Underachievement is a term that has an ambiguous meaning and has often remained unexplained in the general sense. It could thus be restricted to a particular area of application and be defined though not with precision. In a school setting, underachievement refers to the inability of a learner to meet standards of performance that are set in the relevant level of study, which they have been established to have the ability to achieve. It could also refer to a school not meeting the national standards (Smith, 2005, p.1). In the past, it had been noted that female students were performing poorly in schools; perhaps this could be attributed to the traditions in some communities where girls were not given equal access to education. In the recent past, it has emerged that boys are underachieving in academic standards. Therefore, improving academic standards has been of concern to various governments in recent years (West & Pennell, 2003, p.3). However, a better way of understanding the issue is not to relate the performance of girls to the performance of boys; instead, the performance of every student should be evaluated by standards that have been set.
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Evidence of underachievement
As has been stated, underachievement should not be considered as a relation of the performance of a particular class to the performance of another class. Each category should be considered based on their performance about the standards set. Indeed, it is evident that the performance of female students in the mathematics subject is, on average, far below the standards. Quite a similar case has been witnessed among students who learn English as a Second Language.
The cultural factors that can result in the difference in the performance of boys and girls
Some of the factors that can cause a difference in the performance of pupils in schools are related to the culture of the society from which the underachieving pupil comes. Some religious beliefs and teachings can also influence the performance of a particular class of pupils if teachings are carried forward to a learning environment. The solutions to the problems will be through the co-operation of teachers, students, parents, and national governments.
Firstly, some communities did not consider educating females and often embarked on educating their male counterparts. As a result, very few females who make it to learning institutions find it hard coping up with the required standards as they are subjected to different learning conditions. Besides, the types of duties that parents will assign to their sons and daughters often influence the performance of the children. Quite often, female students are subject to daily domestic chores like cooking and washing utensils as their brothers relax on the playing grounds in readiness for evening studies. In such a case, the performance of the boys and girls will not be the same even if the school environment is the same.
Some communities consider physically challenged groups as an abomination associated with misfortune. In most cases, these groups of individuals will be denied access to education, at least at the right time. In cases where they will be allowed, they will not be accorded the necessary assistance required. In most cases, a blind or deaf student attending a similar class with the normal students will hardly meet the set standards. They may also be challenged as being unable to assume certain careers. This will demoralize them especially in subject areas that are related to the said career. On the other hand, other students who are not physically challenged, but who come from a society with such perceptions, will use the disabilities as a basis for discrimination.
There is also a traditional belief that there are some subjects, which cannot be performed well by female students. If such a spirit is cultivated in the minds of the little girls, right from their childhood, then they will develop a negative attitude towards the subject, and attempts to motivate the student intrinsically will not be easy.
The strategies that may be used to improve the conditions
Education that meets the economic and social needs of the society is that which is inclusive of all categories of students. A typical society will consist of females and males, disabled group, financially challenged group, sick group, as well as physically and financially able category. It will also comprise people of varied cultures, ethnicity, and religion. Even though the debate on the matters about underachievement often changes, it has been observed, “at any given time there are concerns that one group of pupils or another is failing to achieve their potential” (West & Pennell, 2003, p.3). At one point, the focus will be on the performance of a particular gender, while next time it is based on some social class, race, or tribe of the underachieving group. If these factors are not properly analyzed and dealt with in a school setting, there could be cases of discrimination that could hinder the achievement of academic goals by learners.
The solution to the problem of underachievement in the school context is not an individual but a corporate task. Several parties are involved in attempting to address the above issues; these include teachers, politicians, parents as well as policy-makers in the government (West & Pennell, 2003, p.3).
Teachers are at the forefront of ensuring that the right spirit is cultivated among pupils so that no form of discrimination is witnessed. They are supposed to be mentors to their students not only in matters of academics but also in other matters contributing to the general social well-being. Besides, they should cultivate a spirit of unity and peaceful coexistence among students drawn from different cultures. This will make it possible for pupils to form discussion groups, which can help to improve the individual performance of each pupil. Teachers also need to motivate pupils who feel discouraged by their poor performance. For instance, a female pupil who performs poorly in mathematics will yield back to the traditional belief that it is a masculine subject and as such, develop a negative attitude towards the subject. It will be the responsibility of the teacher to show the girl that she can achieve the required standards in the subject. The teacher will be better placed if he can cite few examples of world female mathematicians or other scholars in the supposed masculine subjects. Moreover, the teacher is expected to have an interest in the subject and be conversant with the concepts in the subject. He/she should be ready for hard work and have high expectations from the students (Reiz, n.d, p5).
Moreover, pupils need to be advised against vices such as discrimination based on disability status. They should rid the minds of the challenged students of their perceptions as being lesser beings in the society, and unless it is completely necessary as defined by the disability, these students need not be exempted from any curriculum and extra-curriculum activity.
The schools and the academicians need to adapt to the curriculum that encompasses all the necessary needs that education should provide to society in general. If a student is learning English as a second language, then the curriculum has to be designed to provide the consistency needed. How the curriculum and extra-curricular activities are organized often influences the performance of pupils (Reiz, n.d., p.1). Also, activities outside the classroom need to be equally applied to female and male students. There should be an established culture in the school that needs to be adhered to by every student; at least when they are within the school boundaries and to the extent that it will not permanently interfere with their fundamental principles like a religious belief. The traditional myths and misconceptions surrounding education subjects to be taken and related career choices need to be corrected among the minds of parents and their children. Moreover, there should be some educational forums organized to include teachers, students, parents, and the school community to discuss the issues related to the performance of students.
Parents have the key role of providing for all the educational needs of their children. In this respect, they have to struggle to meet the financial requirements despite the economic difficulties that they could be undergoing. Poverty is a key factor leading to underachievement (West & Pennell, 2003, p.25). They also need to abandon the old perception that there are some duties at home that are for a particular gender, which will make them give more tasks to a particular group, say girls than their counterparts. Instead, parents have the role of giving equal learning opportunities to both boys and girls. Daily chores at home (if at all they have to be) should be evenly distributed among children of all ages and gender to ensure that all children get equal learning opportunities. They also need to consider the difference in financial needs that often occur between female and male students. Females need additional provisions without which they could be lured into illicit sexual relationships that may affect their performance.
Politicians are concerned with national legislation; they need to come up with legislation that condemns any form of discrimination based on gender, age, disability, ethnic group, religious belief, or race. Besides, they should advocate for equal distribution of learning resources among various learning institutions across the country (Smith, 2005, p.3). The marginalized communities that are still ignorant of the benefits of education, hesitating to take their children to schools should be broadly enlightened on the benefits of such. Moreover, the cost of education should be lowered through subsidies from the government and other donor bodies to ensure that even students from very humble backgrounds can afford to meet educational costs.
Reiz, S., N.d. The Underachievement of Gifted Students. University of Connecticut. (Online). Web.
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Smith, E., 2005. Analyzing Underachievement in Schools. London: Continuum International Publishing Groups. (Online). Web.
West, A. and Pennell, H., 2003. Underachievement in Schools. London: RoutledgeFalmer. (Online). Web.