Encouraging our Students

Dear Readers:

The Ministry of Education’s 2002 statistics indicated that many secondary school students would have found learning challenging in 2003. Following the release of the 2002 year’s poor academic results, the Ministry reported that not all students were academically inclined, and that some should be directed to work with their hands. Should some of our children be directed to “work with their hands” simply because their examination results are currently below average? Today, we shall place this concept in the balance.

I was one of those students whose percentage mark and class position were sometimes indistinguishable between first and fourth form. I tried to understand the information, but generally had difficulty remembering it, especially during tests. However between fourth and fifth form, my ability to retain information improved sufficiently to allow me to graduate from Combermere, and then complete two Bachelors and two Masters degrees.

When students perform poorly academically, various persons including relatives, friends, and teachers sometimes make statements that can reinforce the notion that such students are not academically inclined. One of the worst things that can happen to children, is for them to believe that people in whom they trust, have given-up on them in some significant area of their lives. With others making discouraging and negative statements about a child’s learning ability, it is left to the parents to cancel such statements with encouragement before the child believes them. Getting children to disbelieve negative statements about themselves requires very much effort.

Unless children are brain damaged, they can learn, and if a subject is taught systematically, then students can learn any subject. All students should be taught a variety of subjects, including those that require them to work with their hands. What then can parents do to encourage their children who do not appear to be performing well academically?

First, students need to believe that they can achieve academically even if such learning currently appears to be challenging. They need to understand that a state of not knowing, or ignorance, is a natural part of learning since everyone starts in that state before achieving knowledge.

Therefore if students are having difficulty understanding the information in the fourth chapter of a textbook, then they should be encouraged to study a previous chapter that they find easier to understand and progress from there. Some teachers do not teach the earlier chapters either because they assume that their students are familiar with that information, or it is not a part of the syllabus. However, understanding the information in later chapters is typically dependant on understanding the preceding information. Subsequent poor test results should inform teachers that the students may not be familiar with the pre-requisite information. If the subject is not being taught systematically, then parents should encourage their children to use the textbook to learn the subject in this manner.

Secondly, students need to understand that there is a difference between understanding information and merely remembering it. Understanding information requires considerably more effort and persistence, and is the only method of converting information to knowledge. Some testing methods, like multiple-choice, tend to favour the student who simply remembers the information. Parents should encourage their children to make the effort to understand the information, despite its challenges, since understanding will facilitate the application of knowledge.

Thirdly, parents need to understand their child’s need for emotional stability, especially during the natural physiological and emotional changes that children experience during adolescence. Parents can facilitate that stability by providing clear moral guidance, and by remaining committed to their families.

Fourthly, parents need to confront three damaging problems currently facing our students, namely pre-marital sex, drugs, and pornography. Parents should ensure that their homes are not vulnerable places for their children by not abusing the use of alcohol and tobacco. Parents should also ensure that the computer with Internet access is not in a child’s bedroom to tempt them to access pornographic sites, but in a trafficked open space.

Finally, parents should not punish their children for poor academic results. Punishments should be reserved for acts of defiance, and not for mistakes.

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