The old school method or mindset towards education, in its perceived simplicity would easily allow people to identify the slow learners in a rigid system of teaching and learning as inadequate. With this in mind, I also wonder how many people now realise that some of such students then now excel in their careers and lives in general. What is even interesting is that some of them are doing very well in areas that we would view today as different or unconventional… different from the generic career paths (or expectations) of Medicine, Law and Engineering; or perhaps their academic performance began to improve when they moved to a different system of education.
Knowing this should provoke some thought around the approach to our foundational education system and its expectations. Rigidity in teaching and learning rendered those who did not fall in line lost or confused. While the system worked well to address key values such as hard work and discipline, it was lacking in flexibility towards people who inherently cannot learn effectively through this so-called conventional method. A lot of teaching was done, but not a lot of learning was achieved. There are so many reasons for the existence of these outliers, which brings forward the importance of considering different types of learners and their peculiarities.
The first area, which the enlightened population is beginning to accept as critical is Special Education Needs (SEN). Children in this category do not fall under the spectrum of what we may view as normal learners because of some inherent limitations or special abilities, which they have purely as a result of their biological makeup. These include learning disabilities such as dyslexia, behavioural disabilities such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities such as autism.
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In the old-school set up, the curriculum, staffing and teaching methods did not deliberately cater to children who fell under this category. Some who suffered milder versions were not easily identified (some adults today may still not even know or accept that they might have one of these conditions). Hence inclusion was not necessarily identified as an issue, let alone addressed. Now, more modern schools are beginning to realise that inclusion is indeed an important aspect of their operations.
Some, which operate international curricula, actually have this as a requirement for compliance; otherwise they would not meet up to standards for accreditation. Fortunately, there is specialist assistance available and many private schools now accommodate departments for SEN Coordination to help meet the peculiar needs of these children. It is extremely important that Individualised Education Programmes (IEPS) are developed, and doing so should be a joint effort between the teacher, parent, the school’s leadership and perhaps a specialised facilitator (if required). These should be reviewed regularly amongst all stakeholders so that the child fully benefits from his or her learning experience.
Another area to consider is Gifted and Talented learners. These are children who are found to have exceptional abilities in certain learning areas (most commonly, academics and sports). There are certain students that schools would identify as naturally brilliant or high in cognitive ability. Teachers would attest to exceptions in their classrooms in subjects such as Mathematics and Quantitative Reasoning and certain sports. These are the children who may not need to work as hard as their peers to achieve excellent results.
What happens with academically gifted learners is that they would get bored very easily because they might not feel sufficiently challenged if they are given work of the same level of difficulty as others. Teachers need to pay close attention to this and ensure that they differentiate these children’s work and pay close attention to their acceptance of more difficult challenges to ensure that they also enjoy their learning experience.
Oyin Egbe yemi is an executive administrator at The Foreshore School, Ikoyi, Lagos.