Learning in education is generally defined as the attainment of knowledge or skills through study, experience or being taught. It cannot be separated from culture because culture itself is a form of education (Guild, 1994). Even before the launch of western schools as specialized agencies, education took place in every Pacific Island society, where the children, adolescents and adults became educated by simply living their culture. Every learner in any society experiences learning differently and experiences learning problems at one time or another either outside or inside the classroom and overcoming these challenges is all part of the learning process. Such learning problems range from being a shy, noisy and difficult student to a low achieving student and many more. It takes several different approaches to overcome these problems, but it is essential to remember that they can be conquered with the right attitude. This paper explains two major learning problems I have experienced as a secondary school student; it continues to explain their impacts on my school performance and it then finally suggests what a teacher could have done to avoid such learning problems faced by students.
Learning Problem 1
One major learning problem I experienced in high school was “Dyscalculia”, which is a term that refers to a wide variety of learning difficulties involving maths. It means that I really had difficulty with all types of maths problems ranging from failure to understand the meaning of numbers, to an inability to solve problems by applying mathematical principles. I started experiencing this learning problem in primary school in which I struggled with organization of numbers and operation signs as well as solving multiplication and division problems. However, it was more noticeable in high school when the subject was getting harder. I had been struggling with maths since form 1 to form 5 because I did not master the basic maths facts and really had difficulty when moving on to more advanced maths applications. I rarely could be able to solve any maths problem in any topic correctly. I also struggled to catch up with the teacher’s explanations of maths concepts that I was always left far behind. As a result of this learning problem, it really affected my academic performance especially in form 5, the level where I had to sit for the external examination towards the end of the year. I did not make it in most of the common tests that were administered in each school term. However, in preparation for the external examination, my parents who valued my education, sacrificed a lot and hired a private tutor to help me out. We spent two hours every evening trying to get me to master basic maths facts first then move on to the advanced maths applications. It was tough for both the tutor and I because we had to cover what I should have learnt from the lower forms. However, it was worth it because I then began to understand and slowly could be able to at least correctly solve some simple mathematical problems then the more advanced ones and thankfully, I made it in the external examination. I passed maths with only an average grade in form 5 and it was a relieve when it became an optional subject in form 6.
Learning Problem 2
Another learning problem I experienced was to do with boredom that I often did not focus during class. I believe that it is considered as a symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD can certainly disturb learning because its symptoms also include difficulty in controlling behaviour, following instructions, staying organized and completing homework. Although I did not possess all ADHD symptoms except not being able to stay focused and pay attention, it was still a major problem. I usually would fall asleep in the classroom especially when the teacher would come in and talk from the beginning to the end of the lesson. Most teachers would explain notes the whole period and would not dare to lead any class discussion and some would come in and tell us to just read notes. In most cases I would find it boring that I either I fell asleep or did something else. I just could not stay focused when the lessons were teacher centred which often occurred during high school. It really affected my performance because when I did not pay attention during class, I missed a lot of important information let alone not learning anything thus affecting my grades in tests and examinations.
In most cases, I was being ignored and I continued to lose hope and interest in maths. It was when I had my private tutor that I began to realise that weak students can be helped with the right approach. I suggest that high schools’ maths teachers should have first identified a student’s strengths and weaknesses then work together with parents and other educators to design approaches that would help the student learn maths effectively. Following the identification, the teacher should have given the weak student/s extra time, a remedial class for example. Remedial class helps students to achieve mastery in areas of weakness before continuing on to the next topics. Moreover, teachers should have planned the lesson to cater for the individual needs of the student and focused on any misunderstandings he or she may have and filled those understanding gaps thus creating a stable foundation. Maths teachers could have also used creative ways to teach maths such as getting students involved, for example, let them practically do baking when teaching measurement or memorize formulas by putting them in a song for students to sing or a poem for them to recite. There are numerous creative and fun ways to teach maths by involving students. Benjamin Franklin once said and I quote, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” If I was taught in these ways, I am certain that difficulty in maths would not have been a learning problem.
I believe that my second learning problem can be properly addressed by changing the teaching approach from teacher- centred to student-centred. When the lesson is teacher-centred, students are required to put all their attention to the teacher which means that the teacher talks and students completely listen. I could have paid attention if the lessons were student-centred where both students and teachers equally share the focus. Instead of entirely listening to the teacher, both should have interacted actively. I suggest that my teachers could have planned their lessons with student-centred instruction and made more group work activities so that all students participate thus encouraging students to focus and avoiding boredom. In other words, teachers should have made students actively participate in group activities so that they could learn to collaborate and communicate with one another thus making them focus and enjoy learning.