School Failure: Some Causes And Determining Factors

There are some facts whose role in the appearance of academic problems goes unnoticed.

In the last decade, there has been a notable increase in the prevalence of school dropouts in the Spanish population, going from 14% in 2011 to 20% in 2015, to the point where this country reaches the highest rate compared to the rest of the population. of the European Union (Eurostat, 2016).

The most commonly detected difficulties refer to alterations in reading and writing or  dyslexia (with an average rate of 10%) or related to  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (with a proportion ranging between 2 and 5% of students). 

However, there are other problems that, without being as frequent as those indicated, can cause the existence of a learning disorder significant enough to eventually lead to school failure.

School failure and its causes

School failure, understood as the difficulty to assimilate and internalize the academic content established by the educational system based on the age and development of the child, can be motivated by multiple causes of different kinds. Therefore, it cannot be considered that the responsibility should fall exclusively on the student, but that both the educational community and the family environment have a very relevant influence.

Among the factors that can precipitate the appearance of school failure in the student are the following:

  • Aspects related to the level of psychic-physical maturation of the student, such as psychomotor or cognitive abilities (attention, memory, perception, etc.).
  • Specific developmental disorders, linked to the existence of significant difficulties in basic skills such as reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia) or mathematical reasoning (dyscalculia).
  • Learning disorders, referred for example to the presence of more clinical entities such as Attention Deficit Disorder and its different modalities (with the presence of hyperactivity, combined, impulsivity, etc.).
  • Pedagogical disorders, due to a difference in adjustment between the school objectives set for the student and their adaptation to them.
  • Strictly psychological disorders, such as the presence of fears, strong fears, phobias, emotional and behavioral inhibition and / or  excessive shyness.
  • Other problems related to the basic skills of memory, attention, verbal or numerical aptitude that inevitably affect the performance of the student or other problems derived from the overload of activities or contents to be learned.

On the other hand, as referred to above, there are a series of circumstances that refer to the poor functioning, in some cases, of the educational system, which considerably aggravate the consequences derived from the existence of the factors listed above. Methodological issues, teaching attitudes, non-individualized and obsolete teaching styles cause that the teaching figure may not be sufficiently prepared to serve these students with the indicated characteristics, which are themselves more complex.

Other factors that increase school failure

Below are three of the problems that usually go unnoticed since they differ from the usual difficulties related to reading and writing. 

In the same way as this, those that are exposed below may cause school failure of the student if they are not detected and are adequately intervened.

Acalculia and number reasoning problems

Acalculia is circumscribed within the so-called Specific Learning Disorders and is defined, as proposed by Salomon Eberhard Henschen (who first coined the term in 1919) by a type of alteration of the calculus that can be derived from a brain injury or also due to the presence of difficulties in the course of academic learning. 

According to this author, acalculia does not coexist with  aphasic symptoms or linguistic dysfunction in general. Later, his disciple Berger, made the distinction between primary and secondary acalculia. In the first case, reference is made to a specific type of alteration in the ability to calculate and not related to aptitude deviations of other basic cognitive processes such as memory or attention. On the contrary, secondary acalculia has a broader and more general character and is linked to alterations in these basic cognitive processes.

From the initial approaches arose the classifications of Henri Hécaen, who distinguished between acalculia aléxica (understanding of mathematical characters) and agráfica (written expression of arithmetic characters), spatial (arrangement and location of numbers, signs and other mathematical elements in space) and arithmetic (correct application of arithmetic operations).

Some peculiarities of calculation problems

McCloskey and Camarazza have described a differentiation between the nature of the alteration in numerical processing or reasoning (understanding and production of numerical characters) with respect to those more related to the calculation process (procedures to carry out arithmetic operations). 

Regarding the first type of difficulty, it is possible to distinguish between two components, which can lead to two types of alterations: the elements involved in the production of Arabic numbers and those involved in the production of verbal numbers. This last component consists in turn of two procedures: lexical processing (phonological, related to the verbal sound of numerical characters, and graphological, set of written signs and symbols) and syntactic (relationships between elements to grant a global meaning of the the numerical expression).

In reference to alterations in the calculation, it should be noted that there must be adequate functioning at the level of previous numerical processing, since the ability to understand and correctly produce the numerical elements that confirm a certain mathematical operation, as well as the relationships, is necessary. between the different arithmetic characters and their operation. 

Even so, with an adequate capacity for numerical processing, there may be a difficulty in executing a correct order in the sequence of steps to follow to carry out this type of procedure or in memorizing the usual arithmetic combinations (such as example the multiplication tables).

Psychopedagogical Disorder Due to Inattention

Psychopedagogical Disorder takes place when the student is not capable of assuming the psychopedagogical objectives proposed for that particular academic year. This fact leads to an accumulation of unattained psychopedagogical learning that accumulates in later courses if it is not detected and acted upon when the first confirmatory indicators are observed. 

The subjects that are most frequently affected are elementary : language and mathematics. Usually the origin of this type of complications derives from: 

  • The application of teaching methodologies not adapted to the particular characteristics of student learning, either due to excess (under-endowed students) or by default (gifted students).
  • Educational parenting styles that do not emphasize the relevance of learning acquisition.
  • Differential characteristics of the student himself with respect to his peers (presence of behavioral disturbance, poor competence in a certain area, etc.). 

This type of alteration differs from ADHD since the latter must meet criteria in the three affected areas: attention, impulsivity and / or hyperactivity.

Intellectual giftedness

Regarding  intellectual giftedness, there are several factors to consider in the prevention of school failure in students with very high intellectual capacities:

Environmental awareness

The awareness and assimilation on the part of the educational community that this type of group has particular characteristics and therefore special educational needs is very important .

Institutional changes to create inclusive educational centers

Once the previous point has been overcome, there must be an adaptation of the general educational system to create educational institutions (schools, institutes, universities, etc.) that allow to serve this type of student body. Equally important is the fact of providing these institutions with the material, financial, personal and professional resources that allow the institution itself to offer its educational service appropriately.

The myth of chronological age

Another important issue is that the traditionally accepted idea that an academic year must correspond to a certain chronological age must be banished. It seems to be assimilated to a greater extent in the case of “repeating” students, but not so much in those who must be more “advanced”. As has been transmitted throughout the entire syllabus, each student presents some particularities and it must be the educational system that adapts to the characteristics of the student and not the opposite. Thus, the consideration of implementing curricular adaptations for this group should be applied without reluctance and in a generalized way.

Therefore, the objectives to be pursued in said curricular adaptations should be aimed at:

  • Encourage divergent and creative thinking of students, in order to allow them to develop all the potential that is possible; 
  • Promote scientific reasoning and logical development.
  • Offer free access to more complex educational media, especially in more specialized academic areas such as music, science or art.
  • Encourage and motivate the development of potential through rewards and positive reinforcements such as contests, exhibitions or debates where the gifted student obtains satisfaction from their work and effort.

In conclusion

After what is stated in the text, it seems relevant to consider all the factors that are causing such high rates of school dropout.  

Far from blaming exclusively the presence or absence of the student’s will to learn, there are many other aspects related to the type of teaching that is taught, the pedagogical methodology applied, the habits and values ​​transmitted by the family in relation to the learning that must be taken also taken into account to achieve an improvement in the objective of reducing the current percentage of school failure.

Bibliographic references:

  • Escudero, J. M, González, MT, and Martínez, B. (2009). School failure as educational exclusion: understanding, policies and practices. Ibero-American Journal of Education, 50, 41-64.
  • Marchesi, A. (2003). School failure in Spain. Madrid: Alternativas Foundation. Working Document 11/2003. 

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