The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.
The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Student Performance in National Examinations: the dynamics of language in school achievement

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Principal Investigator: Pauline Rea-Dickins. Lead Organisation: University of Bristol

Co-investigators: Rosamund Sutherland; Catriona Ellen Scott; Sibel Erduran; Harvey Goldstein

This research will take place in Zanzibar, where children are expected to show how well they have learned school subjects through formal examinations in English.  In Zanzibar, on transition to secondary school, the medium of instruction switches from Kiswahili – the predominant first language - to English, with the first formal examinations administered in Form 2 entirely in English.  These examinations are high-stakes; in Zanzibar, currently 50 per cent of students underachieve, failing to progress beyond basic education based on their examination performance.

The research focuses on three curriculum areas (Science, Mathematics and English) and aims to:

  • develop insights into the extent to which language factors contribute to poor examination achievement
  • identify factors that will raise the quality of examining processes, thereby enhancing students’ potential to demonstrate fully their conceptual understandings

The project involves a systematic review of research, quantitative analysis of examination performance over 10 years, qualitative analysis of the processes of examination setting, and case studies of (i) how targeted students engage with the examinations, (ii) the impact of classroom support on examination performance, and (iii) teacher assessment.  These findings will provide the basis for the development of innovative examination formats to be trialled in schools.

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Research Grant
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Fund Start Date: 
July 20th, 2007
Fund End Date: 
December 19th, 2010
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