What matters for improving primary school mathematics education in St. Lucia?
In the past few decades, policy attention in developing countries has shifted from ensuring that all children have access to primary education to improving children’s learning and skills acquisition. Growing evidence indicates that only a few primary school students in these countries including St. Lucia reached the minimum level of academic achievement, especially in mathematics. Results from national examinations in St. Lucia suggest that many primary school students and even teachers have not mastered the basic skills in early mathematics. Although the policy efforts to improve mathematics education are well-intentioned, establishing effective interventions for improving students’ mathematics learning remain challenging for those developing the mathematics curriculum in St. Lucia. The aim of this thesis is to identify the factors associated with low mathematics achievement of primary school students in St. Lucia. As students are required to master the basic concepts of number and basic computational skills in the early grades for their future mathematics learning, the current study focuses on number concepts and computation. This study employs the UNESCO’s theoretical framework for understanding and improving the quality of education (2004) as a starting point to identify the factors which may hinder or facilitate student learning. In this framework, the ‘teaching and learning dimension’ is key to student learning, since many international studies have shown that teachers play a crucial role in the provision of quality teaching and learning. Consequently, to provide high quality of schooling to pupils, a number of governments in both developed and developing countries have spent a great deal of resources and energy to improve the knowledge and skills of teachers. Hence, this thesis examined whether teachers’ qualifications, knowledge for teaching mathematics, pedagogical practices and professional development make a difference in students’ achievement in mathematics. To carry out this study, primary data were collected from 1780 Grade 4 students, 89 teachers who taught mathematics at Grade 4 and 60 school principals through questionnaires. Since there is little information on primary mathematics education in St Lucia, to inform the design of the questionnaires, semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven high stakeholders (one officer from Ministry of Education of St. Lucia, three District Education officers and two officers in District Education offices). In addition, the results from the student questionnaires were linked to Grade 4 students’ scores on number concepts and computation from the Minimum Standards Test (MST) 2016 and Grade 2 students’ mathematics scores from the MST 2014. Multilevel models were used to investigate the factors at individual, family, classroom and school levels that affect Grade 4 students’ achievement in number concepts and computation. The results revealed that after controlling for student background characteristics, various student-level factors, such as positive attitude towards mathematics, school absence, mathematics homework completion, grade repetition and prior mathematics knowledge, are significantly associated with student achievement in number concepts and computation. However, surprisingly only limited significant associations were found between student achievement and classroom-level predictors (teachers’ characteristics and practices and classroom environments). This might be due to several reasons, most prominently the widespread poor content knowledge of mathematics and poor mathematics knowledge for teaching that Grade 4 teachers in St Lucia have. The thesis provides important evidence on the individual, family, classroom and school-level factors that affect Grade 4 students’ mathematics learning in St. Lucia. Based on its findings, the study also provides important policy implications for improving mathematics education in primary schools in the country. In the conclusions, it is suggested that the framework employed for the study could be used for future monitoring of the progress made in mathematics teaching and learning in primary schools in St Lucia.