Remedial Education in the Primary School
“Tell me I forget. Teach me I remember. Involve me I learn.” – (Mis)Attributed to Benjamin Franklin.
Many children struggle with the basic fundamentals of reading, writing and mathematics. Remedial education is aimed at children who fall behind in these core skills, despite having average (or even above-average) intellectual abilities.
The drastic need for remedial education… in America
Much of the focus on remedial education in the United States is on high-school graduates. They want to do university (college) courses, but their literacy and/or math skills are not up to the task. Remedial education of this type is costing parents $4Billion to $7Billion each year. In some colleges, 67% of students needed remedial help with writing. Some saw 89% needing remediation for mathematics. 45% of students needing remedial education come from middle-to-high income homes. Students from all walks of life can fall behind.
Fewer than 10% of students who need college remedial education classes ever complete a qualification. New York faces a major problem, in that 80% of high school graduates are unable to read on the level required for college work. A 2005 report found that fewer than 30% of even college degree graduates were proficient in reading. Mathematics is arguably even worse than reading.
Mary Nguyen Barry, of Education Reform Now, rightly points out that no student should be graduating high school unprepared for tertiary education. American parents are now paying (in a literal sense) for the failings of primary and secondary school systems.
South Africa’s need for remedial education
Those are the American figures; South Africa, unfortunately, tracks worse than America. 80% of our grade 4’s cannot read at an appropriate level. This is a key developmental phase in their learning. Our maths scores are among the worst in the world. Tertiary education is becoming available to more and more students in this country. We can expect similar bleak graduation figures, as American students do, with our lack of reading and maths skills. A high percentage of students drop out in the first year of university.
Remedial education for young children should be the focus
There is a need for remedial programs that work, in the earliest phases of a learner’s development. Studies have shown that $1 (about R11,80) spent on early childhood and investment plans sees a return of $7 (about R82.60) or more.
The focus should be on foundational skills, at a foundational age. Research shows that grade 3 is a critical milestone in the journey of education. From the very beginning of learning to read children should understand what they are reading. Nine out of ten children struggling to read in grade 1 will still be struggling in grade 4. Learners who have fallen behind their peers by this age only have a 25% chance of catching up by high school. There is also the issue of being four times more likely to drop out entirely. Catching up in maths is also a severe challenge.
The quality of a child’s education is often a large factor in the quality of a child’s future. Producing teenagers and young adults hardly able to read and add after 12 years of schooling is unacceptable. By focusing early on remedial intervention they won’t lose more years in catching up after school. Every effort should be made to remove all barriers that could block the learner’s progress to future success.
The long term benefits of remedial education
Intervention at early stages of children struggling to read can improve the learners’ reading. The same is true for maths.
Remedial education works on the basis of addressing each learner’s difficulties in small groups. One-on-one teaching settings are invaluable. For example, Robert struggles with sounding out words. Sally has difficulty recognising letters. Each of their specific challenges can be met. As children who would benefit from remedial programs, there is no reason that Robert can’t learn to sound words accurately. Sally can be taught to recognise the alphabet. With the necessary attention, both children will be able to read with understanding. For students battling with mathematics, there are remedial methods available. These methods can ensure that they will learn to add and subtract, multiply and divide.
As a qualified remedial teacher told us for this article: “Remedial education is definitely not more worksheets. It is the use of practical, hands-on where possible, auditory and visual stimuli.”
Do not adopt a wait and see attitude, but take action. Put remedial education in place early on. Ensuring that learners under your care are getting the attention they need. In this way, you can expect to see a generation of graduates who are both literate and numerate. The world needs such graduates.