Education | The influence of learning disabilities on students’ academic performance

The influence of learning disabilities on students’ academic performance

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The influence of learning disabilities on students’ academic performance in Northern Education Zone of Cross River State, Nigeria. (Education)





1.1              Background to the study

Schools are established to equip the youths with essential skills needed for functionality as useful and knowledgeable citizens of the country. However, examination of school records shows that students’ academic performances have remained for long very unimpressive. Obviously, this is not healthy for the growth of the country. 

In a study, Polom (2011) analyzed West African Examination Council (WAEC), examination in Mathematics and English Language administered in 2010, and discovered that only 27.40% of the students made at least a pass and above in the two core subjects. He equally reported that the number of those who had credit and above in a foreign Language like French Language declined from 21.34% to 17.22% (WAEC Office Data base, Calabar, February, 2012).

Poor student’s performance in WAEC Examination has for some time now been a matter of great concern to education stakeholders. Concrete evidence of students’ poor performance in   examinations could be seen in the results obtained each year in externally administered examinations like the WAEC examinations. As presented in Table 1, for example, students’ results in English Language and Mathematics provide a disturbing trend. In Mathematics only about 25% of those who attempted the examination in 2006 had credit passes and above. About 41% and 31% had passes and failing grades respectively.


Trends of students’ performance in Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations in Mathematics and English Language from 2006-2010 in Cross River State

Subject                          Year       No of Candidate       Pass at Credit        Ordinary Pass            Fail

                                           Who sat for                (Al-C6)                 (D7-E8)                  (F9)

         the Exam

Mathematics    2006           1,149,277                472,582                    357,31             286,744

                                                                          (24.95%)                 (41.12%)         (31.09%)

                         2007          1,249,028               583,920                   333,740           302,764

                                                                         (46.75%)                 (26.72%)                     (24.24%)

             2008         1,268,213              726,398                   302,266            218,618

                                                            (57.28%)                 (23.83%)                      (17.24%)

             2009        1,348,528              634,382                    344,635            315,738

                                                                       (47.45%)                  (25.56%)          (23.41%)

             2010        1,306,535             548,065                    363,920           355,382

                                                                      (41.95%)                  (27.85%)          (27.20%)

















































WAEC Office Data base, Calabar, February, 2012.

The situation improved in 2007 when about 47% of the candidates had credit passes or above in 2008, 57.28% of the candidates also had credit passes but the situation reversed itself in 2009 and 2010 when only about 47% and about 41.95% of the candidates respectively had credit passes”. Similarly for English Language those who had credits passes declined from about 32.48% in 2006 to 30.32% in 2008.The results improved to 35.02% in 2008, then 41.55% in 2009 but moved down to 35.13% in 2010. These unsteady but declining trends are disturbing.

Apart from the concerns of parents, teachers and the state government, the incessant failure of students in WAEC and NECO senior school certificate Examination (SSCE) has always been a source of worry for the Government of this country. In December 2012, Federal Ministry of Education organized a two-day summit in Abuja to discuss the issue. In the summit, the then minister of education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai, expressed the Federal Government displeasure at the students’ poor performances. She noted with regret that less than 30 percent of over a million students, who sat for the examination within the last six years, obtained credits in five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics.

The effect of this is that more than 70 per cent of school leavers are always armed with school certificate result that do not qualify them  for higher education. Besides, the high proportions of school leavers are always unable to gain employment as a result of poor academic performance. The result of persistent poor learners’ performance in schools is always a serious disruption in the overall manpower supply for the economy. Students who have poor academic record would find it difficult to cope in a competitive society. Individuals who fail in school may not be adequately and mentally equipped to face life squarely.

 In presenting a report at WASCE monthly seminar, the Head of Research Division revealed that the percentage of failure rate for English Language and Mathematics in the past five years surpasses that of the percentage of credit level passes. In all these, the accusing fingers from different quarters have pointed at teachers. That is why in looking for solution, efforts had been directed at helping teachers to improve upon the services they render in schools. Teachers have in synergy with Parents Teachers Association (PTA) taken appropriate steps towards improving academic performance of students in several ways. For example, they have been mounting extramural classes to give students more time to learn than what official school time allows. This apart, principals keep time book for teachers and attendance register for students.

On its part, the Cross River State government has embarked on several capacity building critical to successful teaching and learning improvement in the following broad areas: policy, training and pedagogy, infrastructure development, teacher welfare and empowerment. Essential facilities and equipment that have implications for school learning like ICTs, laboratories and collateral equipment cum libraries are now available in most schools. A lot have also been spent on training and retraining of teachers to arrest the ugly trend.

Despite huge government investment in education and steps taken to improve performance of students’ in school, students’ academic performance is yet to produce acceptable result. The researcher became interested in this problem as a result of concern from education stakeholders and researchers continuous search for solution to poor academic performances.

            According to Isangedighi (2011), the amount and quality of learning the individual is capable of, his involvement in learning activities; and the overall balance achieved in his development as a person depends to a large extent on his personal status as a composite unit. He also noted that, some of the difficulties some learners encounter that serve to undermine their abilities to achieve as much as others, are classified as learning disabilities. To that extent the researcher is of the view that learning disabilities could be responsible for poor academic achievement of secondary school students.

            Poor academic performance is a serious problem that requires the attention of all stakeholders in education from Ministry of education to the student themselves. Since learning disabilities have been observed to be difficulties that could undermine students` ability to perform well academically. The researcher is therefore interested in helping the school system find a dependable solution to the problem of student poor academic performance. This study is concerned at determining if learning disabilities could be associated with poor academic performance among students. Areas of learning disabilities considered for the study include; hyper distractibility, eye-hand coordination, spatial awareness disorder, figure-ground relationship, dyslexia disorder, hypo-activity and impulsivity.

            Learning disabilities as seen by MacArthur (2009) is not a single disorder, but is a category of disorders in any of seven specific areas: receptive language (listening), expressive language (Speaking), basic readings skills, reading comprehension, written expression, and Mathematic calculation.  These disorders are manifested in a variety of ways including listening, thinking, talking, reading aloud, writing, and spelling or in Mathematics calculation. The broad question the study will answer is whether learning disabilities could influence the academic performance of the affected students.

1.2       Theoretical framework

            Some theories were chosen to serve as the framework of this study. They include:

1.         Cognitive learning theory by Max Wertheimer (1942)

2.         Learning environmental theory by Pelton (1981) and Garbasino (1987)

3.         Kurt Lewin’s field theory by Lewin (1946)


1.2.1    Cognitive Learning theory by Max Wertheimer (1942)

Cognitive learning theory is a conceptual framework that describes how information is absorbed, processed, and retained during learning. It was propounded in Berlin by a German psychologist Max Wertheimer in 1942. Cognitive learning theory holds that humans generate knowledge and meaning through sequential development of an individual’s cognitive abilities; such as the mental processes of recognition, recollection, analysis, reflection, application, creation, understanding, and evaluation.

The Cognitivists’ learning process is adoptive learning of techniques, procedures, organization, and structure to develop internal cognitive structure that strengthens synapses in the brain (Wolf, 2010). When we say the word “learn”, we usually mean “to think using the brain” this basic concept of learning is the main viewpoint in the cognitive learning theory. The theory has been used to explain mental processes as they are influenced by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, which eventually bring about learning in an individual. The cognitivists posit that the memory system is an active organized processor of information. They view learning as an internal mental process (including insight) information processing, memory and reception.

            Learning disabilities are caused by neurological dysfunction and that they are casually correlated with basic psychological process. It is also believed that learning disabilities is as a result of minimum brain destruction and dysfunction in the central nervous system owing to neurological developmental lag resulting in clumsiness, restlessness and inattention. And learning is a process by which neurons joined by developing the synapses between them so, a relative influence of brain damage account for ineffective cognitive process which manifest during learning. With reference to brain damage, and neurological developmental lag, it can be deduced that they are casually correlated with basic psychological process. The idea behind this theory therefore is that a child who suffered from ineffective cognitive process does not perform well academically.

1.2.2    Learning Environmental Theory by Pelton, (1981) and Garbasino, (1987)

This theory was propounded by theorist named Pelton (1981) Garbasino (1987). The focus is on potentially dominant role of certain societal conditions and values. It takes a look at a boarder structural and cultural abuse as emanating from lack of motivation or skill on the part of the parents. The environment encompasses all things around the individual that has influence or offer an impression. Children are greatly inspired and motivated, as well as deterred by the environment around them. Environmental learning theory is the understanding that the child’s environment shapes learning and behaviour and it is also thought that learning and behaviour are reactions to the environment. This perspective encourages families, schools, and educators to understand that the child develops and learns new skills in reaction to items she finds around her. Environment according to Julian B. Rotter in his social learning concept focused on the idea that personality represents an interaction of the individual with his or her environment, individual’s experience play a role because the individual and her reaction encourage learning. The relative influence of environment on behaviour accounts for many learning disabilities in an individual’s life. That is, a child who lives in an environment which is not psychologically stimulating may manifest signs of maladjustment and perceptual problem. In all these, it can be concluded that unfavourable nature of some environment such as illiterate home background, school where there are poor facilities and child abuse etc. influence children academic performance which may result in poor academic performance in school.

1.2.3    Kurt Lewin’s Field theory by Lewin, (1946)

This theory was propounded by Lewin in 1946. The main point is that learning is a function of the persons and his environments. This formular provides the foundation for learners’ theoretical construct of life space (LSP), which refers to the sum of all the personal and environmental factors in interaction. Such personal factors may include illiterate home background and hereditary factors which lead to some abnormal brain structure or functioning etc. Environmental factors may include: poor and deprived environment, lack of psychological stimulation, malnutrition, illiterate home background and school where there are poor library facilities etc.

            The relative influence of environment on learning accounts for many causes of learning disabilities in an individual’s life. That is a child who lives in an environment which is not psychologically stimulating, may manifest signs of learning disabilities. This goes to confirm Isangedighi (2007) that learning disabilities are caused by differences in brain structure and functioning and this differences which are in themselves link with certain genetic, and environmental factors as the factors could have brain damage arising from such factors as maternal poor nutrition, illness, use of alcohol or any maternal condition that can lead to reduced birth weight of the child.

The brain is the most incredible network of information processing and interpretation in the body as we learn things, so any little alteration by way of accident, injury or illness in infancy or early childhood may negatively interfere with learning. With reference to environmental factor, it can be deduced that individual living in an environment devoid of adequate Language and sensory stimulation could have learning difficulties which manifest during class activities.

1.3       Statement of the problem

Parents, teachers, education authorities and government agencies have over the years shown concern over observed increasing rate of poor academic performance among secondary school students in Nigeria in general and northern Cross River State in particular. Beneficiaries of education no longer perform up to expectation. The colossal level of students’ failure in the country is a clear indication of the fact that there are significant problems. Data from West African Examination Council (WAEC) and National Examination Council (NECO) results in the last decade or so show that less than 30% of the students who have attempted examinations had been able to emerge with credit pass or above in Mathematics and English Language (Todaro and Miles, 2012).

The problem of poor academic performance among students has become an issue of concern to education stakeholders. Parents spend their hard earned money despite the difficult economic situation to see that their children are given quality education. The government on her own part has trained and employed quality teachers with improved curriculum to ensure better performance, all to no avail. The Cross River State Government in particular has time without number, embarked on teacher training programmes not only to help teachers’ update their knowledge and skill development but also to ensure some improvement in the academic performance of students. In spite of all these, the ugly trend of academic failure still prevails.

It is against this background that the researcher being passionate about youth empowerment through education by helping the system solve the problem of poor academic performance in school. The thrust of the study is to investigate if learning disabilities impact on academic performance of students in Northern Education Zone of Cross River State. The pertinent question is; does learning disability influence students’ academic performance?

1.4              Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study was to determine whether learning disabilities have any influence on students’ academic performance in Northern Education Zone of Cross River State, Nigeria. The study also determines if:

1.               Hyper distractibility influences students’ academic performance.

2.               Eye-hand co-ordination influences students’ academic performance

3.               Spatial awareness disorder influence students’ academic performance.

4.               Dyslexia influences students’ academic performance.

5.               Hypo-activity influences students’ academic performance.

6.               Impulsivity influences students’ academic performance. 

1.5              Research questions

The following research questions were posed to guide the study:

1.                  What proportions of the students in Northern Education Zone were high in learning disabilities?

2.                  To what extent does hyper distractibility influence students’ academic performance?

3.                  To what extent does eye-hand coordination influence students’ academic performance?

4.                  How does spatial awareness disorder influence students’ academic performance?

5.                  To what extent does dyslexia disturbance influence students’ academic performance?

6.                  How does hypo-activity influence students’ academic performance?

7.                  To what extent does impulsivity influence students’ academic performance?  

1.6              Statement of hypotheses

The following null hypotheses were formulated for the study:

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