Botswana’s Performance In An International Study (TIMSS)


Botswana participated in four cycles of TIMSS since 2003. TIMSS is an international trend study of Mathematics and Science for learners in the eighth grade (or Form One).  Countries participating in this study vary from cycle to cycle and the numbers keep increasing. For TIMSS 2023, about sixty countries are participating.

However, African countries participation is low. For example, the highest number that ever participated in the same cycle was six countries in TIMSS  2003, and the least was three in TIMSS 2023. Cote D’Ivore is participating for the first time this year.

The main objectives for the country’s participation in the study were twofold. First, to assess what Botswana learners knew and could do in Mathematics and Science. The other objective was to provide a rich source of information to all stakeholders, on the outcome of learning Mathematics and Science and how the various factors surrounding the learners relate to learning achievement.

Since its inception, the East Asian countries have been performing the highest in both Mathematics and Science, while African countries have been performing the least. Generally, African countries performed below the ‘Low benchmark’. By implication, Botswana performance in TIMSS was low.

However, this should not cause any alarm at all since most of the countries that participated in the study were first world countries who have first class educational facilities and resources, coupled with one hundred percent of two years of pre-primary education. Nonetheless, what causes more worries was the declining performance in successive cycles, yet internationally improvement was observed. This suggested that the quality of education in the country was declining.

Perhaps an important positive finding from this study was that Botswana learners who had gone through pre-primary schooling were performing significantly better than those who did not attend pre-primary education. Possibly this explains why the country fared badly when compared to developed nations, whose learners had ten years of schooling while Botswana learners had only eight years.

Because all learners in private schools (English medium schools) had gone through pre-primary education, their performance was far much higher than that of public schools in both Mathematics and Science. Not only that, performance by private schools was above the TIMSS scale centre point.

Another interesting finding was that girls outperformed boys in both Mathematics and Science. However, this phenomenon was not peculiar to Botswana alone, although majority of other countries exhibited equal performance by boys and girls.

Botswana has since withdrawn from the study after the TIMSS 2015 cycle, with the objectives well achieved! It is indeed good foresight to withdraw at predetermined times to implement recommendations from the previous cycle(s) and formatively evaluate their effectiveness. It is not cost-effective to continue participation even when the interventions that have been put in place have not matured. For example, South Africa withdrew its participation in TIMSS 2007, and committed to putting in place necessary interventions as per the previous cycles recommendations. Its performance in the next cycle improved significant by about in both subjects.

Two cycles have since taken place since the country’s withdrawal. TIMSS 2019 introduced online testing version and about half of the 64 participating countries administered it while the other half administered paper-based TIMSS and hopefully the 2023 cycle is fully eTIMSS. Expectedly, by the time the country decides to resume participation, it will be well-prepared given the robust position it adopted with regards to the use of ICT in learning. 

Yes, It’s possible!


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