Few things in a child’s education are as discouraging as when they fail to make it to the next class. To a parent or guardian, thoughts of forking out school fees a second time for the same class can be depressing. Most parents even choose to punish the child for this.
But what many parents seem to forget in their frustration is that this should be an opportunity to dig deep into this issue and get the best out of it. It is a well-known truth that the human mind is a spring of unlimited potential. However, that truth tends to fly out of the window when it is your child performing poorly in school.
What poor performance means
If, for some reason, you think your child is incapable of doing well in school, you could not be further from the truth, according Morris Okao, a teacher at Lira Central Primary School.
He says, “In my experience, there are two types of learners: fast learners and slow ones. The reason some children perform poorly in class can be traced to the teaching environment. If a slow learner is taught with the same methods as a fast learner, there is bound to be a problem. It has nothing to do with being bright or dull.”
Okao believes that every child can do well in school if teachers focus on the needs of each child. Therefore, if a child is performing poorly, it most likely is due to this fact.
Hellen Driciru, the deputy head teacher (Academics) at Kingsway Day and Boarding Primary School in Seguku, believes that any child can be helped to get better in school, no matter what.
Driciru insists that whether the poor performance has been perennial or it is a new development, it all can be rectified. “The remedy is to talk to the school and find the right teacher under whose personal care you can place your child. The right teacher should be able to inspire your child and give them confidence,” she says.
“I once received a pupil in Primary Six who spoke no English. His parents had just returned from Japan and because he was born and schooled in Japan, and was only spoke Japanese,” Driciru recalls adding, “Here we were with an upper-primary child who did not know the language of instruction. The situation looked quite hopeless. It would mean that for him to learn, he would have to spend a lot of time trying to learn English. Of course there was no time dedicated to English alone as he had to take part in other subjects.”
As expected, Driciru says his performance was really bad. This demoralised him. But instead she decided to get closer to him by interacting with him daily.
“Because I was the teacher of English, the boy attended every English lesson. By the end of Primary Six, he had started writing congruent sentences which consequently improved his performance in other subjects. That boy got a D1 at Primary Leaving Examinations. He was top of the class after two years of learning English,” she says with satisfaction.
Having taught in top primary schools in Kampala all her adult life, Driciru has seen miracles like these happen in the most unlikely circumstances.
The case of special needs
Driciru also recalls a special needs pupil who from Primary One up to Six, always came last in class but because he was a special needs case in a school of able children, he was always promoted out of leniency. However, when it came to being promoted to Primary Seven, all teachers, including the head teacher and his mother did not think it was a good idea.
“As an administrator at the school at the time, I approached the head teacher and told him that not only would it be wrong to make the boy repeat, it would not help him at all. Yes, he had always scored between 0 and 10 per cent in every subject but I insisted that this was not because of being a poor student but because he needed a different kind of education and testing. We got him a special needs teacher to polish him for a whole year. When time for national exams came, we got a special needs examiner for him, and the boy who had always been ungraded (Grade U) passed with a second grade,” narrates Driciru.
Low self esteem
Sometimes a child’s poor performance can be caused by negative reinforcement from fellow pupils. This can lead to a crippling case of low self-esteem, according to Moses Nabibasa, a teacher in a Rukungiri Primary School.
He says, “I know a child who always performed poorly in Primary One and Primary Two. Investigations later showed that it all started when his fellow pupils picked on him for peeing on himself or something like that. When the teasing went on unabated, the child lost confidence and hated school. For two years, he was just a bad learner.”
However, there is always hope in such situations. According to Nabibasa, low self-esteem has a remedy.
“The child was moved to another school where I was teaching. The transfer happened out of frustration. In the new school, fellow learners treated him normally. Even more fortunately, one of the teachers grew fond of him and the rest is history. The child is currently studying engineering at Kyambogo University,” he says with pride.
What it really means
The decision to make a child repeat has nothing to do with whether the child is bright or dull. Sometimes it is all about waking up an unserious learner, according to Anichan Lamwaka, a class teacher at Kireka High School.
“Two students can be both poor performers and one is promoted while the other is not. If a child puts a lot of effort in studies, even when he performs poorly, at least you can know that they have a chance at excelling. That child is definitely promoted over the one [with the same level of performance] but is not serious.”
Help the child cope
The anger and discouragement a parent feels when a child has been asked to repeat a class is only natural. What is not natural is allowing those feelings to shroud one’s judgment. If handled badly, a child may lose their esteem forever. Jonathan Okiru, a Kampala-based counsellor, advises parents to approach this matter with care so that the child is not depressed about the matter. There is a way to get the best out of this.
“Parents must protect a child who has been made to repeat from being judged and stressed by the family. They need to have a heart-talk with the child to know what went wrong. You must hear the child out and encourage him or her. May be the child was sick during the exams. May be there is a bully disturbing him or her. He must know that everything is okay, and that he has your full support. That will most likely make him want to impress you next year,” Okiru said.
Wakeup call. Anichan Lamwaka, a class teacher at Kireka High School, says in her experience, it always teaches a student a lesson and helps them improve 70 per cent of the time. “There is a Senior Four student who used to be in school lousing around. After first term, we invited the parent to school and talked to him about her performance. She is currently among the best in class and come next year, we are sure of a good first grade from her.”
Know why. Morris Okao of Lira Central Primary School says for a child to improve, they have to understand why they are repeating. The parent also has to be talked to. “Both have to understand that it has nothing to do with being dull. Maybe the child was too young when they started school and that is catching up with them. Maybe the child is poor at relating with other learners and is missing out on the child-to-child learning. All these are factors and when addressed, the child will always dramatically improve,” he says.