An exploration of the factors that contribute to low students’ performance in physics: a case of a public secondary school in Embu Country, Kenya

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Education (MEd)

First Supervisor/Advisor

Dr. Simon Karuku

Second Supervisor/Advisor

Dr. Geoff Tennant


Institute for Educational Development, East Africa


Physics as a branch of science contributes enormously to the technological growth in the world. Unfortunately, Kenyan students have continued to perform poorly in this important subject, as reflected in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary education Examinations. This study aimed at exploring the factors that contribute to this poor performance. The participants for the study were physics teachers and students in a coeducational public day secondary school in Embu County, Kenya. A sample of fifty-seven students was purposively selected from the school. The only two physics teachers in the school also took part in the study. The study adopted a mixed method design. Data were collected through one-on-one semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, and questionnaires. Analysis of quantitative data was done using SPSS with frequency charts used to present findings while the qualitative data was analyzed manually by first transcribing and summarizing the gathered information, followed by development of codes and finally comparing and categorizing codes into themes. The study identified three types of factors that contributed to students’ low performance in physics namely: teacher, students and school administration factors. The teacher factors included teaching methods, teacher’s commitment, student-teacher interactions and teacher’s content knowledge. Student factors included student’s background in mathematics, peer influence and student’s time management, while school administration factors included syllabus coverage, subject selection process, few physics teachers and inadequate provision of teaching/learning resources. Findings revealed that teacher factors largely contributed to students’ low performance in physics. The students were particularly concerned about their teachers’ inadequate mastery of content, which greatly affected the students’ motivation and attitudes towards physics. The two physics teacher interviewed revealed that they were not comfortable in teaching physics. They taught physics simply because there were no other physics teachers in the school. The study recommends that the government to post physics teachers as per the school establishment so as to improve the delivery of the physics curriculum. Teacher educators should include a course on improvisation in physics education during teacher pre-service training. This will enable physics teachers to overcome the challenges of teaching physics in a school with limited teaching/learning resources. In addition, school iv administrators should ensure that the subjects’ selection exercise in form two is not only helpful to the students but also democratic. Lastly, physics teachers should use practical activities in physics lesson delivery right from form one and should strive to come up with interesting learning activities that engage learners so as to sustain their attention.

This document is available in the relevant AKU library