eBASE, effective basic services:Meta-Cognition and Self-Regulation Local Summary

Meta-Cognition and Self-Regulation Local Summary

Summary of the research evidence on the impact of Metacognition and self-regulation on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa


The text below is a summary of the research evidence on the impact of Metacognition and self-regulation on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa. 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 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

Meta-cognition and self-regulation approaches (occasionally referred to as learning to learn”) aim to help learners think about their own learning, usually by teaching strategies to set goals, monitor and evaluate their own academic development (Higgins, et al., 2016). Meta-cognition can take many forms and usually includes knowledge on when and how to use specific strategies for learning or problem solving. The two components of metacognition are knowledge about cognition’ and regulation of cognition’ (Schraw, 1998).

Why the strand is important

With the potential to enable pupils take more responsibility for their development, the importance of meta-cognition and self-regulation goes beyond the classroom. The fast changing skill requirements and nature of the workplace requires professionals who are quick to learn and know best strategies through which they can acquire the knowledge relevant to their specific industries. Meta-cognition and self-regulation improve self-awareness and helps students or individuals identify best strategies to acquire the knowledge they need. With low educational attainment levels across SSA, particularly in the Lake Chad basin, skills which can facilitate learning during and after schooling, are essential.

Research Evidence in Sub-Saharan Africa

There is a paucity of research evidence regarding the effectiveness of meta-cognition and self-regulation on educational attainment in sub-Saharan Africa. Some researchers have however carried out some limited research, ranging from reviews to pre-post experiments.

Maqsud, (1997) investigates the effects of metacognitive skills and nonverbal ability (the ability to understand and communicate with others without using words) on the academic achievement of 140 high school pupils in the North West Province of South Africa. The analysis revealed a significant positive association between metacognitive skills and nonverbal ability, and mathematics and English achievement scores. The conclusions reached after analysis of data from two experiments suggested that some intervention programs that teach meta-cognitive strategies to students who lack such skills are likely to improve their attainment.

A small scale empirical investigation in Nigeria on the effectiveness of self-regulation training on secondary school students’ meta-cognition and achievement in chemistry, suggested that self-regulated learning (SRL) may improve students’ achievement in chemistry and could be used as a component of secondary science teaching.] (Olakanmi & Gumbo, 2017).

Looking to the use of self-regulation strategies in early years education, Fitzpatick (2014) suggests that advancing executive functions in preschool-aged children from disadvantged backgrounds may be a promising strategy for reducing economically-based disparities in the education and eventual life chances of individuals’ as executive function skills underlie children’s ability to focus attention and become autonomous, self-directed learners’. (Fitzpatrick, 2014).


The evidence on the impact of meta-cognition and self-regulation in SSA is limited, though existing small-scale studies from the region suggest an association between metacognition and self-regulation skills and improved test scores.

Impact, Security, and Cost of Local Evidence

With no impact evaluations and or systematic reviews, the available evidence of the impact of metacognition cognition and self-regulation on educational attainment is very limited, notwithstanding the presence of some quantitative studies. However, the reported evidence suggest positive effects of metacognition and self-regulation interventions improves performance.

Studies that are more robust are therefore recommended. The cost of implementing such studies is likely to be low.

Databases searched

Google Scholar



Education Administration Abstracts

Global Partnership for Education

Campbell Collaboration.

Search Terms

Meta-cognition, self-regulation, executive functions.


Fitzpatrick, C. (2014). Bridging the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children: Why should we be concerned with executive functions in the South African context? South African Journal of Childhood Education, 156 – 166 .

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. Durham: Durham Research Online.

Maqsud, M. (1997). Effects of Metacognitive Skills and Nonverbal Ability on Academic Achievement of High School Pupils. Taylor & Francis Online.

Olakanmi, E. E., & Gumbo, M. (2017). The Effects of Self-Regulated Learning Training on Students’ Metacognition and Achievement in Chemistry. International Journal of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education, 34 – 48.

Schraw, G. (1998). Promoting general metacognitive awareness. Instructional Science, 113 – 125.

Walt, M. S., Maree, J., & Ellis, S. (2012). Metacognition in the Learning of Mathematics in the Senior Phase: Some Implications for the Curriculum. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 205 – 235.