teachers' personality, parental support and home environment. The respondents have encountered challenges in learning Mathematics such as unfavorable teaching practices, lack of time management, lack of motivation, poor internet connectivity, and difficulty to get rapid feedback, lack of knowledge and regulation skills, and limited quotas.

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## Mathematics self efficacy and mathematics performance in online learning

H R P Negara 1 , E Nurlaelah 1 , Wahyudin 1 , T Herman 1 and M Tamur 1

Published under licence by IOP Publishing Ltd Journal of Physics: Conference Series , Volume 1882 , The 1st South East Asia Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics International Conference (SEA- STEM IC) 2020, 20-22 October 2020, Indonesia Citation H R P Negara et al 2021 J. Phys.: Conf. Ser. 1882 012050 DOI 10.1088/1742-6596/1882/1/012050

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1 Mathematics Education Department, Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia, Jl. Dr. Setiabudhi No. 229, Bandung 40154, Indonesia

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Self-efficacy is the ability to perform in dealing with various activities. Changes in learning activities due to Covid-19 affect the learning environment which has an impact on selfefficacy. This study aims to obtain an explanation of mathematics self-efficacy and its relationship with mathematics performance in online learning. The sample in this study was the mathematics performance score on trigonometry, and the Mathematics self-efficacy score of 75 students at one of the universities in Mataram. This research is a correlational research. The research instruments were in the form of a Mathematics Self-efficacy questionnaire and mathematics performance scores on trigonometry. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics to measure the mean and standard deviation of mathematical self-efficacy and analysis of the correlation between mathematical self-efficacy and mathematics performance. The results showed that most respondents had a high level of mathematical self-efficacy in online learning. Further analysis shows that there is a positive relationship between mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics performance, with an R coefficient of 14.8%. These results explain that variations in Mathematics performance can be explained by variations in Mathematics self-efficacy of 14.8%.

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Self-concept in mathematics can be defined as student ratings of their skills, ability, enjoyment, and interest in mathematics is seen as an essential factor in their achievement in math. This study assessed the self-concept and academic performance in Math of the Grade 10 students of a public national high school, Cebu, Philippines.

Background The benefits of physical activity (PA) on children's health and wellbeing are well established. However, the benefits of PA on academic performance and particularly on mathematics performance warrant systematic analysis. Mathematics is one of the core subjects in school education globally. Methods We systematically searched, analysed and synthesized the literature on the effects ...

The primary aim of this preliminary study is to examine a possible association between interest and mathematics performance among Malaysian students in a technology-enhanced learning environment. The Mathematics Interest Inventory was administered to 40 students to measure students' interest towards mathematics, while a mathematics test was used to measure students' mathematics performance.

Progress (NAEP) mathematics assessment (NCES, 2013) indicate that less than half of students tested scored at or above the proficient level in mathematics. Further, among typically achieving students, 10% of fourth graders and 25% of eighth graders scored below the basic level. The results are even more dismal for students with disabilities.

The overall Prairie State Achievement Examination performance for the 2006-2007 school years was 44.1%. This score represents those who met or exceeded the Illinois ... mathematics skills, which can bring the students up to sophomore standards. Additionally, new in the 2007-2008 school year, this high school has incorporated a ...

Objective: Math anxiety has been shown to correlate negatively with math performance among students. It remains unclear whether this relationship differs between boys and girls. The current study aimed to examine gender differences in the link between math anxiety and math achievement in elementary and secondary school students. Methods: All students involved in the study (17,382 fourth-grade ...

This study aimed to determine the factors that affect the Mathematics performance of Mathematics major students. ... Letter was signed by the researchers, subject teacher and thesis adviser. Afterwards, the letter was sent to Dean of College of Education to ask permission for the conduct of the study. Obina et al. 4/10 Psych Educ, Document ID ...

The results showed that most respondents had a high level of mathematical self-efficacy in online learning. Further analysis shows that there is a positive relationship between mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics performance, with an R coefficient of 14.8%. These results explain that variations in Mathematics performance can be explained ...

3.3 Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children This test was developed by Wechsler in 1949 and was revised in 1974 and after it was normalized was called Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (wisc-r). Shahim (1995) has normalized the test in Iran. The test-retest reliability of the test is reported to be 0.44-0.94.

Past research demonstrated that a variety of factors contribute to the severity of math anxiety and its detriments on math performance. The present study examined the influence of performance pressure, sex, second-hand success or failure of a male or female, and problem difficulty on math anxiety and performance. The design included a 2 (Participant sex: male, female) x 2 (Student actor sex ...