Does it matter in urban poor communities? The role of self-esteem in academic performance among urban poor adolescents in Accra, Ghana

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Does it matter in urban poor communities? The role of self-esteem in academic performance among urban poor adolescents in Accra, Ghana.

Agyekum, Martin Wiredu

Regional Institute for Population Studies, University of Ghana, Legon.


The importance of self-esteem cannot be overlooked because it has been noted to have an influence on academic performance (Aryana, 2010; Arshad, 2015) and the capabilities of meeting challenges in life (Reasoner, 2005). As a result, it is a fundamental priority and concern for everyone such as students, parents, teachers and the society due to its positive and negative consequences on human life (Bahrami & Bhrami, 2015). Low self-esteem is associated with apathy for high academic aspirations, resulting in poor academic performance (Arshad et al. 2015) while high self-esteem is an important attribute in academic pursuit (Booth & Gerard, 2011). The self enhancement model suggests that self-concept is a predictor of academic achievement and that one’s self concept affects their academic performance (Liu, 2009).

The developmental stage of adolescents is very essential due to the influence of self-esteem in their lives. Factors such as school environment, adolescent ambitions in life, socio economic status (Wigfield et al. 1991, Sirin & Rogers et al, 2004, Nworgu & Nworgu 2013) peers and home environment (Farid & Akhtar, 2013) have an impact on self-esteem which directly or indirectly influences adolescents. In addition, studies have found that self-esteem increases with age of individuals (O’Mally & Bachman, 1983).

Although self-esteem has been identified as crucial for academic performance (Aryana, 2010), the evidence is largely inconclusive (Baumeister et al., 2003; Naderi, 2009; Baumeister, et al., 2003; Blankson & Zhou, 2002; Alves-Martin et al, 2002; Lockett & Harrell, 2003; Diseth et al., 2014). The inconclusiveness and contested relationship could be attributed to multi-faceted factors that influence both self-esteem and academic performance including cultural, socio-economic (Villarroel, 2001; Saani, 2012) and environmental conditions (DuBois et al, 2002; Joshi & Srivastava, 2009). Evidence has shown that in urban poor settings, more than half of the urban population lives below national poverty line (UN, Millennium Project, 2005). The study area (Ga Mashie) is made up of urban poor communities in Accra, Ghana and is characterized by poverty, high unemployment rate (Baker, 2008; Ludwig et al, 2001), poor housing, poor drainage system, water and sanitation problems (CHF/AMA, 2010). These factors have an influence on self-esteem and academic performance.

Aside the contextual and environmental influence on self-esteem and academic performance in Ghana, research in urban poor communities have been directed towards lifestyle (such as alcohol intake, cigarette, physical activity) sanitation, adolescent sexual behavior, social networking and diseases associated with people in urban poor communities (Awuah et al, 2014; Afrifa-Anane et al., 2015; Biney & Dodoo, 2016). As a result, there is a paucity of research on the extent to which self-esteem influences academic performance of adolescents’ students in urban poor communities in sub-Saharan Africa and Accra, Ghana. This study investigates how urban poor adolescents’ self-esteem influences their academic performance in order to fill this knowledge gap. The outcome of this study also has policy implications for adopting coping strategies for adolescent students with low self-esteem to enhance their academic performance.


The data for the study is the first round of Urban Schools Physical Activity Study (USPAS) conducted by the Regional Institute of Population Studies (RIPS), University of Ghana. It is a longitudinal survey conducted in four (4) public basic schools in the Ga–Mashie (James Town and Usher Town) area of Accra. The analyses focused on a sample of 928 students aged 8-19 in Primary and Junior high schools.

The outcome and explanatory variables for the study are academic performance and self-esteem. Academic performance is a test score generated from a thirty three (33) item test comprising basic, intermediate and advanced literacy and numeracy administered to the students. The explanatory variable self-esteem was also computed from 11 Likert scale questions. Other variables that have influence on academic performance such as locality, gender, age, ethnicity, religious activities, academic performance and others were controlled for. Finally, Poisson regression was used to estimate the correlation between self-esteem and academic performance controlling for the aforementioned variables.


The results of the study showed that academic performance test score ranged from 0 to 28 with a mean of 16.90 and a standard deviation of 4.70. On the other hand, self-esteem had a score ranging from 16 to 58 with a mean of 42.4 and a standard deviation of 5.1. More than half (52.2%) of the respondents were males while 47.8% were females. The majority of the students resides in James Town (62.3%) and the highest proportion (45.2%) lives with other relatives. About 92.0% indicated that they enjoy coming to school and a higher proportion (81.9%) walk to school every day.

At the multivariate level, the results of the study showed that self-esteem correlates positively with academic performance among urban poor students in Ghana. For an increase in self-esteem, there is 1.008 (95% CI, 1.005 to 1.011) times increase in academic performance. The results of the study is congruent with other studies (Alves-Martins et al., 2002; Lockett & Harrell, 2003). This highlights the importance of the correlation between self-esteem and academic performance in urban poor communities in Ghana. Students who are convinced and see themselves of having high self-esteem are more likely to do well academically than those with low self-esteem. According to Baumeister et al (2003), self-esteem is highly associated with confidence hence people with high self-esteem have high capacity which enables them to outshine academically than those with low self-esteem. In addition, locality was significantly related with academic performance and this explains the role of environment in self-esteem and academic performance among adolescents in urban poor communities (Joshi & Srivastava, 2009). Students in James Town were less likely to perform better compared to other students in Ussher Town. Disparities of resources in the two communities could account for the differences in academic performance. The results also indicate that age is a significant predictor of academic performance. In addition, other variables such as locality, attendance, being a good student, age, gender and fathers’ occupation were predictors of academic performance.

To conclude, self-esteem is a strong predictor of academic performance in urban poor schools, hence emphasize should be put on to help construct the self-image of students to improve their academic performance. The findings of the study have policy implication; policy should focus on helping students in urban poor communities to build their self-image by putting up measures that will motivate them to have confidence in themselves geared towards improving their academic performance. Lastly, there should be counseling service for students identified with low self-esteem to improve their confidence level.

TABLE 1: Poisson Regression showing the relationship between self and academic performance among poor urban students.


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