Why children fail

Basic causes of children failing in schools

Is your child an academic struggler? Is your child gripped with poor self-esteem? Is your child under undue influence of peers? Are the relationships at home strained? For the most part, all of these are the consequences of poor school education. School is the second home for children and unless the first home is very secure and bonded, disturbances in school life could be perplexing and devastating in these impressionable years.

Parents must use their sixth sense to read the slightest signs of ‘failing’ in school. However, waiting to catch the cues is not the ideal way to ‘monitor and manage’ anything and least of all the affairs of children. Prevention is always better than cure – we must weave fail-safe environment at home – to discover and plug all the holes in school education.

How could you possibly create a fail-safe environment at home? Here is a listing of the ten broad reasons why children end up with poor education at school and please pick the ones which resonate with you and work on the remedial suggestions detailed therein. Each of the ten reasons is a subject of an independent question and it is only briefly discussed here for putting up the ‘bigger picture’ before you at one place. The list is as under:

  1. Lack of parental involvement
    What is it:
    Whatever the world may say, assisting children in planning and understanding content is a good idea through the school years (till Class X at the least). There must be a definite routine of daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly review and follow-up of academics, interests and peership of every child. Professional life is fairly demanding and working parents must well coordinate between them; quite like the ‘bosses’ at work, children must get parents’ time when they need it. Allocating ‘post 8pm’ on weekdays or dedicated weekends as ‘quality time’ for children may be self-delusion.
    What to do:
    Monitor the progress of math, science and social science of your child at concepts level. Do not outsource monitoring to tuition, at any cost; read, learn and teach your child, use ‘e-learning’ resources for self if your children are not yet up to it. Maintain daily routine of reading and entertainment together with children. Build the discipline of completing daily homework tasks.
    Work harder and give your best to your profession – and do not be distracted by networking stock markets or real-estate deals during office hours, howsoever liberal your organisation may be – to be able to assuredly seek out time for a 10 minute ‘Skype’ with your child as soon as she is home and another 15 minutes when she sits down for ‘homework’.Organizations are increasingly appreciative of parental responsibilities for the ‘best performers’ – and it is now easier to be ‘best at work and home.’ Be the best at work to be best at home.
    Help your child to be ahead of the school’s teaching plan by a fortnight to take care of your professional and personal emergencies.
  2. Poor study skills and memory management
    What is it:
    Students often have no idea how to plan their study, strategise for best exam performance or commit important concepts to memory for good. And they pay dearly for the lack of good study skills and poor memory management routine.
    What to do:
    Like all activities, there are good and bad strategies for study at home, for exams and for committing to long term memory for effective recall.
    Five good study skills are – being a good reader, command over the language of instruction, planning for the week ahead, keeping in touch with social science, maths and science on a weekly basis, preparing for each exam in a well-planned manner. It takes a few years of handholding of children to get them to be good at these skills.
    Memory management is almost a science; there are specific, simple steps to be built in daily study routine to enhance recall from memory (discussed in detail in a separate question).
    It is in this context of ‘study skills and memory management’ that the school years are a great preparation for the ‘real life’; thoughtfully strategised and executed priorities and tasks of the school years are comprehensive enough to give your child a leg up in life in later years
  3. Too much emphasis on ‘practice’ in maths
    What is it:
    Mechanical (without application of thought) practice of exercises in maths as part of homework or tuition; reducing maths to an unending series of worksheets, tests, additional reference books, ‘HOTS’ tests, Olympiads, etc. to excel in maths.
    What to do:
    Maths is a language, much the way that English is a language. It must be read, conversed on, visualised, written beyond the mathematical symbols too and storied. Learning maths must not be made highly mechanical and reduced to exercises; exercises are means to an end – to help discover more nuances and strengthen overall mathematical/logical thinking.
    Maths must be related to daily life and seen in daily life instances; most of the mathematical concepts till Class VIII could actually be discovered within the four-walls of the home. Going from real life to abstract is a far easier way to excel in maths.
    It must be worked upon at the level of individual concepts before it is applied across. The power of concepts in maths is easily borne out from the fact that the one of the simple geometrical figure – square – needs clarity over 10 other concepts (such as plane, closed figure, parallel lines, length, line segment) to be truly internalised. Focus on concepts for learning maths.
    At another plane, if ‘fraction’ or ‘proportion’ are read and used (in speaking or writing) by a child a few times before she sees it in maths, she will simply breeze through the concept of fraction and proportion in maths (two of the more difficult concepts.) Read a lot of maths.
    Improving learning of maths is a subject of discussion in a separate section and please refer to it for more.
    Mentoring Million Minds (www.panIITalumni.org/mmm) is one place you can ‘read maths’.
  4. Poor comprehension
    What is it:
    We listen, react, think, read, memorise and ‘understand’ in a language. A good command over the language of instruction is the first basic skill essential for learning; without comprehension of a written or spoken text, there is no way a child can learn anything new in classrooms or through self-learning.
    Sadly, language development is highly mechanical in school education – school education system has a poor record of ‘teaching’ languages beyond communicative level. However, non-language academic subjects can be effectively comprehended only when the competence in the language of learning is at the academic level (two levels beyond the communicative level).
    In other words, the level of language taught in schools is grossly inadequate to learn other subjects in that language. For example, in the overwhelming number of schools where English is the medium of instruction, the English language is taught at communicative level! Expectedly, children will face severe comprehension problems in maths, science and social sciences.
    To top it all, in all languages except the mother-tongue, the most challenging task is the comprehension of a written or spoken text because one does not grow up hearing and understanding non-mother-tongue languages.
    Children end up resorting to rote learning to somehow ‘live through the school years’ and every year is a fresh start for them because they have little comprehension of what they learnt in the previous classes,
    What to do:
    Clearly, proficiency in language needs to be addressed at the cost of everything else.
    Make your home a reading home; let everyone read for two hours a day (read in any language) by switching off the TV and restricting access to digital devices.
    Reading is a skill and more the reading, better the comprehension.
    Reading and language are subjects of detailed discussions in separate sections.
  5. Stressed childhood
    What is it:
    Stress has been getting younger! Children as young as 4 years have been reported to be anxious to levels bordering stress. We, parents, came face to face with stressful living in our 30s and our parents felt sustained stress only in their 50s!
    At the core of stress is a high level of anxiety about how things, which matter, may turn out in the immediate or later future. It is inexplicable as to what exactly causes high intensity anxiety among young children.
    A stress-free childhood is a happy childhood; in turn, a happy childhood is a precondition for effective learning.
    What to do:
    Do whatever it takes! Stressed childhood is totally unnatural and the most serious parenting failure.
    How do children get trapped in stress? There are only two possible sources – the two homes of children – home and school. Briefly, the lack of trusted and interested adults to be accessed for support in study at school and home and the relationships at home are the biggest causes of stress. We can do little about the environment and the teachers at school, therefore creating stress-free childhood is squarely a parental responsibility.
    And stress-free childhood cannot certainly be bought with money or gadgets! It takes love, asense of security – physical and emotional – and undefined time to be spent together as a family.
    On the ground, good understanding between spouses really helps in focusing on triggers of stress and getting a better handle to work on it.
  6. Low self-esteem
    What is it:
    Negative, self-defeating thoughts grow along with the belief that it would not change.
    What to do:
    Look for the triggers – usually easy to locate – and confirm from the child as well as the significant others around him.
    Isolate one trigger and work towards securing a turnaround; become a hands-on partner in the turnaround. Educate all concerned about the long haul – at least a couple of years – it takes to address poor self-esteem. Help the child develop one avenue for high self-esteem, without losing focus on solving the existing triggers. Remain clued in and spend much more time with the child.
  7. Lack of high aspiration
    What is it:  
    1. No drive to do better
    2. A casual attitude towards work and life
    3. Often co-habits with low self-esteem
    4. Once an affliction of the children from the poorer strata, this is now seen across sections of society (rich as well as middle class children are also accepting lowered aspirations).
    5. It is as hurtful as poor self-esteem
    What to do:
    1. Become a better role-model of professional excellence for your child in terms of ambitious goals, hard work, integrity, being a team player, continuous intellectual growth; bring about a change in your life and set higher goals (beyond earning money)
    2. More, longer and engaging conversations about life and living.
    3. Seek out mentor(s) from within the family and friends; Follow life and times of admirable people (on Internet).
    4. Seek professional counselling, if the situation demands.
  8. Heat of peer pressure
    What is it:  
    1. Significant communication with friends w.r.t. time, emotional involvement, range of subjects
    2. Demands beyond the economic means and social practices of the family
    3. It is very sticky and forceful
    What to do:
    1. Significantly higher and better family time through the day (e.g. get talking to your child soon after she leaves school for home)
    2. Build an engaging routine of activities at home.
    3. Cultivate higher aspirations in your child.
    4. More liberal upbringing and atmosphere at home (to match social reality)
    5. Find ways to influence peer selection; invest in cultivating a network of friends that also provide peers for your child or become friends with the families of your child’s peers.
    6. Of course, the best option is to not let peership take forceful form; weaning off peer pressure is not easy at all.
  9. Herding of career choices
    What is it:
    Interest-less, thought-less and often effort-less steps towards selecting careers.
    What to do:
    Invest in overall development of your child to make several career options worth her interest and realistically feasible to seek. Introduce basic knowledge and skills of a few distinct career domains over the years in school – classes III – IX is the idea.
    Career decision process should not overly emphasise on the economics of career options.
    Lead a role-model life that gives the family a high level of happiness and contentment and help your child filter out career choices which effectively support the aspired style of life, i.e. going the other way around in career choices – deriving career choice out of dream life and not ‘trying to find life’ in the chosen careers.
    Give 10-year and 20-year perspectives to career choice decisions – late 20s and late 30s are the two more important ‘touchstone years’ in career progression and sharper the career goals at these points, the better the professional progression; ideally look for career choices which will be in high demand in your child’s late 20s rather than the first job from campus.
    Enable the child to interact with people from diverse professional background and understand their personal and professional experiences.
  10. Confusion between the role of school and home
    What is it:
    The role of school and home seems to have jumbled together and diffused. Schools were to focus on academics while overall development, including values, was meant to be a part of parental role.
    But schools have left academics to parents who ungrudgingly secure tuition/coaching/guide books/online portals to ensure academic education. Schools are concentrating more on overall development, life skills and value education at the cost of academics.
    What to do:
    The role of school and home in educating children can reverse but it must happen after due dialogue and capacity assessment of both – schools and parents – to deliver on their new focus.
    For example, when did we support students in schools to become good musicians, painters, sports teachers, writers, designers, foreign language experts and the likes to be able attract them as teachers in schools in such large numbers to focus on overall development? How are the teachers in schools any better equipped than other parents in imparting life skills or value education? How will schools deliver on the role reversal?
    Similarly, why should we accept to use supplementary mode for academic education? How has academic education become secondary in an increasingly sci-tech society? Careers in STEM are easier to obtain and ever-green; why do we downplay careers in STEM?
    These are just some of the questions we need to answer before a new role is ‘given’ to schools. Parents must take steps to end this confusion ASAP.

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