Last year, two major academic events took place in Botswana that marked a major milestone in the initiation of use of data. These events include International Data Week Conference held at Gaborone International Convention Centre, Gaborone from November 5-8, 2018.
The second event was the Southern Africa mathematical Sciences Association Conference held at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), in Palapye from November 19-22, 2018.
Papers presented at this conference included modelling of natural events and phenomena as well as use of Big Data. Use of Big Data is the catch phrase these days in academic circles. The rationale is that use of Big Data, its analysis and interpretation can inform better decision-making and chart forward policy making.
Hopefully, these two conferences have ignited the motivation amongst Batswana scientists to explore Big Data and this include institutions of higher education (IHE).
Institutions of IHE, just like government departments and agencies generate huge amounts of data and other information that does not normally fall within the scope of their current projects.
Data and information that is generated by IHE institutions which seem to be ignored include student enrollment records, performance and graduation data. Even if its collection was within the original objective, its use may be limited by the project objectives or lack of expertise to analyse the data. This means that the major value of the data remains locked in files and sit somewhere unexploited.
However, in recent time society has woken up to the fact that they are sitting on a gem and the value of data have the potential to drive innovation and novel decisions by leaders and policymakers. This then, means that the IHE as centres of creativity and innovation, should take a lead in adding value to the mountains of data at their disposal, especially students and customers data, to predict future trends in enrolments, performances and graduations and be able to offer solutions to problems encountered by future learners.
Data on graduation can also inform human resource developments due to the number of graduates constantly discharged into the industry by universities. However, the most critical use of student data at source, by the universities, is to inform both admission offices and faculty on decisions about student support and counselling.
In higher education, students enrolling for different programmes usually come from different backgrounds, with different experiences or with no experiences at all.
The diverse student population in one’s class creates challenges as this may cause differences in student performance. Knowing what affects student performance can enable lecturers and professors to revise their course delivery and style of teaching. This will enable tailored intervention for each or group of students.
At Botswana University of Agriculture & Natural Resources (BUAN) a pilot study was conducted using student records to tease out effects of gender, age, programme of study and lecturer influence on end of term exam and overall performance.
We noted the influence of programme of study on end of term exam and on overall performance, with students coming from different programmes performing differently.
An interesting observation was that on gender parity in Test 1, Test 2, end of term exam and overall performance, whereby female students perform better than male students.
Literature1 have previously noted that female academic superiority become apparent after transition to college has occurred, when it manifests itself through their positive performance.
In Botswana, academic superiority of females has long beeng observed at primary school; where girls equaled or outnumbered boys and performed better than boys2. However, this superiority by girls in terms of enrolled numbers and performance got eroded at high school and at university, especially in science subjects2, 3.
However, the present study seem to be telling a different story, a positive story, that of the reversal of past trends and beliefs, that females are house-keepers and that there is no value in educating the girl child. In USA, the reason for the reversal in performance between females and males has been attributed at least in part from responses to gender-specific changes in the value of higher education by society4. The current (2018) results of Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) that show that the girl child has once again outperformed the boy child. This should be applauded and the girls be encouraged to continue excelling.
However, pronouncement by Minister of Basic Education in parliament recently as carried by local media, that he is concerned that girls outshines boys is a wrong policy and attitude towards promoting sustainable development goals, especially SDG 5 on Gender Equality as there is parity in education against women, especially in STEM subjects.
This also applies to SDG 1 on No Poverty as we know that education puts one in a better position to fight poverty. If we have less number of women who are educated then majority of women, whom in most cases are bread winners, will face endless poverty.
We also noticed the older students who had spent some times working in industry out-performed pre-university students in all parameters tested. Their work experience gives them an added advantage because instructors build upon concepts that students learned in previous coursework or work experience5. Because of the generally below par performance by pre-university students compared to older students, a pre-entry preparatory course may be needed for pre-university cohorts. Otherwise it may mean that agricultural science at high schools be strengthen.
This can be done by aligning high school curriculum with university curriculum. In addition, amongst the many factors that affect student performance is lecturer influence through delivery style, competencies, teaching skills and attitudes by the lecturer. In the present study, lecturers influenced performance between the two tests with students doing better in Test 1.
This is because this particular course was taught by two different lecturers each taking a half semester and then administering their test (Test 1) and the other also administering their test (Test 2).
Practical tests were not affected by lecturer because the teaching assistant (Technician) who was teaching all practicals was the same person. Besides influence by the lecturer, the difference in student performance may mean that improvement in Test 2 was due to students being accustomed to university way of questioning/testing and were more prepared/confident during Test 2.
An important outcome of this study was the relationship between Test 1 and overall performance which was strong and positive. In Botswana context, the relatedness of Test 1 and overall performance suggest that a comprehensive pre-test can be used to identify areas of weaknesses in pre-university student backgrounds and be used to tailor course content to areas in which students are weakest6.
But the most innovative way of using results of this study, which the author attempted to implement, was to counsel students who perform badly in Test 1.
This is because those students who have failed Test 1 still have an opportunity and time to improve both their continuous assessment (CA) grades and later their Test 2 grades, in order to obtain a good final grade.
Continuing with sluggish performance after Test 1 would definitely result in a fail, because it is likely that homework and assignments would also not be given the necessary effort and due attention.
Unfortunately, because this exercise was a first attempt, it was not heeded by students, but some that attended the counselling session later came to give a positive feedback after Test 2.
Therefore, we are advocating for Universities in Sub-Saharan Africa to use the mountains of treasure, which is data in their archives, to improve on student teaching and training of their institutions and learning processes of their learners.
*Professor O. R. Madibela & Dr J. Mensah are lecturers at Botswana University of Agriculture & Natural Resources and Ba Isago University, Gaborone, Botswana