Depression and self-regulated learning as predictors of first-year students’ academic performance : a case study
Predictors of first-year students’ academic performance, especially in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) programmes, are more important now than ever before. Exploring the factors associated with academic success with reference to students’ mental health, as well as certain learning strategy dimensions that have a positive correlation with academic achievement, is an attempt to face the serious challenge of improving student access, success and throughput rates. Thus, the aim of this study was twofold: firstly, to examine depression and self-regulated learning as possible predictors of the academic performance of students in a first-year Biology module at the University of the Free State (UFS) and, secondly, to establish whether depression and self-regulated learning are associated. Furthermore, the researcher compared the influence of depression and self-regulated learning on the academic achievement of students in the access programme to that of students in the mainstream programme of the UFS Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences. A further comparison was made between students in the two programmes in terms of the prevalence of depression and the incidence of the use of self-regulated learning techniques. The results obtained in the present study showed that levels of depression among students in the UFS Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences are of great concern. Furthermore, the results confirmed that certain learning strategy dimensions have a positive correlation with academic achievement. The study also revealed that depression, self-regulated learning dimensions and academic performance are indeed interlinked. However, since depression did not emerge as a significant predictor of academic performance in the final multiple regression model, the study did not prove unequivocally that depression is indeed a predictor of lower academic performance. Nonetheless, a negative correlation between depression and certain selfregulated learning strategies for both the access and mainstream programmes were observed, which therefore indirectly influences the academic achievement of students in both programmes. Lastly, it transpired that mainstream students are not more prone to applying self-regulated learning techniques than those in access programmes. The researcher recommended that the high levels of depression among first-year students in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the UFS undergo further evaluation and that the problem should be addressed. Self-regulated learning strategies that positively influence academic achievement, as identified in this thesis, should be developed and enhanced among first-year students since studies have shown that learning strategies can be learnt.