We all agree that as educators our responsibility is not only to impart knowledge, but also to be concerned with the overall development of the child. Generally, when we go to a class, we have a well-defined frame to work within. We must go over the topic, and summarise it. The frame may be topic-oriented, student-oriented or both. But sometimes, we find it difficult to accomplish our objectives - with some students, it is practically impossible to do so. I remember when a language teacher once narrated her problem to me. One of the students used to insert a particular alphabet in a discrete manner when he had to frame and write a sentence. The teacher tried her level best to correct this, but did not succeed. She expressed her helplessness at a formal meeting, and later, a few other teachers shared similar problems. It was interesting to see that most of them were not aware that these types of problems may be due to inability, or even disability, on the part of the learner. Therefore it seems important to discuss and understand various clinical issues related to the field of education.
The very first thing to keep in mind is that there is a sharp difference between the teacher and the student in terms of their mental maturity. The teacher may have the ability to understand the student and thus express things in such a manner as to transmit knowledge effectively. Experience also brings a gradual refinement in our mode of communication. Our style, gesture, posture, words, tone, and many other things determine the effectiveness and understandability in the classroom. But besides these, there are a few neuropsychological factors which playa significant and, at times, a limiting role for the learner.
One of the major problems of this kind is hyperactivity. Due to a spiking pattern of brain waves in some students, they are very active in the classroom. This becomes a problem for the teacher, as these students (some of whom complete the work before the prescribed time limit) indulge in behaviour which is a problem for classroom management. Hyperactive or hyperkinetic behaviour is usually seen in children below the age of eight years, and it tends to become less frequent and of shorter duration later. Typically, it disappears or is markedly alleviated by the middle teens. The predominant characteristics are short attention span, easy distractibility, impulsiveness, poor motor coordination, low frustration tolerance, hypersensitivity, lack ofinhibition, emotional instability and changeable moods. Research indicates that these children do not differ from other children in intelligence. Different techniques are used for the treatment of hyperactivity in a clinical situation, but the teacher in a classroom has limited solutions available. However, consistent positive reinforcement and programming of leaming materials and tasks in ways which minimise error and maximise immediate feedback are highly effective.
Sometimes, we find students who do just the opposite of what they are told. This is called negativism. This seems to be a peculiar characteristic of preschool children. They are unwilling to do what is asked of them, and sometimes deliberately do the opposite. As adults, most of the time we try to maintain 'standard behaviour', and so we may meet such situations by giving directions contrary to what we really want done. At the preschool age it becomes the responsibility of the parents, and if extended, ajoint responsibility of the teacher and family members, not to be overprotective, overindulgent and excitable. As pointed out by Kanner, 'Qisplay of indifference is a punishment much more severe and much more effective than any other disciplinarymeasure.'
Recently, a young girl was referred to me from the junior school. She had difficulty readingthe numerals 6 and 9 - she would see reversed images of these digits. F.M.Teagarden had faced a different problem- he came across a student who was unable to see the printed numeral 7 in his elementary school. In fact, that space appeared completely blank to the child. Other such cases have been reported, and in each case the problem is numerical. There are also many documented cases of children who reverse letters (e.g., b and d) and have trouble reading. Though thorough investigation is required in these cases, one can as a teacher still try to discover the failing. These disorders are thought by some to have brain correlates, and are termed, in neuropsychological parlance, as visual aphasia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, alexia, acalculia. About 10% to 12% of the school going population is estimated to have these disabilities.
Aphasia is a neuropsychological deficit with definitely localised brain lesions. The sufferer can see and read but cannot say what the words mean, or can hear words but fails to give meaning to them, or can see and hear but cannot write meaningfully.
Clinicians have identified several other neuropsychological disorders, like epilepsy and hypophrenia, many of which are congenital. Generally, the problem that we face in the classrooms is not of feeblemindedness, but of slow learners. The slow learners constitute a sizeable percentage of the total school going population. They display a limited ability to deal with abstract and symbolic materials, and inferior reasoning in practical situations. They have marked cognitive learning problems, as well as auditory / perceptual and visual/motor problems. These problems are often accompanied by social and emotional problems. It is relatively easy for a teacher to identify a slow learner. As educators, it is our responsibility to make sure that a meaningful programme oflearning can be offered to them. An elastic curriculum is probably the most effective methodology. Gradation of teaching materials may be carefully done taking into account the capacity and requirement of each child. It is also essential to generate interest, social skills and confidence in them. In this regard, perhaps priority should be given to dance, art, music and drama. In practical terms, the teacher has to be very attentive in applying these techniques in the classroom, so that the rest of the students do not find the pace too slow.
So, after all, it is the intelligent designing of teaching materials and classroom management that is significant. Along with this, we may take into account some of these neuropsychological issues.