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Failure to learn: Causes and consequences

Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Senior Industry Fellow, School of Education, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

 All my blogs can be viewed on-line or downloaded as a Word file or PDF at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/olxpifutwcgvg8j/AABU8YNr4ZxiXPXzvHrrirR8a?dl=0


All societies value learning. It is a major determinant of a society's survival. Although the emphasis placed upon it may vary across a community, most parents and governments acknowledge the responsibility of ensuring that the following generation is equipped to deal with the challenges that living in a community entails. Hence, we have schools to assist parents in that role.

 So, where should we look when children fail to learn? School learning is a primarily cognitive activity which requires adequate capacity and intention on the part of the learner, and an environment enabling successful interactions to occur. Thus, there are numerous possibilities to account for failure to learn. Determination of cause can be considered from at least two perspectives.

The first approach is to ascertain who the various players (particularly policy makers, parents, and teachers) believe has the major responsibility for children’s learning. The degree to which parents hand responsibility to an education system for qualities such as life skills is always vexed. However, it is generally accepted that schools have the major role in ensuring success in the formal areas of education; in particular, literacy and numeracy.

Another approach is to determine, as precisely as possible, what factors generally produce success in children’s school learning career. While, survey information is based largely upon opinion, the second is best addressed through the accumulation of data. However, the influences on success are likely to be many, entangled, and interacting. What features in common do successful students have? Are there features in common among unsuccessful students? What are the various roles of intelligence, socioeconomic status, early childhood experiences, education systems, school organization, classroom practice, student motivation?

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