Commenced in January 2007
Frequency: Monthly
Edition: International
Paper Count: 30855
Inner and Outer School Contextual Factors Associated with Poor Performance of Grade 12 Students: A Case Study of an Underperforming High School in Mpumalanga, South Africa

Authors: Victoria L. Nkosi, Parvaneh Farhangpour


Often a Grade 12 certificate is perceived as a passport to tertiary education and the minimum requirement to enter the world of work. In spite of its importance, many students do not make this milestone in South Africa. It is important to find out why so many students still fail in spite of transformation in the education system in the post-apartheid era. Given the complexity of education and its context, this study adopted a case study design to examine one historically underperforming high school in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa in 2013. The aim was to gain a understanding of the inner and outer school contextual factors associated with the high failure rate among Grade 12 students.  Government documents and reports were consulted to identify factors in the district and the village surrounding the school and a student survey was conducted to identify school, home and student factors. The randomly-sampled half of the population of Grade 12 students (53) participated in the survey and quantitative data are analyzed using descriptive statistical methods. The findings showed that a host of factors is at play. The school is located in a village within a municipality which has been one of the poorest three municipalities in South Africa and the lowest Grade 12 pass rate in the Mpumalanga province.   Moreover, over half of the families of the students are single parents, 43% are unemployed and the majority has a low level of education. In addition, most families (83%) do not have basic study materials such as a dictionary, books, tables, and chairs. A significant number of students (70%) are over-aged (+19 years old); close to half of them (49%) are grade repeaters. The school itself lacks essential resources, namely computers, science laboratories, library, and enough furniture and textbooks. Moreover, teaching and learning are negatively affected by the teachers’ occasional absenteeism, inadequate lesson preparation, and poor communication skills. Overall, the continuous low performance of students in this school mirrors the vicious circle of multiple negative conditions present within and outside of the school. The complexity of factors associated with the underperformance of Grade 12 students in this school calls for a multi-dimensional intervention from government and stakeholders. One important intervention should be the placement of over-aged students and grade-repeaters in suitable educational institutions for the benefit of other students.

Keywords: vicious circle, inner context, outer context, over-aged students

Digital Object Identifier (DOI):

Procedia APA BibTeX Chicago EndNote Harvard JSON MLA RIS XML ISO 690 PDF Downloads 594


[1] K. Gernetzky, and K Magubane, “Policy conference has climbed down on education,” Business Day, 3rd July, 2013, p 3.
[2] S. van der Berg, “Apartheid's Enduring Legacy: Inequalities in Education,” Oxford Journals, Journal of African Economics, Vol. 16, no. 5, 2007, pp. 849-880.
[3] Department of Basic Education, “Comparison of Matriculation results,” Pretoria: Government Printer, South Africa, 2013.
[4] Matric results. Complete Guide to South Africa’s matric results, pass requirements and stats, , June 17 2015.
[5] S. Krashen, “The hard work hypothesis: Is doing your homework enough to overcome the effects of poverty?” Multicultural Education, vol. 12, no. 4, 2005, pp. 16–19.
[6] N. Duke, “For the rich it’s richer: Print environments and experiences offered to first grade students in very low- and very high-SES school districts,” American Educational Research Journal, vol. 37, no. 2, 2000, pp. 456–457.
[7] M. K. Eamon, “Social demographic, school, neighborhood and parenting influences on the academic achievement of Latino young adolescents,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 34, no. 2, 2005, pp. 163–175.
[8] H. J. Steyn, S. C. Steyn, and E. A. S. de Waal, “South African Education System,” Potchefstroom: Keurkopie, 2011.
[9] M. A. Adell, “Strategies for improving performance in adolescents,” Madrid: Piramide, 2002.
[10] D. A. S. Mbilinyi, “Equity in learning: The gender dimension,” Paper presented at Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) Biennial Meeting, Grand Baie: Mauritius, December 3–6, 2003.
[11] V. L. Joffe, and E. Black, “Social, emotional, and behavioral functioning of secondary school students with low academic and language performance: Perspectives from students, teachers, and parents,” Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, no. 4, 2012, pp. 461–473.
[12] J. Kriek, and D. Grayson, “A holistic professional development model,” South African Physical Science Teachers, no. 29, 2009, pp. 185–203.
[13] L. J. Mullins, “Management and organizational behavior,” 7th ed. London: Prentice Hall, 2005.
[14] V. Ruus, M. Veisso, M. Leino, L. Ots, and L. Pallas, “Students’ well-being, coping, academic success, and school climate,” Social Behavior and Personality, vol. 35, no. 7, 2007, pp. 919–936.
[15] N. Taylor, “What’s wrong with South African Schools?” Presentation to the Conference, What’s Working in School Development, JET Education Services - 28-29 February 2008.
[16] J. Heystek, “School governing bodies in South African schools: under pressure to enhance democratization and improve quality,” Educational Management Administration and Leadership, July 2011, 39: 455-468.
[17] P. Christie, “Schools as (Dis)Organisations: the ‘breakdown of the culture of learning and teaching’ in South African schools,” Cambridge Journal of Education Vol. 28, Issue 3, 1998, pp. 283-300 (published on line 06 Jul 2006).
[18] K. Leithwood, D. Jantzi, L. Earl, N. Watson, B. Levin, and M. Fullan, “Strategic leadership for large-scale reform: the case of England’s National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy,” School Leadership and Management, 24(1), 2004, pp. 57-79.
[19] R. E. Ubogu, The Causes of Absenteeism and Dropout among Secondary School Students in Delta Central Senatorial District of Delta State PhD. Thesis Delta State University, Abraka, 2004.
[20] R. Kern, “Making connections through texts in language teaching,” Journal of Educational Research, vol. 41, no. 3, 2008, pp. 367–387.
[21] J. Indimuli, N. Mushira, P. Kuria, R. Ndung’u, and S. Waichanguru, “Teaching Primary Mathematics,” Nairobi: Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, 2009.
[22] K. Etsey, “Causes of low academic performance of primary school pupils in the Shama submetro of Shama Ahanta East Metropolitan Assembly in Ghana,” (Regional Conference on Education in West Africa), 2005.
[23] M. M. Jackson, An investigation into the factors contributing to the poor performance of Grade 12 (COSC) students in Lesotho, Master’s thesis, University of Zululand, 2009.
[24] J. Manzini, “Report of the 2000 Grade 12 results, Bushbuckridge: South Africa,” 2000.
[25] A. Tsanwani, J. C. Engelbrecht, A. Harding, and J. G. Maree, “Factors that facilitate students’ performance in Mathematics in disadvantaged communities: A quantitative study,” Journal of Educational Studies, vol. 12, no. 2, 2013, pp. 35–55.
[26] M. Schneider, “Do school facilities affect academic outcomes?” Washington DC: National Clearing House for Educational Facilities, 2003.
[27] H. Bhorat, and M. Oosthuizen, “Determinants of Grade 12 pass rates in the post- Apartheid South African schooling system”, Oxford Journals, Journal of African Economics, Vol. 18, Issue 4, 2009, pp. 634-666.
[28] S. K. Amoako-Gyimah, “Educating pre-school children with special needs,” Winneba, Ghana, Department of Special Education, University of Education, 2007.
[29] C. Welman, F. Kruger, and B. Mitchell, “Research methodology,” 3rd ed. Cape Town: Oxford University Press South Africa, 2005.
[30] K. Maree, “First steps in research,” 3rd ed. Pretoria: Vain Schaik publishers, 2009.
[31] P. Baxter and S. Jack, “Qualitative case study methodology: study design and implementation of novice researchers,” T & R, The Qualitative Report, ‘Vol. 13, no. 4.
[32] C. A. Mertler, “Action research: Teachers as researchers in the classroom,” 2nd ed. London: Sage, 2009.
[33] JR. Grinnell, and YA. Unrau, “Social work research and evaluation: quantitative and qualitative approaches,” 7th Ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
[34] G. A. Lancaster, S. Dodd, and P. R. Williamson, “Design and analysis of pilot studies: Recommendations for good practice,” Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, Vol. 10, no. 2, 2004, pp. 307–312.
[35] J. Cresswell, “Research design: quantitative, qualitative and mixed method”, Lincoln: SAGE publications, 2003.
[36] Bushbuckridge Local Municipality Local Economic Development Strategy 2010 – 2014. 15 Nov 2016
[37] Department of Environmental Affairs 15 Nov 2016.
[38] Croquet Lawn Village Fact Sheet 2014. MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt) June 2015.
[39] Editorial, Cosatu Daily News, 9 January 2012.
[40] C. A. Bell, “Space and place: Urban parents’ geographical preferences for schools,” Journal of Education, vol. 39, no. 4, 2007, pp. 375–403.
[41] K. A. Kyei, and T. M. Nemaorani, “Establishing factors that affect performance of Grade 10 students in high school: A case study of Vhembe District in South Africa,” Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies (JETERAPS), vol. 5, no. 7, 2014, pp. 83–87.
[42] R. Pienaar, and T. M. McKay, “Mapping socio-economic status, geographical location and matriculation pass rates in Gauteng, South Africa,” Perspectives in Education, vol. 32, no. 1, 2014, pp. 105–123.
[43] B. M. Blevins, “Effects of socioeconomic status on academic performance in Missouri public schools,” 2009. 16 June 2010.
[44] G. Garzon, “Social and cultural foundations of American education,” Wikibooks, 2006,, 6 May 2008.
[45] E. Jensen, “Teaching with poverty in mind,”, 11 June 2015.
[46] R. D. Kahlenberg, “Integration by income,” American School Board Journal, 2006, /commentary .asp?opedi d=1332, 4 April 2009.
[47] J. Kirkup, “Middle-class children resentful at being pushed to succeed,” Telegraph, 2008 dleclass-children-resentful-atbeing-pushed-to-succeedpoll-shows.html, 15 August 2009.
[48] C. Rouse, and L. Barrow, “U.S. elementary and secondary schools: Equalizing opportunity or replicating the status quo?” The Future of Children, 16 (2), 2006, pp. 99-123.
[49] J. Trusty, “High educational expectations and low achievement: Stability of educational goals across adolescence,” Journal of Educational Research, no. 93, 2000, pp. 356–366.
[50] N. Hill, E. Tyson, and F. Diana, “Parental involvement in middle school: A meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement,” Developmental Psychology, vol. 45, no. 3, 2009, pp. 740–763.
[51] D. G. Dampson, and K. D. M. Dominic, “Parental involvement in homework for children’s academic success: A study in the Cape Coast municipality, Cape Coast, Ghana, 2010”, http//, 21 May, 2010.
[52] Z. K. Mbugua, K. Kilbet, G. M. Muthaa, and G. R. Nkonke, “Factors contributing to students’ poor performance in mathematics at Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education in Kenya: A case of Baringo County, Kenya,” American International Journal of Contemporary Research, vol. 2, no. 6, 2012, pp. 87–91.
[53] J. Sharry, “Counseling children, adolescents, and families,” London: Sage, 2004.
[54] S. Ali, S. Z. Haider, F. Munir, I. Hamid Khan, and A. Ahmed, “Factors contributing to students’ academic performance: A case study of Islamia University sub-campus,” American Journal of Educational Research, vol. 1, no. 8, 2013, pp. 283–289.
[55] J. H. Ballantine, “The sociology of education: A systematic analysis,” Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1993.
[56] R. J. Kraft, “Teaching and learning in South Africa,” Boulder, CO: Mitchell Group, 2000.
[57] N. Harb, and A. El-Shaarwi, “Factors affecting students' performance,” Global Journal of Management and Business Research, 2006, vol. 12, no. 9.
[58] M. Carnoy, L. Chisholm, and H. Baloyi, “Uprooting bad mathematical performance: A pilot study into roots of problems,” HSRC Review, no. 6, 2008, pp. 13–14.
[59] R. N. Ikonta, “An analysis of students’ performance in SSCE in public and private secondary schools in Lagos Metropolis in Nigeria: Implications for teacher training and productivity,” Journal of Research and Development in Education, vol. 8, 2008, pp. 35–44.
[60] J. Deventer, R. Kruger, “An educators’ guide to school management skills,” Pretoria: Van Schaik, 2005.
[61] A. Mji, and M. Makgato “Factors associated with high school learners' poor performance: a spotlight on mathematics and physical science,” South African Journal of Education Vol. 26 No. 2, 2006, pp. 253-266.
[62] A. Al-Muthairi, “Factors affecting business and students’ performance in Arab Open University: The case of Kuwait,” International Journal of Business and Management, vol. 6, no. 5, 2011, pp. 106–117.