The Sunday Leader

School Nightmare For Slow Learners

By Camelia Nathaniel

For 15 year old Marion (name changed to protect her), school has become a sheer nightmare, because she is being forced to drop certain subjects in school simply because she cannot keep up with the rest of her class. She is a slow learner who also has an attention deficiency as well. However she is not at a level that requires her to attend a special school for differently abled children.

However she is also finding it hard to keep up with the strict and rigid syllabus where she is struggling to keep up with the others. For Marion and certainly for many other children in the same situation, our education system has not only not made provisions for children such as Marion, but even the teachers are not equipped to deal with such situations.

What is the option for such children and what is their future? This is a dilemma faced by many parents who are struggling with such children and this not only affects their education but it also has a huge impact on their self esteem and mental health as well. These children are often traumatised as due to their inability to cope with this fast moving rigid system, they often end up with low marks and are ridiculed and humiliated by their fellow students. For such children going to school is a nightmare.

As Marion pointed out she hates going to school and she is not only being harassed and ridiculed by her fellow students, but even the teachers are very unkind to her.

There are many children like Marion in many of our schools today and simply because they are slow learners, should they be deprived of their basic right to education?

The former minister of higher education and renowned academic Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe speaking to The Sunday Leader on the issues faced by children who cannot keep up with this rigid education system said that the question of ensuring equitable access to education to those differently abled is an important one. “The Ministry of Education does have a branch that deals with children with special needs, and parents I have directed there have found most of the personnel helpful. However they have little authority and the mechanisms they have developed are not well known. Often principals are not willing to take necessary measures and the examinations department must publicise the remedial systems they have in place, so that all parents are aware of how their children will not be subject to disadvantage.”


No comprehensive policy


Unfortunately he said that we have not developed a comprehensive policy in this regard, adding that it would be desirable for the Ministry of Education to formulate effective plans, in consultation with stakeholders. However he said that while it might be difficult for all schools to do everything, all schools must be required to put in measures that are not too difficult, for instance checking on students who might be dyslexic or have learning difficulties, and they should be encouraged, not treated badly for what is not their fault. And there must be at least a few schools in each Division that cater to those with special needs.

“When I was advising on Reconciliation, I suggested much better liaison between organisations engaged in service activities, and in fact UNDP had a consultation process on improving delivery at Grama Niladhari level. Unfortunately we have not been able to take this forward, since public administration has been rendered incoherent by the manner in which responsibilities have been divided up. However I have brought up the matter recently with Joseph Michael Perera, who is in charge of Divisional Secretariats, and also told Rosy Senanayake about the job descriptions that had been drafted for the Women and Children’s Units at Divisional Secretariat level. In finalising these, we should make sure that the health services engage in regular monitoring of children, not only with regard to nutrition, which is meant to happen now, but also with regard to disabilities and other special needs. Small weaknesses as to sight and hearing for instance can remain unidentified for too long, after which it is difficult for students who have fallen behind to catch up,” he said.

Professor Wijesinghe also said that it would also be desirable to entrench protection in the Constitution. Ajith Perera, Secretary General of Idiriya, said he had been in touch with Jayampathy Wickremaratne, who told him he was too late to get anything included in the 19th Amendment. But as Ajith Perera had told professor Wijesinghe, this was not his fault since no one knew how to make inputs, given how secretive the drafting was, contrary to the promise in the President’s manifesto. In fact I had told Jayampathy in November that we should introduce a whole Bill of Rights, but he was diffident at the time. However he said that he can only  hope that is done now, with opportunities for public input.


What Jayampathys commitee had proposed in the draft prepared when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights was that (2)  (a)  No person shall be arbitrarily discriminated against on any ground including on the ground of such as race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, maternity, marital status, caste, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience or belief, political or other opinion, culture, language, place of birth, and place of residence (3) No person shall, on any of the grounds referred to in subparagraph (a) of paragraph (2) (a) of this Article, be arbitrarily subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to access to shops, public restaurants, hotels, places of public entertainment and places of public worship of the person’s own religion.

“That is better than what we have at present, but I think we should take Ajith’s suggestions into consideration if ever we move forward with regard to strengthening the Rights provisions in the Constitution,” added Professor Wijesinghe.


Classrooms too crowded

Meanwhile Senior lecturer of the College of Education Irani Karunaratne told The Sunday Leader that one of the main issues faced by children with learning impairments or slow learners is that the class rooms are too crowded and the teacher cannot give individual attention to these children. “There are too many students in classrooms and even the more intelligent students find it hard to keep up. Under these circumstances, how can the slow learners keep up with the work?

The teachers too are forced to cover the syllabus within the stipulated time frame and this and the overcrowding in classrooms has resulted in the teachers being unable to pay attention to each individual student. The teacher has no time to evaluate the children’s individual capabilities and weaknesses, and thus she/he is unable to formulate a specific approach in order to assist the students individually. This rigid syllabus based education system has only been successful in creating a gap or void between the teacher and the students, but it has also deprived the children their basic right to proper and fulfilling education and only managed to create a huge competition among the children,” she said.

Since the children do not get this individual attention in the schools, they are forced to attend tuition classes.  There too the teachers are in competition with each other to prove their competence, and they too only want children who do well in their classes. In this situation too those who are unable to cope up are left behind or rejected by these teachers.

According to Mrs. Karunaratne, this whole education system need to be changed and we should get rid of the rigid exam based education system. She pointed out that it has become so competitive that children today are being dragged to class upon class targeting exams. This has also led to children suffering from severe mental pressure. Moreover this system she said leaves no space for those who cannot keep up. As a result many children are left by the wayside and instead of schooling being a learning experience which is fun and pleasurable, children end up being traumatised and frustrated.

Today children have become so competitive that they have trouble forging friendships as they are not willing to even help each other due to the fierce competition.

Another veteran educationist who has many years of experience in the education sphere Mrs. Jezima Ismail commenting on the current education system told The Sunday Leader that children with mild learning impairments cannot be segregated and they have to be allowed to mix and study among the other children in regular schools. “However I don’t think the teachers are equipped to deal with these situation in order to be of any assistance to them. The teachers need to be trained with special skills to deal with children with such learning impairments even in normal schools. I feel that children with such learning issues (slow learners) need to be in the normal schools, but in order for them to receive the help they need the teachers first have to be trained on how to deal with these situations. I see something wrong in not only our system of education but also in our system of training teachers. Schools should have such trained teachers on their staff so that they could help such children with minor learning issues. But our system is so rigid and it is not flexible enough to give space and help to such children who are having trouble coping. There should be a lot of flexibility that should be introduced into schools.

Over 15 years ago I had brought up this issue and tried to change the rigid education system, but to date the system still continues and there is no change. In fact the situation had got worse. Not only does our entire education system need an overhaul but our teacher training system too needs to be reviewed. Schools should be monitored regularly and teachers should be trained to evaluate each child and device a learning method that would help these children,” added Mrs. Ismail.

Give a student an F, she’s learned nothing. Give her an A, and what has she learned? Still nothing. Grades are subjective crutches, used by teachers because they either do not know any better, or because they are forced to give them by an archaic system.

Grades should be replaced by meaningful narrative feedback, which helps students understand what learning outcomes have or have not been mastered. Feedback also encourages learning, while grades only stifle it.

1 Comment for “School Nightmare For Slow Learners”

  1. You have spoken about slow learners. but tell us how can we identify them? tell us about the psychological back ground? and what made them slow learners? Is this autism ? or psychological imbalance?

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