Underachievement in schools is a massive problem affecting nearly every learner at some stage of their schooling career. It may affect some pupils more seriously than others. What is underachievement and how does it impact schools? Underachievement of students is a major problem in our schools. We teachers are faced with challenges everyday by students who aren’t interested in learning. Teachers face the problem of getting their learners to achieve their best or live up to the potential that they have. The true problem facing teachers is getting all students to achieve optimal learning and understanding with the ability to apply their knowledge to new problems using the high quality content from which teachers provide. If teachers are serious about educating every learner, they must include every child in meaningful and engaging learning. This means possibly using different teaching techniques or methods that will engage each child somehow. There are many reasons why students may underachieve and there are just as many solutions to this problem however all are based on quality teaching and motivating of these learners.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR SCHOOLS?
There are multiple ways in which schools influence or increase the levels of underachievement in schools. A lack of learning resources or materials available in schools, this could be a shortage of textbooks or practical equipment such as lab accessories or even laboratories itself. This makes it difficult for learning to take place in the classrooms and causes poor understanding especially in modern subjects such as mathematics and sciences. The shortage or lack of computers in schools also deprive learners of knowledge outside of the curriculum and most importantly makes them illiterate in the understanding of computers.
The poor infrastructure of schools creates a poor learning environment for students and even teachers. Many schools do not have enough chairs and desks for all the students and if they do they are all of poor quality. Many schools are also suffering from overcrowding because there aren’t enough classrooms and teachers available. Some students will have to sit on floors or stand, as such not all learners will have a place in class and not all will attend lessons. Poor lighting in classrooms especially during cloudy or dark days make it difficult for learners to read and write. Broken down or dilapidated buildings make learning conditions and studying difficult. The natural elements such as wind and rain cause problems during lessons because the buildings cannot protect against these elements. When it rains it may rain in the classroom and possibly flood the classroom, this disrupts teaching entirely and maybe for multiple days.
Negative school policies systems may also cause poor achievement amongst its learners. Many if not all schools have a set opening and closing time with no availability of extra classes or lessons for the learners. Therefore learners will not have the opportunity to gain extra knowledge or clarity on the topics discussed in the classroom. Some schools are also over strict when it comes to their school rules and policies. The learners who cannot afford school uniforms get victimised by school officials and sometimes even kicked off the school property, missing all lessons as a result and being left behind in the curriculum. Corporal punishment is still being implemented and practised at some schools even though it has been banned in South Africa. This makes students fear for their well-being rather than concentrate on their studies at school. Many schools don’t even show interest in their learner’s academic lives. These types of schools don’t have contact with the parents (parents meetings) to discuss or inform them about their child’s progress and school life, these schools show negligence towards their students.
Positive motivation for students is also absent in many schools or any sort of motivation at all, schools seem to prefer to belittle students rather than give them hope for their futures. Under-achieving learners are in dire need of motivation to help improve their current poor performances. Many schools don’t even reward or acknowledge their top achievers at any given time, this makes a learners efforts seem useless and not want to give it their all the next time. If anything this demotivates learners to do well or accomplish greater heights. Positive rewarding creates an eagerness to do well amongst learners and also creates friendly competition. Learners see no reason to well in school as there is no rewards and have desire to achieve greatness.
Schools in poorer communities or any school in general may not have any feeding schemes. Some learners go to school hungry and also don’t eat while at school. These learners find it difficult to concentrate in lessons and could possibly miss out on important information being taught in class. These schools don’t know how to use funds in the correct manner to provide for their learners, they don’t even bother hosting fund raisers or starting up charities to help feed their children. Schools worry more about themselves and their employees rather than concentrating on the development of the youth and their own futures of the country in the process.
There is excess pressure on students in certain schools to obtain higher marks in the exams because they are a school of a high standard. This may create a feeling of fear if the student doesn’t obtain the required level of pass and this frequently leads to the academic failure. The high pressure placed on these students becomes stress instead of being motivation to do better. Schools treat all student’s academic success the same instead of acknowledging that all students are not the same and will not all learn and produce the same results as each other. This damages a learner’s ability to do well for themselves and achieve success on their own terms.
WHAT HAS GONE WRONG WITH OUR TEACHERS?
Teachers actually being in the classroom and giving their lessons properly is the most important thing for learner’s academic progress. That means punctuality is key for teacher’s not just students however many teachers don’t take this seriously. When a teacher is absent or maybe late to class it means that the lesson will not be delivered as planned and precious time is lost due to their lack of punctuality. There are even teachers who arrive to class later than students do after lunch breaks. Some teachers put their own needs ahead of the learner’s education. This shows they don’t care about their learners futures at all, they are just there to collect a pay check. This gives teachers a bad reputation but most importantly it set a bad example for their students. It undermines the value of each lesson and makes students feel it’s not necessary or lacks any importance.
Another major issue is unprofessionalism of teachers, these are the ones who don’t deserve to be teachers and tarnish the reputation of the profession. Teachers come to the classroom unprepared for their lessons and end up just wasting their time. These teachers don’t have and haven’t obtained the skills or discipline required to be a teacher. Teachers don’t teach their learners to respect other teachers or have respect for lessons and consideration for others. At the same time these teachers show no respect to students, often shouting at them and calling them names. This can be seen as emotional or mental abuse and in some cases physical abuse when teachers assault students.
Corruption is also present at many schools in South Africa, this corruption can go as deep from teachers to department officials. Teachers should have gone through the entire 4 year teaching course at universities in order to be entirely prepared for the life as a teacher at school. Even though this is compulsory many teachers these days go through less than 4 years of studying and still become qualified teachers. Due to this they aren’t fully prepared for teaching and students suffer because of these unqualified teachers. Some teachers have even bought their qualification and have falsified documents. In other cases, department officials and principals tend to accept bribes from people in order to get positions as teachers or SGB posts. These are people who have no teaching qualifications or incomplete studies, sometimes they even get teaching jobs because of family members who already work there or have higher positions. Unqualified teachers cannot create a conducive learning environment for students, students will get spoilt in terms of not knowing how to learn or study appropriately.
A new and recent issue with teachers has started amongst many schools in South Africa. This is an issue whereby teachers become emotionally and sexually involved with students. Before it was more common for male teachers to have intimate relationships would students but these days it has become more common for female teachers to have these sorts of relationships with students. We have seen on many occasions with social media were there are videos that went viral of teachers or principals having sexual relations with students. Many of the accused teachers have even admitted to these allegations and suffered consequences for their actions. If this is an ongoing situation in schools it may be difficult for learners to concentrate in class knowing that their love interest is teaching them. This results in poor performance in school work. Teachers should have a good working relationship with students to create a positive learning environment. In other cases, there may be a situation where a teacher asks a student for an intimate relationship and if the student declines it aggravates the teacher in question. This teacher then feels insulted and takes out their anger on the specific student, this could be by means of insults, negative marking or failing the child on purpose and it makes learning for students difficult.
There are teachers who do not care about under achieving learners and do not even try to help them achieve better. These teachers don’t challenge or motivate students to do better, neither do these teachers try different approaches or methods to help students better understand a concept. Sometimes gifted students may not be appreciated or recognized by their teacher, such students are eager to participate in class, so much so that they may be considered annoying and disruptive. These students eventually feel that their participation is not valued and their interests are not a concern of the teacher, this negative feedback can be devastating to them. These students may not believe that they can do well and lack of confidence in their abilities stop them from attempting tasks at which they do not believe they can succeed at. For these students it is easier to not try at all and just sit there hopeless and lost.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH OUR LEARNERS?
Learners cannot be left out as a contributing factor to their own underachievement as they play a vital role in their studies. One issue in schools is the contribution peer pressure has to a student’s academic success or failure. Engaging one’s self with the wrong company at school or even outside of school may have a negative influence on one’s academic performance. As a student if you have a bad friend, their negative influences will contribute to your academic success. When you interact with new or different people you may change your attitude or behaviour to fit in with the group. If a learner joins a group of peers who do not prioritise their education or value learning and performing well, the learner will under achieve on purpose just to follow in the groups footsteps. These same peers may introduce learners to drugs and alcohol.
Substance use and abuse has risen amongst learners in school. There is a high usage of drugs and alcohol in our youth today especially scholars. The use of these substances can cause harm to the user’s mental and physical health. Your brain is your most important tool for education and these substances cause damage to it. Groups of students can often be seen smoking in and out of schools. This consumption of harmful substances may change a learner’s behaviour and cause them to act out. If learners consume substances before school or during breaks they might not be able to concentrate or participate in class. This causes them to lose out on important information.
Poor home backgrounds and conflicts within family also causes harm to a learner’s ability to perform well. Many underachievers come from a poor family, where they will have no access to extra work through computers or the internet. These students may also be suffering from hunger and usually go to school on an empty stomach, this causes a lack concentration in class or when studying. Their families also suffer from instability in terms of financial concern, domestic issues and pressure at work. As a result education becomes less of a priority and supporting the family becomes the main priority, this can lead to child headed households. Learners from these poor home backgrounds rarely perform better than learners from wealthy backgrounds. Learners who suffer from poverty concentrate more on surviving in each day rather than their education. Family conflicts such domestic violence or even verbal fighting between family members can cause anxiety and depression in learners. The behaviour of the learner may change, becoming disruptive or aggressive and when the teacher is teaching in the classroom this learners mind will be somewhere else.
Laziness and absenteeism by students is a key factor in underachieving. Learners may be absent for several days at a time from school or even absconding from classes. There could be many reasons for this namely, a student falling ill or just plain laziness on their part. When a learner is absent from school the teachers do not stop their lessons, they continue as planned irrespective whether the learner is present or not. If a learner is absent they should go to their teachers and find out what they’ve missed but this isn’t the case as learners don’t care and show no interest at all. A lazy learner will just sit and relax without a care in the world.
The use of social media has increased exponentially and the role of social media in student’s lives can be positive but also negative. Social media has a huge influence on learners be it television, computers or social networking sites, it hugely impacts a learner’s life. Currently the favoured forms of social media among the youth include Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other similar apps. Learners spend and waste of their time busy on social networks rather than studying. This time spent is for non-educational purposes when they could be focussing on studying. Many learners are using their cell phones in classes rather than paying attention to the teacher or doing their work. This causes the learner to fall behind in class. Learners search the internet for information that is not relevant to their learning and does not add value to their academic life. The overuse of social media can make a learner think about a picture or video they’ve seen online rather than pay attention in class. Learners may also find “blessers” on social media, these people can have a negative influence on their lives and they’ll be a constant distraction to the learner.
Teenage pregnancy also adds to poor academic performance, more so to female learners than male learners. Teenagers who fall pregnant during their school year will have a greater risk of performing poorly in school. A pregnant teenager will have to have regular check-ups at clinics or hospitals and this reduces the amount of time spent in class absorbing knowledge. This learner will miss out on important work and won’t be able to interact in class if she has questions or difficulties understanding. A teenage mother will have a poor academic record because her responsibility will be to her child and to look after it thus making her have less time to concentrate on her studies. This becomes a burden to the learner and her education becomes less of a priority.
Another major issue for learners is their low self-esteem. This can be seen when learners hide themselves from social interactions and class activities. They seem to avoid trying new things as well as trying new challenges. A common problem for a learner with low self-esteem would be their ability to ask question in class. If they don’t understand something they will be too afraid to ask the teacher to explain it again, this shows a lack of confidence. The learner may go through the entire lesson not knowing what it’s about and during exams it’ll be difficult for them to answer questions if they didn’t even understand the same questions in class.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO FIX THE SYSTEM IF YOU WERE THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION?
The minister of education is responsible the entire education system and to ensure that it is working according to requirements not just getting by barely with a low pass rate. Firstly we should immediately get rid of all corruption to ensure that the system is clear of all “bad apples” in order to run smoothly and effectively. The problem of underachievement needs to be eradicated from all schools so that not only will students futures look brighter but the country’s as well. Every school should allow learners to have access to a vital source of information which should be both a library on the school premises as well as access to the internet using computers. A major benefit to schools for the gaining of vital information for research would be access to uncapped Wi-Fi. This introduction of technology to schools will make studying easier and possibly more fun for learners. Schools with outdated technology systems must all be upgraded to the highest possible standard.
With the introduction of new technologies in schools, it would be appropriate for schools itself to be revamped. School buildings that are damaged or dilapidated should be renovated, including possibly extending school sizes and adding more classrooms. Adding to that, more school furniture must be provided to accommodate for all students. As is an issue recently, many schools have poor lavatories therefore proper ones should be built as it accommodates to basic human rights. The structural integrity of schools should set the example of what it expects from its students in terms of achievement, a well presented school would want to have and promote high achieving learners.
Many children be it rural areas or even urban areas, find it difficult to travel to and from school. They would have to wake up early to walk long distances to reach school, this would make students exhausted be the time they reach school and it’s difficult to study when you’re tired. Taxis, buses or even transport services may be too expensive for some learners to afford. A solution to this problem would be to implement a transport system especially for students. Perhaps a school bus or multiple buses to pick up and drop off school learners to and from designated areas to decrease their walking distance. This can make students feel safer and more comfortable knowing that their school is looking out for them.
Other than just helping the students, the department of education can help teachers do their jobs better which in turn is beneficial to students. There should be more workshops for teachers, this allows teachers to interact with each other and they can discuss different teaching methods for different subjects. If one teacher has success using a specific teaching method or approach they can encourage other teachers of the same subject to do the same and vice versa for teaching methods or approaches that do not work. Teachers are the builders of the country’s future so it’s safe to say they hold our future in their hands. With this being said it only seems fair that they should have one of the best salaries in the world with incentives such as bonuses included. This can also encourage more people to study teaching and promote the profession and thus create a positive cycle for success.
The department should encourage parents to take an interest and motivate their children to perform well at schools. After all learning begins at home. Some strategies for parents: parents should never belittle their child’s worker but rather encourage them to do better. A parent should always show interest in the school work, homework and assignments given and offer help or assistance wherever they can. Also acknowledge your child’s strengths and urge them to keep up this consistency but also work on their weaknesses so they can perform well in all areas of school work. Never overload your child with so much housework that they have no time to do school work, rather divide time to allow them to do everything but at the same time not adding too much pressure. Parents should promote the love of reading and education at home so it becomes a pivotal part of their lives. Make up a study timetable for your child to use at home and during that time only studying should be done. Parents need to remain in contact with the school and teachers to ensure they keep up to date with their child’s progress.
Just as the department encourages parents to help children, the same should be done with teachers to help children. Teachers should emphasize goal setting. Help underachieving students set realistic goals that they can eventually reach and make sure to avoid comparing students to others in a competitive atmosphere as this can discourage the underachieving to improve. Emphasize and show trust that these students can be successful and that you believe they have the potential to do great things if they put their mind to it. Help students recognize their achievements and show ways for improvement. Show students what the value of their success has in the outside world and what a success their life can be like. Encourage learners to read more to widen their knowledge span. Teach students that their actions and performances have consequences which can be either good or bad depending on them. Most underachievers aren’t aware of their weaknesses so as a teacher you should point it out to them in a caring way and show them how to rectify this problem. Teachers should have specific strategies planned to help aid the underachievers in improving. This can include classroom activities that increase learning skills and increases memory. A good way to get rid of underachievement would be too team underachievers with high achievers in tasks or group work, the high achiever will encourage the other to do well and teach them their own methods of understanding.
Everyone should know something, a person who does not seek success, does not have ambition, thus it is the ambition that is the endless treasure. It should be emphasized that success needs hard work, sacrifice and patience. Learners must work hard and do their best to achieve success and fulfilling their goals. A well-known saying, “As you plant you will reap”, with this, learners should believe in their own potential to achieve their goals, not only in the academic world but also in all life. Learners must have a strong need to remove the negligence and laziness from their lives. They should believe that they are better, talented, and more intelligent than they or anyone knows. They should remove all the negative words about themselves, such as “I cannot” or “I’m not smart enough”. Instead they should constantly repeat these expressions, “I deserve the best”, “I’m Excellent” and “I will be successful in life”. Good learners have to think and love success then can they only start their journey towards accomplishment of their goals and remember that success starts in the psychological state of the individual.