REVERSING THE LEARNING GAP CRISIS
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) notes
that; “…students generally show greater gains in literacy and numeracy in the earlier
years than in the later years of schooling” (ACARA, 2016: pg. 5). Having a firm grip
on numeracy and literacy skills is therefore not an option but a necessity for every
young learner to acquire.
We keep pouring money into our schools but we don’t see a corresponding
improvement in quality. Once again, an intervention has been launched to bridge the
learning gaps in our schools (specifically at the primary level). The Ghana
Accountability for Learning Outcomes (GALOP) could not have come at a more
opportune time—a period when a ‘global health crisis’ has forced learners to stay
away from school for close to a year. From the index used to select the schools for
this intervention, it is no secret that Ghanaian education is in crisis. Our children’s
academic achievement is in sharp decline.
I had the opportunity to be one of the trainers for this programme and applaud the
government for the policy. The project is very laudable as I have used similar
strategies to assist weaker learners over the years in schools I have taught in. The
project, according to the Education Ministry, is targeted at 10,000 low performing
schools and all special schools in Ghana. In all, 2,328,750 pupils will benefit from the
intervention (GES, 2020).
A learning gap is the difference between what a student is expected to have learned by
a certain grade level versus what they have actually learned up to that point (Davis,
2020). Why do we have learning gaps that need to be filled in the first place? To
answer such a question, we might as a country locate the root cause. In this case, it
might be innate abilities and disabilities, environmental factors or children’s own
effort in their explanation of school performance; noting that the design of the
education system in different cultures is based on the different beliefs therein
(Stevenson & Stigler, 1994).
This calls for diverse solutions in varied cultures. What works in one culture may not
entirely work in another. The simple remedies of more money, smaller classes, higher
standards and merit pay, have yielded meagre outcomes relative to reversing the trend
(Stevenson & Stigler, 1994). Besides, disparities in student achievement levels in
public and private schools play a vital role. Das, Pandey and Zajonc (2006) assert that
the gap in English test scores between government and private schools, for instance, is
12 times the gap between children from rich and poor families. This needs a thorough
interrogation as well.
According to a research conducted by Goss and Sonnemann (2016), most of these
learning gaps develop between Year 3 and Year 9; and not before Year 3. Indeed,
there are a number of reasons to explain the advent of learning gaps. Some of these
factors in relation to mathematics may include:
A child missing lessons due to illness or family circumstances
A teacher not adequately covering the concept
The mathematics curriculum not providing for the concept in enough depth
A child learning to solve problems using an algorithm but lacking conceptual
One of the recommendations put out by Goss and Sonnemann (2016) was that, given
the “very spread in student achievement, there should be an implementation of better
systematic support for targeted teaching to allow all students make good learning
progress regardless of their starting point.” And this is exactly what the Ghana
government has finally sought to do.
Research has shown that between 2003 and 2012, Poland increased the proportion of
high performers in PISA mathematics, reduced the proportion of low performers, and
increased its average by 27 points (Ibid). Understanding student learning growth, not
just achievement, is key here (Jensen, 2010). That is the call for targeted and
differentiated teaching. The literacy and numeracy skills students attain by Year 9 will
substantially affect their life outcomes. It is no secret that low achievement can limit
options for further study and work later on (OECD, 2014). As such, teaching
strategies need to focus on active learning and clear learning objectives, while
allowing for local adaptation and application (National Academy of Science, 2011).
Thus, it is worth to note that government would not make any headway without the
input of such stakeholders in education as teachers, parents and school administrators
ACARA (2016). 'Interpreting NAPLAN results', from
Das, J., Pandey, P., & Zajonc, T. (2006). Learning levels and gaps in Pakistan. Policy
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Davis, L. (2020). How to identify learning gaps based on mastery of learning
standards. Retrieved from https://www.schoology.com/blog/how-identify-
Ghana Education Service (2020). All you need to know about Ghana Accountability
for Learning Outcomes Project. https://ges.gov.gh/portfolio/all-you-need-to-
Goss, P. & Sonnemann, J. (2016). Widening gaps: What NAPLAN tells us about
student progress. Retrieved from https://grattan.edu.au/report/widening-gaps/
Jensen, B. (2010) Investing in our teachers, investing in our economy. Retrieved from
Mathnasium of Littleton (2020). Understanding maths learning gaps. Retrieved from
National Academy of Sciences (2011). Challenges and opportunities for education
about dual use issues in the Life Sciences.
OECD (2014) PISA 2012 Results: What Students Know and Can Do (Volume I,
Revised edition). Paris: OECD Publishing.
Stevenson, H., & Stigler, J. W. (1994). Learning gap: Why our schools are failing
and what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese educ. New York: Simon and
Source: Phyllis F. Issifu