When a child struggles to learn

Zenoyise Madikwa

Zenoyise Madikwa

All parents wish for an intelligent child, or even a young genius. They hope their child can do sums in seconds, rattle off timetables quickly and be great at spelling.

But what if this is not the case, and how do you know your child is a "slow learner"?

Joyce Mpye, who had such a child, said learning problems can be remedied.

"For years, my child struggled with his school work. I tried everything. I grounded him, stopped him from watching TV and playing with other children, but nothing worked."

She said she was embarrassed to talk about the problem with friends and teachers because she was afraid they would reject her son.

"When I first learnt of my child's problem, I wallowed in self-pity. I even thought of taking him out of school until his teacher recommended remedial assistance.

"Today, through remedial assistance, my child is back in mainstream learning and is coping well," said the single mother from Orlando West in Soweto.

"I would advise all parents to get help as early as possible," Mpye said

Helen Botha, a child psychologist from Pretoria, said many teachers and parents make the mistake of believing learning problems are a dead-end.

"People first need to realise that all children who are underperforming are not necessarily underachievers. Good remedial schooling can help a child back into mainstream learning. The problem with many teachers and parents is that they wait until the situation is very bad.

"The later a child enters remedial education, the longer the process takes. Parents must consult a therapist as soon as they notice a learning problem."

Botha added that in some cases, people put a lot of pressure on children and this could also lead to learning problems. Sometimes parents and teachers expect children that are of average capacity to achieve a higher level of learning in the classroom.

She said these children sometimes struggle to achieve certain standards and this could lead to frustration and failure in the classroom.

Botha said teachers need to be aware of this and not try to push such children too much.

She said the cases of children who need remedial assistance had been increasing steadily in South Africa since the early 1990s. She attributes this to changes in lifestyle.

"These days children are no longer as free to play outdoors because of the violence and other safety issues in the country. Toddlers are less active too. They are not playing the way they used to and their active listening skills are not being developed through people reading to them.

"Families no longer have time to sit around a table to eat, tell tales and listen to each other, all of which develop necessary verbal skills."

Erica Mbatha, a remedial teacher at Carl Sithole Centre in Soweto, said a lot of children with learning problems come from dysfunctional and abusive backgrounds.

"A lot of children with learning disabilities are stressed. This makes it difficult for them to concentrate. My duty is to offer supportive services to them. I make sure the environment and teaching style suit the needs of each child and support the learning process."

Mbatha said when a mainstream teacher recognised a need for remedial assistance, she had a one-on-one session with the child and tried to establish where the problem was.

"Usually the problem areas are spelling, reading and writing. I meet pupils individually or in small groups five times a week. I also have periodic meetings with parents to explain the progress of the children," said Mbatha.