"If you continue like this, you will repeat; and then you will continue to write WAEC until your younger sister meets you there . Is that what you want?"
"No, Ma. That's not what I want", Ajoke managed to say, as she dropped her head to her chest and swallowed the heaviness in her throat.
The mere thought frightened her to her toes, and she was soon wiping tears off her face before she even realised it. She made a firm resolve to never let the ugly future painted become her reality. Repeating was the ultimate embarrassment among peers. Once it happened to you, you wore the name tag for the rest of your childhood. If a younger sibling 'catches up' with you in a class, your social reputation is ruined.
Understandably, this conversation marked the last time Ajoke was scolded for dropping her grades. Almost two decades later, with several academic success laurels in her kitty, Ajoke realises that the conversation recanted above was uncalled for. She had dropped from an 'A' in Fine Arts to a 'C', and although she wasn't allowed to explain back then, she knew why. The subject was theory-focused in the first term, so she could read to pass, but was practical-focused the next. Since she was poor at drawing, it just made sense that she wouldn't do so well.
Things haven't changed much. Students still dread repeating since some schools insist that if a child scores below a certain benchmark in core subjects, he/she must repeat that class. However, some studies show that there are no significant gains to students when they repeat a class . In fact, some studies claim that such students' academic performances tend to worsen when they repeat a grade. Given this proof, why do students still repeat classes in this part of the world? Is it ever justifiable? When it happens, how can students, parents and teachers maximise whatever benefit(s) it holds? Education experts answer these questions and proffer valuable insight on how to help a child who repeats a grade.When Is It Alright to Repeat a Class?
According to the Good Schools online hub, "Grade retention may be considered when a child:
- Has significant struggles making progress in reading, writing or math
- Fails to reach performance levels expected for promotion to the next grade
- Appears to be immature and young for her age"
In some cases, it is used to reduce "social promotion" — automatically passing a child on to the next grade at the end of each school year. Also, when there is a push for high educational standards, more students face the possibility of retention, especially when they do not make the 'cut-off' mark. This means that a school that prides itself in "high academic success" may have a high promotion bench-mark, especially into certificate classes (Pry 5/6, JSS3 and SS3), so that "unqualified students" do not take external exams and fail under the school's name.
If a child falls into any of the categories listed above, is it appropriate to retain the child?
Joseph Aisida, a veteran teacher and education consultant opines that, in some (rare) cases, grade retention/repeating is not a bad idea. In his words, "I believe (that) if the (child's) learning capacity is little, and the child didn't perform so well, there should have been in place, support measures for him/her before it gets to this (grade retention) stage. One-on-one attention and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) should have been developed for them. That way, they could have been promoted and the IEP continued. If the child is also not so mature in terms of Socio Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) then repeating is not so bad, and I will even recommend it".
However, Lauretta Ani, a school counsellor and teacher is more reluctant about grade retention, especially for older students and teenagers, who studies show are more likely to have poorer educational and employment outcomes when retained.
She says: "I am very cautious when it comes to the issue of students repeating a class; I am of the opinion that schools should tread very carefully here and that all other options should be explored before asking a child to repeat. In my opinion, factors to be considered before asking a child to repeat include:
- Does the child have any special education need, e.g. language barrier, learning disability, etc.?
- Is there a possibility that with a remedial programme, e.g. a one-to-three month coaching class, the child can pick up and be at par with peers?
- Has the child been exposed to various teaching techniques, taking into consideration his basic learning style, and yet he still cannot cope with the educational demands of that class?
- Is the child in a class he has no interest in , e.g. being in science class instead of commercial class?
If the answers to questions 1 and 2 are negative, and positive for number 3, then the school may have no option but to ask the child to repeat the class or/and change to a new career class.
Despite this, I do not support doing away with repeating altogether, as I have seen instances where students who were asked to repeat or change classes from science to commercial later became one of the top students in the class."
Helping a Child Who Has to Repeat
Once it becomes certain that a child will repeat the class, several factors need to be in place in order for it to be worthwhile. For instance, retention is more likely to have a positive impact when the student concerned receives specific remediation to address skill and/or behavioural problems .
If your child were to spend another year in the same grade, what type of instruction would she receive in the areas she finds most difficult? Would a new teaching approach or new materials be used, or would the teacher do the same thing as last year? What changes would you need to see to be satisfied that retention was effective? Realistically, will your child be able to meet the required standards to be promoted next year? What kind of change are you expecting in one year? It is important to answer these questions and set your success parameters beforehand.
Aisida also shares that if the child does repeat, measures must be put in place to enhance/support their learning and areas of weakness should be identified, itemized and addressed. To him, the success depends on these:
- Develop an IEP for them and work closely with it.
- There should be an LSA (Learning Support Assistant) that works with them to achieve this.
- Assessment should be on a weekly basis.
- Achievements of the child must be celebrated and recorded."
Ani also proffers that if a child is asked to repeat, "He will need a mentor to guide him along the process, so that he doesn't suffer from depression, or even worse, perform woefully in the repeating class. The mentor should, among other things, (1) discuss with the child consistently to ascertain his/her emotional state and encourage the child where necessary. (2)Check up on the child's academic progress on a weekly basis. (3) Liaise with other teachers to know if one-on-one lessons should be given to the child. (4) Ensure that teachers take into consideration the learning style of the student when engaging him in lessons (5) Give the parents of the student a report on his progress as often as possible.
The teacher helping the child repeating must be dynamic in strategy and seek the root cause first. Sometimes it is not cognitive issues only, it may include family difficulties, health issues or emotional meltdowns.
Regardless of the contexts or approach adopted, Ani submits that "Repeating should not be done away with, but it should be sparingly used as a technique to make students perform to the best of their ability. It should be used only when all other options have been exhausted- and it is the duty of a parent to find out if truly other viable options have been exhausted.