The Influence of Students` Perceptions on Mathematics Performance. A Case of a Selected High School in South Africa
AbstractThis study investigates the influence of students’ perceptions on mathematics performance at a selected South African secondary school. The influence of factors such as strength and weaknesses in mathematics, teacher support/learning material, family background and support, interest in mathematics, difficulties or challenges in doing mathematics, self-confidence and myths and beliefs about mathematics were identified as constructs of perceptions that influence students’ performance. Five of the seven constructs were found to be influential on students’ performance in mathematics. Quantitative methods were used to analyse the data collected from a questionnaire which was administered to randomly selected secondary school students (n=124) in Polokwane, South Africa. From the regression analysis of the data, the following hierarchy of themes emerged as components of students’ perceptions of mathematics. These were (i) weaknesses in mathematics (ii) family background and support, (iii) interests in mathematics, (iv) self-confidence in mathematics, (v) myths and beliefs about mathematics (vi) teacher /learning material support, (vii) difficulties in learning mathematics. Results from t-tests, Anova and suggest that there were significant differences in the perceptions and beliefs about mathematics between males and females, between mature and juvenile students and among students from different language backgrounds respectively. Correlation analysis results showed strong positive relationships between performance and perception constructs such as self-confidence, interests in mathematics, teacher and learning support material as well as myths and beliefs .The respondents tend to view lack of proficiency in mathematics as a challenge, and attribute success in mathematics to effort and perseverance. Students also perceive difficulty in mathematics as an obstacle, and attribute failure to their own lack of inherited mathematical ability. These findings suggest that differences in (i) myths and beliefs about mathematics success, ( (ii) motivation given by mathematics teachers and parents, (iii) mathematics teachers' teaching styles and learning materials and (iv) self confidence in mathematics may lead to differences in perceptions about mathematics. These in turn may lead to differences in attitudes towards mathematics and learning mathematics which have a bearing on performance.
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