eBASE, effective basic services:Mastery Learning Local Content

Mastery Learning Local Content

Summary of the research evidence on the impact of Mastery Learning on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa


The text below is a summary of the research evidence on the impact of Mastery Learning on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa. It is an analysis of individual studies of Mastery Learning in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The information here is valuable for African school leaders, administrators and policy makers. It is even more valuable for parents who maybe thinking of better ways to improve on the educational attainment of their children.

Effective Basic Services (eBASE) Africa developed this summary using available research evidence while also taking into consideration prominent themes arising from key informant interviews (KII) and focus group discussions (FGD), particularly FGD with teachers and students. The research evidence in this summary is acquired from a detailed and replicable search protocol used on a wide range – listed below – of research databases for related studies in low- and middle-income countries in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

Definition of the Strand

Mastery learning is a learning methodology, which assumes that, if given appropriate instructional conditions, students can properly learn most of what they are taught (Ogundele, et al., 2011; Mitee, et al., 2015; Egharevba & Iyamu, 2020). In mastery learning, the subject matter and learning content is broken down into units with clearly defined learning objectives which are then pursued in a series of sequential steps until achieved (Ronoh, et al., 2014; Lamidi, et al., 2015; Higgins, et al., 2016; Salihu & TorpevTerver, 2018). In mastery learning, students do not progress to the next unit unless they have a proper understanding – established by perfomance in an evaluation test – of the previous topic or unit.

Why the strand is important

Overwhelmingly across Africa and possibly the world, within the traditional school set up, students are compelled to move together as a class from one topic to the other, disregarding the possibility of a proportion of the class falling behind on the previous topic. For pupils who have fallen behind, carrying on to the next level without a grasp or mastery of the fundamental principles of the subject compromises their knowledge foundation and as they delve further into the subject matter, the more apparent those gaps will be and manifest (Lister, 2019). Bad grades, feeling lost and disengagement from the subject or school may ensue. The mastery learning approach to education is important as it allows struggling students to master critical concepts prior to the introduction of any new content. As such, it facilitates narrowing the achievement gap between high performing students and their counterparts who are slow (Furo, 2014).

Research Evidence in Sub-Saharan Africa

The effectiveness of mastery learning has been extensively researched in SSA albeit, mostly in Nigeria and Kenya. Some research has explored its effectiveness in a few other countries. In general, based on the available evidence mastery learning improves learning outcomes.

A quasi-experimental study, using purposive sampling technique explored the effects of mastery learning approach (MLA) on secondary school students’ physics achievement in Kenya. Students of both control and treatment groups were taught Equilibrium and Center of Gravity’ and the Physics Achievement Test (PAT) was used as a measure of students’ achievement. An analysis of the pre-post test data, using t‑test, Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and analysis of Co-variance (ANCOVA) was conducted and the results established that mastery learning teaching method resulted in higher achievement hence, an effective teaching method, which should be encouraged (Wambugu & Changeiywo, 2007). Using the Chemistry Achievement Test (CAT), same sampling methodology, and analysis methods, Chebii, (2011) establishes that in the Koibatek district schools, Kenya, students exposed to the Science Process Mastery Learning approach to learning selected chemistry practical skills achieved significantly higher CAT mean scores compared to their counterparts under the conventional methods of teaching. The science process skills mastery learning approach also enhanced the acquisition of science process skills, and leads to high student achievement compared to the conventional teaching method. Hence it should be included in the teaching of chemistry in secondary schools and also in the in-servicing of teachers (Chebii, 2011).

Furthermore, Furo, (2014), Keter, et al., (2014) and Ronoh, et al., (2014) respectively researched;the effects of mastery learning approach on secondary school students’ achievement in chemistry in River State Nigeria; the effects of Cooperative Mastery Learning Approach on students’ motivation to learn chemistry by gender, and; the effects of Computer Based mastery learning approach on students’ motivation to learn biology. They establish that students in the experimental groups, exposed to mastery learning, coorperative mastery learning and computer based mastery learning scored significantly higher and were more motivated to learn than their counterparts under the conventional teaching methods.

Lamidi, et al., (2015) investigated the effects of mastery learning on senior secondary school students’ achievement in the mole concept in the Ilorin South Local Government Area of Kwara State, Nigeria. They find that students taught using the mastery learning instructional strategy performed better on average (mean score 15.50) than their counterparts not exposed to the strategy (mean score 7.04). With a similar population, Mitee, et al., (2015) researched on the effects of mastery learning on students’ cognitive learning outcome in quantitative chemistry and concluded that mastery learning is effective and better than the conventional teaching methods. Sixty-nine percent in the mastery learning group as opposed to only 17.5% in the control group scored above 80%. Also, about 50% of students receiving conventional education scored between 40% and 49% compared to less than 1% in the mastery learning group.

Salihu, et al., (2018) and Yemi, et al., (2018) both recommend mastery learning, and Jigsaw Strategy Mastery Learning (JSML) as an effective strategy to teach students in lower basic schools the english language, and to learn mathematics.


The research from SSA overwhelmingly establishes mastery learning as a more effective teaching strategy compared to the conventional teaching method. Using various approaches to mastery learning such as Science Process Skills Mastery Learning, Cooperative Mastery Learning, Computer Based Mastery Learning, and Jigsaw Strategy Mastery Learning, the research shows students exposed to mastery learning as a whole significantly perform better in subjects and subject-specific topics in physics, chemistry, quantitative chemistry, biology, mathematics and English. Notwithstanding the positive results, the research have been conducted mostly in Nigeria and Kenya. Researching the effectiveness of Mastery learning on in other countries, particularly of the Lake Chad basin like Chad, Niger and Cameroon will further reveal its effectiveness and possible challenges beyond that which has already been revealed.

Impact, Security, and Cost of Local Evidence

The available evidence on the impact of mastery learning on educational attainment in SSA suggest high positive associative effects. Nevertheless, this results from quasi-experimental studies. The evidence strength could therefore be regarded as low. Given that the pre & posttest research design used in most of the studies do not account for non-program influences on outcomes, randomized trials in future research efforts will better ascertain the extent to which mastery learning improves attainment or is effective in improving attainment. Better still; a systematic review of the available evidence is a welcome idea.

The local cost of implementation is likely to be low.

Search Terms

Mastery learning, Learning for Mastery, Mastery, educational attainment, Educational achievement, Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, SSA, Africa south of the Sahara, Mastery Learning in Africa

Databases searched

Google Scholar


Chebii, R. J. (2011, March). Effects of Science Process Skills Mastery Learning Approach on Secondary School Students’ Achievement and Acquisition of Selected Chemistry Practical Skills in Koibatek District Schools, Kenya. Egerton University, Thesis.

Egharevba, J., & Iyamu, E. (2020). Promoting the Effective Teaching and Learning of Social Studies through the Use of Mastery Learning Strategies in the 21st Century. KIU Journal of Social Sciences.

Furo, P. T. (2014). Effect of Mastery Learning Approach on Secondary School Students Achievement in Chemistry in Rivers State Nigeria. Journal of Chemistry and Material Research, IISTE.

Higgins, S., Katsipataki, M., Villanueva-Aguilera, A., Coleman, R., Henderson, P., Major, L., … Mason, D. (2016). The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching & Learning Toolkit. London: Durham University.

Keter, J. K., Barchok, H., & Ng’eno, J. (2014). Effects of Cooperative Mastery Learning Approach on Students’ Motivation to learn Chemistry by Gender. IISTE Journal of Educationa and Practice.

Lamidi, B. T., Oyelekan, O., & Olorundare, A. (2015). Effects of Mastery Learning Instructional Strategy on Senior School Students’ Achievement in the Mole Concept. Electronic Journal of Science Education, Vol. 19(5).

Lister, J. (2019, April 1). Why Mastery Learning Is The Most Important Part Of Personalizing Education. Retrieved from hundrED: https://hundred.org/en/article…

Mitee, T. L., & Obaitan, G. (2015). Effect of Mastery Learning on Senior Secondary School Students’ Cognitive Learning Outcome in Quantitative Chemistry. Journal of Education and Practice, Vol.6(No.5).

Ogundele, B. O., Moronkola, O., & Babalola, J. (2011). Contemporary Issues in Education, Health and Sports. The way Forward. Ibadan: Department of Human Kinetics and Health Education, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.

Ronoh, P. K., Wachanga, P., & Keraro, P. (2014). Effects of Computer Based Mastery Learning Approach on Students’ Motivation to Learn Biology. Journal of Education and Practice.

Salihu, M. M., & TorpevTerver, F. (2018). Mastery Learning Strategy: A Panacea for Effective Curriculum Implementation in LowerBasic Schools, in Dutsin-Ma, Katsina State, Nigeria. International Journal of Education Development.

Wambugu, P. W., & Changeiywo, J. (2007, November 19). Effects of Mastery Learning Approach on Secondary School Students’ Physics Achievement. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology Education.

Yemi, T. M., Azid, D., & Ali, P. (2018). Evaluation of Jigsaw Strategy and Mastery Learning (JSML) Module Versus Conventional Instruction in Teaching. European Journal of Mathematics and Computer Science, Vol. 5(1).