Japari: The School Slow Learners Need in Johannesburg
“You know the deal. You can’t speed up to help the gifted kids. You can’t slow down to help the slower ones.” – Scott Voss, played by Kevin James, in Here Comes the Boom.
There is a category of students who are at a higher risk of dropping out than their peers. These students also struggle more with feelings of worthlessness and other negative emotions. All this stems from their self-evaluation as being unable to perform at academic tasks. This means that these pupils are often prone to anxiety and poor self-image. This feeds into a cycle of being quick to give up on schoolwork, leading to greater feelings of futility.
They are more likely to be aggressive. Many display other mental health problems. They are at higher risk of experimenting with drugs and falling pregnant while at school. They are more likely to be under-employed or unemployed.
These are the slow learners in a school. If you search for the term on the Internet, many articles appear on the topic. Parents and teachers can find recommendations of how best to meet their needs. Studies and experience have given educators insight into what these students face daily. Their particular needs seem to be pretty well assessed. And the literature on them is not difficult to find.
There are a few problems in addressing their needs though. One of them is that they don’t officially exist.
How slow learners have fallen off the map they were never on
About 14% of school students are slow learners. This would account for more pupils than all the students in special education categories combined. So how can we say that they don’t officially exist?
The reason is that the term “slow learner” is not an official diagnostic category. This means that they aren’t recognised in the same way that other learning challenges are. Someone suffering from dyslexia, for example, is struggling with a clinically diagnosed condition.
Slow learners, in contrast, only have this unofficial label to allow for the discussion. But it is not a clinically recognised term.
The term also seems to have some “politically incorrect” connotations. This seems to have had the effect of removing this very real problem even further from official circles.
But almost everyone knows what a slow learner is and the challenges they face. There are also some extra problems to overcome. These have to do more with administrative and politicised issues. This is on top of the very real educational difficulties these children have to face every day.
What is the struggle of a slow learner?
These students have the ability to learn necessary academic skills. So what is hindering them from achieving the success of which their more average peers are capable?
The issue is that their rate of learning is literally much slower than the more average students in their class. Where a regular student could grasp a new concept after being taught it once or twice, a slow learner would need it to be repeated five or ten times.
Their grasp of a concept would also be much more cursory. The average student would be able to apply the concept to different scenarios quite easily. The struggling student has a very difficult time applying new ideas beyond what they have been specifically taught.
Here is a very simple example. Most average students can figure out that if 3 + 2 = 5, then 4 + 2 = 6 and 5 + 2 = 7, and so on. The slow student needs to be told specifically that 4 + 2 = 6. They have a very difficult time figuring out the underlying principles when it comes to new information. This is because of deficiencies in higher order thinking and reasoning skills.
Slow learners fall behind while the rest of the class moves on
These students find themselves still trying to grasp the basic concepts while their peers are moving on to the application and new skills. This is not because of laziness or lack of discipline. These can be very good, diligent kids. But they lack the ability to move ahead at the rate of average students.
This in turn more often than not leads to disinterest in schoolwork. If you feel as if you can’t do something, you will often get into the habit of avoiding it. Slow learners are very susceptible falling into these patterns.
Why are we describing slow learners as a “lost category”?
Slow learners have the ability to acquire what are considered necessary academic skills. This means they are not considered to have an intellectual disability. And, again, their condition isn’t considered an official learning disorder either.
So these students face very real challenges. They fall behind their peers and need extra attention from educators. They struggle to learn new concepts and apply those concepts to various circumstances and problems.
This is why they are falling through the cracks. They don’t fall into a grouping that would see these needs being addressed. They don’t qualify for “special education.” In South Africa, there are special education schools. These assist specific learners with everything from ADHD or Autism. But for the slow learner, their condition isn’t a recognised condition.
This is why slow learners are considered a lost category of student. And they face the same challenges in schooling in many countries around the globe.
What do slow learners need?
Slow learners need repetition. And more repetition. And, again, repetition. There is no shortcut for these students. They need to be given the time to hear the concepts again and again. This is the way that they learn.
They also need concrete instruction. This is what needs to be repeated, not abstract concepts.
Educators also need to focus on teaching the most important concepts while leaving out some details. These children need to focus on grasping the concept.
This also means they need time. They can’t be rushed. The lessons also need to be broken down into short, manageable units.
It should be pretty clear why a normal class setting isn’t just less than ideal. It is absolutely inappropriate for a slow learner. And even the most motivated and skilled teacher is not going to be able to give these students what they need in a traditional class setting.
Japari is the ideal school for slow learners
As we have seen, the education system the world over fails children with these challenges. These kids are facing acknowledged needs. But no resources are being made available to them or their teachers to address those needs. It’s as if these children and their parents must be content with receiving a non-official label and then being left to struggle along. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to feel as if these kids are expected to fail.
But there is hope. Japari exists with the intention to address these specific kinds of educational needs. Slow learners fall within the range of ability that we address. Japari is equipped to meet the needs of students in need of professional extra attention. We teach our pupils at their pace. We give them the repetition they need as professionals who care.
Our staff is equipped to give the children the best kind of learning they require. We are able to assess what exactly our pupil need.
Slow learners don’t need to be consigned to difficult years at a school that isn’t equipped to assist them. Rather, they can excel at their pace in a school geared to teaching them in the way they learn.