Why students struggle in school

Students who struggle in school is nothing new. But there has definitely been much more attention around this subject in recent times, particularly with
@pallavisinghal_ article stating that 42% of surveyed parents reporting they have low confidence in the current schooling curriculum and 44% being unsure. This leaves only a whopping 14% of surveyed parents believing that the schooling system is ‘suitable’ and yes this is a deductive conclusion.

But it has to be asked here whether or not it is the school curriculum that is failing our students or if the problem lies elsewhere, after all a curriculum, course or program layout simply outlines what is to be taught and the standards that need to be achieved. In essence it’s a plan, not the surrounding set of executing actions.

Is school meant to prepare you for your future?

I’ve had this conversation a number of times recently with various people and my answer to this question always usually comes back as ‘No‘. But its not for the reasons that you might think.

Above all else, I have the grace of looking back at my education with hindsight. But even when I look back on my secondary and even my tertiary education and ask the question of whether school prepared me for my first job … unfortunately my answer would still be no!

So why am I so stubborn saying ‘no’? Once again its not for the reasons that you might think. My not being prepared for entering the work force had very little to do with the curriculum, but more to do with myself and to some respect … the teaching staff (particularly at university)

Is the curriculum inadequate?

It’s hard to look back at what I was taught, what I actually learn’t and say that there were problems with what I was supposed to know in certain specific academic subjects and times. In fact I can honestly say that I don’t remember much before year 8 and year 9.

For me as far as I was concerned education really started in year 10, which coincidently is the same time students start making choices that dictate the direction of their academic and professional lives.

However the issue that students and schools have at this point in any students journey is time … or the lack of it. And this leads to compromise very early in the students life. The curriculum dictates that certain subjects are mandatory while students can choose the electives they wish to pursue. In actual fact its the electives they need to take in order to take their next steps forward academically.

Can schools prepare students for what comes next?

You probably already know my answer here but we’ve already talked about the most precious teaching resource. Time! Or most appropriately the lack of it.

Students are forced at early stages in their lives to make choices that have far reaching impacts, and these choices are dictated by time and future prerequisites. And no where does this become more apparent then when we switch our thinking from getting the ‘first job‘ to ‘making a career

Using myself as an example I found myself swamped in science and mathematics, so that I could simply qualify for an engineering course … which I spent years struggling with. Thankfully being stubborn I pushed through but not before learning a major life lesson.

But after all of the years spent learning, formulas, principles, concepts … laws, constants and other non-negotiable information, nothing prepared me for the first time that I dealt with my first customer.

Nothing prepared me for how to key in and process a purchase order. Nowhere did I learn how to manage other staff. Nowhere did I learn how to operate within an engineering / industrial business!

Does school prepare you? No! there isn’t enough time!

Tapping into student motivation.

I said earlier that one of my problems around preparation for the real world came down myself and the teachers, not the material that had to be learn’t. Why?

The real root problem that I’ve seen time and time again particularly in courses run beyond the academic system is the need to tap into student motivations. If a student (school or adult) is fortunate enough to know and understand their motivation for learning and a reason for learning can be given by the teacher (school or commercial) then the framework for successful learning outcomes have been set.

In hindsight it wasn’t until I was half way through my university degree and the 4th attempt at 1st year engineering mathematics that I realized what my motivation and learning style was. Once I learn’t these two critical things I went from Failing to a distinction pass! The point is … it wasn’t the subject material that was the problem … it was me!

Secondly teachers (particularly in the commercial world of training) set themselves up for failure each time they fail to mention why any subject is being taught. Students are forced to learn about partial differentiation in mathematics without being told why they’re learning it.

When a student doesn’t yet know what they want to do in life (why they need to bother) let alone how they learn (the teaching approach) before being force fed material, concepts and information without context (The student needs to know how and why information is relevant) poor results are practically guaranteed.

What’s the solution?

Like a lot of things, this is easier said than done and predominantly comes down to who is going to take care of this. However I for one will not put this at the feet of the teachers. Teachers have already been lumped with far too much red-tape and arse covering exercises to do more.

  1. One lesson that needs to be delivered (not as a class, but through action) is that students need to take responsibility for themselves. That means their results, motivations, goals, etc. A student must have a sense of direction before they can move forward.
  2. Students and teachers must know how learning is achieved and cater teaching to the most effective collective learning style. If the best way is through practice then so be it. If learning can be achieved through videos or virtual classrooms instead then so be it … each subject is different.
  3. Most importantly however is that teachers of the subject matter need to understand the application of the subject matter. Derivatives are boring as hell, but when derivatives help the student who loves motorsport understand how a suspension system works by keeping the tire in contact with the ground … then at the very least the teacher has a hope of having the students pay attention!

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SMH article by @pallavisinghal_ #education #teaching

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