From the offset let me be clear that in this article, by ‘slow learners’ I do not mean the challenged or disabled learners but those who have abilities just like a normal child yet take relatively more time to pick new concepts or prepare for exams; probably at a speed and depth lesser than their peers. Some of the challenges such learners might face can include the reasoning problems. While preparing for exams such problems tend to aggravate, resulting in below average class results.

Most of the new learning inculcated to students in the class are based on already acquired concepts as one concept builds on the previous one and so on. If a student is not able to get along from the very beginning, it is likely that he or she will not be able to cope up with the entire term of the school. After repeated failures, such students are likely to develop a habit of quitting or giving up too early (Quitting is not always bad but in this case it can be dangerous, I will discuss this in detail in another article).

It can be a traumatic experience for a student to be present in the class every day but powerless to cope up with what’s being taught, especially not because of lack of effort, but simply because their mind works in a unique yet beautiful way. Even more troubling is to realize that one has given their best and worked really hard but still the results do not correspond with the efforts put in.

Children and even adults who might appear to be more comfortable learning at their own pace or “slow pace” as many would like to call it are normally branded as slow or inadequate learners. This just overshadows the absolutely marvelous qualities that they possess. Our society is based on efficiency more than effectiveness. We are a nation of haste as Bertrand Russell put it “in a hurry to reach nowhere” and would like to see things happen quickly; who cares even if they are not being done right. This also reflects in our infatuation with infrastructure projects rather than investing in education or health which though can be slow but is more meaningful and long term solution to pressing problems.

Let’s not deviate to politics for now and focus on what we as a society can do to encourage children who are “slow learners” (read Deep Learners). For the love of irony and understanding of masses I will refer to them as “slow learners”.

Such students are very likely to be pigeonholed and left to rue every day of the classes for the lack of quick learning. Most of the teachers especially in countries like Pakistan are pushed by their administrators to focus on the kids who can get good grades and whose names can be put up on the school magazines. The so-called ‘stars’ literally push others in the background. Once this despondency seeps in, it can discourage the ‘slow learners’ from asking questions from the teachers and they might disappear in the background somewhere. This sinks the confidence of the students and thus can begin a wave of under valuing of self; a wave whose ripples will echo throughout the life time unless they are able to understand or learn otherwise.

It will almost be impossible for the parents to understand the strengths of such learners. Here is why.Most of the parents make the students study really hard in the exams. This preparation starts normally a week or two before the exams. The ‘slow learner’ is overburdened at this junction and in all likelihood will not be able meet the parents’ expectations as the time given to prepare is too less. The next step is branding such students as average, incorrigible or incapable of performing well in the exams.

Everyone around is likely to contribute their two cents in it, further aggravating the situation. Parents might also be perplexed by the fact that while the other children are able to perform well after studying in the exams their child is not; little do they realize that every child is different and is blessed with varying qualities.If a child is not a quick learner, this does not mean that they are not gifted. Parents just need to plan accordingly to the skillset that their child possesses. Teachers too have a significant role to play in this. I will explain this in a bit how we can do that.

Let’s try and understand what gifts the slow learners bring along. Ever heard the story of the Hare and the Tortoise? Well,their story resonates with this story a lot.

Kids who take time to learn and absorb new things are normally more committed learners. They need to get the grasp of things much deeply as compared to other kids. They need to convince themselves of the things they are trying to learn. Once they get a grip of things, they will consolidate and start building blocks of sustainable learning. They are more likely to remember things for a longer period of time. They will not like to be pushed in to doing something in haste as they require deeper comprehension of the idea and need to convince themselves on how they will go on with learning things.

Imagine burdening such a student with huge syllabus just a few days before the exam and expecting them to do wonders. This tackle is likely to be doomed from the start and eventually, if repeated, can make the learner give up trying at some stage. This can ruin the confidence and this lack of confidence is likely to spill over on to other areas of life. If not checked, we might soon be looking at an average misfit member of the society, hardly finding any motivation to contribute to the setup. Such a person might not be able to perform well at the start of a job as well as later on in their career.

While actually working with such a child, we need to understand that there is no quick-fix for this and this is going to take time. Meanwhile the focus should be on creating a positive environment which incorporates confidence in the learner’s mind. This can be done in many ways but none better than time and again talk about the things that they do really well. The primary purpose of such an interventionist approach is to instill a positive and accomplishment-driven frame of mind and attitude. The focus for the moment is not on ‘can-do attitude’ but on ‘have-done attitude’. Positive thinking just like negative thinking is infectious and spreads rapidly. Once a child can build self-confidence they are more likely to carry on this aura of positivity to other areas as well.

Skills and talent need favorable environment to flourish and be discovered. To understand the concept of distinctive gifts, let’s imagine for a second if Roger Federer played golf instead of tennis. He might not be as good as he is in tennis. The reason he was successful was that either he was lucky enough to understand that his sporting strength lay in tennis or someone guided him and helped him discover his real potential. Not everyone will be so lucky therefore as parents and teachers an even members of this society we must keep a look out for such talents who may at first appear to be average. To provide some further food for thought to help us understand this better, let’s assume what would happen if Brian Lara never picked up a bat or if Messi was born in the subcontinent. I leave the rest to your imagination.

Parents should not burden such kids during the exams. Their preparation should be started well in advance, probably a few weeks before other students do. Moreover the key concepts that will lay the foundations of learning in the term must be discussed in the very beginning, almost as soon as they are discussed in the class. This will provide the necessary confidence and understand the students require to excel.

Through this article I will not be advocating that slow learners cannot or should not improve their learning speed. In fact I believe they easily can, the effort just needs to be well planned and consistent. Parents and teachers must understand that confidence is the key here. When students try their best and fail, they must not be discouraged. We must let go of appreciating others just on the basis of results, rather we should look towards the effort and input they make. Output or results are dependent on so many other factors which might not be in a child’s control or might not be their fault at all.

Teachers should interact regularly with such students’ parents to help them understand their child better. I was very glad to see a school that encourages the senior students to provide coaching to slow learners to help them achieve their goals. My message to those students who are quick learners and achieve good grades is to take some time out to volunteer for those who need some extra time in understanding concepts as it is our social responsibility and has some other benefits as well. Whenever you are vying for a place in international universities, such tokens of acknowledgement from the school will go a long way in showing that you are not just academically strong but also want to play your part as a member of the society.

Teachers can also encourage the parents to be more involved. The parents should also understand that there is only so much that the teachers can do, they need to play their part as well. 

To sum it up here are a few things that parents and teachers can do:

·         Positive reinforcement. Sometimes the teacher and parents might feel that they have to repeat things again and again but this is very important. Child will be a bit slow to pick up at first but as momentum gathers and their confidence improves the speed of learning is likely to increase.

·         Some times to build up the confidence it is important to indulge the child in activities he or she is really good at. This might seem trivial at first but it is of paramount importance for the child to know that they can do things. Confidence is then likely to spill over to more difficult tasks

·         Various ways of instructions can be adopted if the teacher sees little success with the routine methods of teaching. In another article I will extensively be talking about the various learning styles that students have and which assessments can they take to understand how they learn best.

·         Though everyone might not be able to afford it but tutoring can help the student go a long way in catching up with the rest of the class. The good news is that tutoring does not necessarily need to be through a professional paid tutor. Parents can get in touch with the teachers and start spending some time with the child at home. Remember that it is the first few steps that will matter a lot because concepts especially in subjects like Mathematics and language build on as the classes go on and are more likely to be connected to each other.

·         As discussed earlier, helping such gifted students find their true worth should be a collective effort. A school could engage seniors who can spare some time after school once or twice a week to help such learners.

·         Another important intervention can be reading continuously and buying reasoning workbooks which are readily available. Such students will need the practice and the subsequent confidence that they have done these things before and that too successfully. Once they have that confidence they are more likely to catch up with rest of the class.

·         Finally their ‘efforts’ must be acknowledged. I have not used the word ‘result’ deliberately because some children can take more time than others. It is their efforts that need to be rewarded to instill confidence in them and give them their due share of praise.

The focus should be not on what the student is missing because they rarely are. It should definitely be on how the educational and schooling system is letting them down. Such students are more likely to be successful when it comes to practical work provided that they are fully backed up in the school and taken care of.