The background to the study can be referred to as a ‘rough road’ to the statement of problem. It provides the description of the research problem from an international, regional to national and local perspective. It puts the problem in the correct perspective in order to provide the root or the genesis of the research problem. Background to the study should be detailed enough so as to make the research problem emerge clearly. There is also need to contextualize it. For a research proposal, it can be as short as one page or as long as three pages. It should not be kept too long as it can easily lose the reader!
The following excerpt, which is based on a study conducted by Mathenge (2007) on involving prefects in the governance of public secondary schools in Nyeri Municipality in Kenya, provides a perspective of how to develop the background of the study:
The rapid expansion of student enrollments in most African countries since the attainment of political independence, coupled with inadequate resources to cope with the ever-increasing demand for educational provision, has made school management a much more complex and difficult enterprise now than a few decades ago. To ensure effective and successful management, the school head must not only be innovative, resourceful and dynamic, but also able to interact well with people both within and outside the school – staff and pupils, parents, members of the Parent-Teacher Association and many other members of the
community – all of whom need to be involved in one way or the other in decision-making processes (UNESCO, 1993).
The increased enrollment in Kenya schools since independence in 1963 coupled with an ever-increasing demand for quality education has made school governance a more complex undertaking than ever before. For the purpose of achieving success as a manager, the school head must create an environment for participatory democracy in the running of the school. Mbiti (1974) explaining about the participation of students in school governance put it that it is inevitable because students are in closer touch with each other through peer interaction than the staff is with them.
The position of prefect is a position of responsibility and one, which provides an important connection between pupils and staff. Becoming a prefect is a valuable goal and the position of prefect forms a valuable part of a pupil’s personal development, opening their minds to new levels of responsibility and participation in a very positive way. Prefects are a tremendous help to the school and play a particularly important role in mentoring younger pupils (Monitor, 1999). They are delegated duties concerned with day-to-day life in school. These include coordination of co-curricular activities, dealing with minor cases of discipline and taking responsibility of students’ welfare, They also carry out supervision of learning activities after school for junior pupils and checking attendants (Ozigi, 1995).
From the background, it is evident that the problem related to school management was discussed from an international (Africa) to the national level (Kenya), although not comprehensively. For instance, the background pointed out that “The rapid expansion of student enrollments in most African countries since the attainment of political independence, coupled with inadequate resources to cope with the ever-increasing demand for educational provision, made school management a much more complex and difficult enterprise…. This was put across to underscore the need to involve students, among other stakeholders in the management of schools. The background also tried to bring out the Kenya’s perspective on the question of the involvement of prefects in school governance.
Background of the study should be developed in such a way that it ‘smoothly’ leads to the statement of the problem. The background to the study takes a funnel shaped approach, that is from global, regional to local perspectives.
While taking this approach, care should be taken to tie the main problem of the study (dependent variable) with the theorized predictors or parameters of the study (independent variables). A good background of the study should ‘smoothly’ lead to the statement of the problem based on the real social need on the ground or knowledge gap.