For Mary, the unease usually started a month before exams. By Year Nine the nerves really took hold (pessimistic cognitive biases), so strong, invariably she was too nauseous for breakfast.
Mary had a Learning Disorder (LD). This was confirmed by being flagged for a weekly ‘different’ teaching. She was self-conscious when quizzed by classmates.
For year after sorry year Mary struggled on, sometimes passing, often failing. Yet, each year she advanced a standard. Each year became harder. Feeling socially unaccepted by the ‘normal’ kids, the guilt gnawed away. She couldn’t follow lessons and would daydream until the school bell released her. Homework was pointless, she could not cope.
Mary’s reading was problematic – not remembering what she read two minutes earlier. Her eyes followed the lines, whilst her mind was elsewhere. Sometimes, she could read bigger words, but later, if asked to spell them, she could not. As an LD, she had no memory recall 1 .
School became a hated thing. Exams torture. Two months before her sixteenth birthday, her parents were told by the principal that Mary would be better off leaving school to get a job. It was obvious her teachers had given up.
Mary felt it pointless to attend school for those final two months. The headmaster, aware of her absence, turned-a-blind-eye as it was easier. The fact that Mary could read a shopping list but not much more was irrelevant.
Mary was relieved the embarrassment was over. Yet, she felt cheated. She knew education was necessary for a better future – but how? She did not have the capacity to maximize her schooling. She realized her classmates had purpose. School, the way she received it, diminished purpose.
Mary came from a low socio-economic family. Her father was sometimes a laborer, and sometime on welfare. Nevertheless, Mary hoped to escape, but after countless job rejections (her written applications were muddled) she could not secure work. Now, with free-time, Mary hung-out with friends, drinking through the day, whilst blaming the government for their woes. An addiction soon developed. She settled into a life without aspirations, living on benefits as a single mother.
Eighteen years later, Mary’s two children quit school early, neither have left home, both on benefits. The eldest is an ice addict – the youngest pregnant. Mary thinks, ‘it’s not been that bad living in the council home with her parents and children – it’ll be nice having a child running around – somehow we’ll manage’.
Mary is fictious, but represents a cohort trapped in generational poverty through the combination of; LD’s, low socio-economic households, and of teacher workload.
Teachers do endeavor to help LD’s. The reality though, is there is not enough time for individual attention – the Mary’s gets left behind.
A survey for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development determined; Internationally, teachers are spending more time on administration and non-teaching tasks. The international weekly average is 18.2 hours (Australia 25) of impost non-teaching work. The survey encompassed thirty countries, all reflecting a similar theme. The total weekly hours teachers worked; Japan with the most at 56 hours, followed by Canada, USA, UK, NZ and sixth Australia at 44.8 hours (excludes marking exams and homework, after-hours).
A co-compiler of the survey and Deputy chief executive for the Australian Council of Educational Research, Sue Thomson lamented, “It’s clear teachers are under increasing pressure. This is an international phenomenon… …Those additional hours that teachers put in did not lead to better student results.
The Age newspaper (7/8/2019) reported, Thomson said, “We’re always talking about extra things that teachers need to be doing, different skills they need, but we don’t give them time to do the things that we know make them good teachers”.
National convenor of Save our Schools, Trevor Cobbold adds, “The survey confirmed what teachers had been saying about imposed workload due to government reporting requirements. This puts pressure on teachers… … or mentoring students who have fallen behind,”
Teachers seldom receive pre-service training, or do not have time to learn intervention programmes. They feel compromised knowing they fall-short, becoming stressed as a result. It is well documented that many teachers leave education due to burnout and frustration.
Schools tend to cater for the mainstream but with up to 16% of children having an LD 2 the shortfall is alarmingly obvious. Governments need to be pro-active, where students with LD’s deserve targeted attention. Schools, as their reason for existence, should offer education to all students, irrespective of their needs.
Functional education means bridging the gap left by Learning Disorders, socio-economic pressure, and the shortcomings of the education system to give these children a helping hand.
Educationalists should put themselves in the shoes of the children with learning disorders and ask the question they ask everyday; how can I learn to spell, how can I learn to read, how can I understand grammar?
Otherwise, many more will end in the same predicament as Mary 3 , where they are shouldered from a life of possibility to one of limitation.