School Fatigue—What Can Be Done About It?
By “Awake!” correspondent in Sweden
“AS SOON as I touch the handle of the locker, I get tired. After the first lesson, I just go home. Everything is boring. I want to work and make money or, at least, do something meaningful.” This is what a 14-year-old girl in Sweden said to a child psychiatrist when explaining why she had begun to cut classes so often.
Obviously the girl suffered from school fatigue, an “ailment” that is spreading among pupils in modern society. School authorities, teachers and parents often feel powerless when faced with it. In fact, in many places the problem of school fatigue is so great that it has become a subject of extensive research.
An Underlying Reason
Often students suffering from fatigue find the subjects in school boring and meaningless. There is also frustration that comes from having to study too many subjects. Because of disorder in the classroom, some students are insecure and nervous. Still others have problems with fellow pupils. Children from families with differing religious beliefs may frequently find themselves in conflict. Factors such as the foregoing contribute to school fatigue. However, many surveys point to one basic underlying cause—pupils experiencing school fatigue lack motivation for studying. They simply find it pointless. For many years they attend school without getting any practical benefit from much of the material taken up in class.
Why is school fatigue more common among teen-agers than among younger students? Researchers say that younger children want to learn because of natural curiosity. They are motivated by a desire to imitate what adults do. Usually they find almost everything exciting in school, and are more willing to fit in. After puberty, though, other motivations are needed. Alvar Ellegård, a professor and researcher of learning technique at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, says concerning this: “After puberty it is no longer possible to play in knowledge or a feeling of fitting in. We must then, instead, give schoolwork a goal and a purpose in order to get the pupils to accomplish something.” Research also has revealed that learning is more automatic before puberty because of an inborn need to learn for life. After puberty, however, knowledge is acquired in a more constructive and systematic way and, therefore, requires more concrete motivation.
What Can Be Done?
Many fatigued pupils can be helped by being given incentive. Who can aid them with this? A summary of research undertaken by the National Swedish Board of Education says of such students: “Those who have interrupted their studies and played truant in comprehensive school, those who have persistently desired to leave comprehensive school early, and those who have finally interrupted their studies at secondary school level come from homes of low socio-economic status and homes where parents have not provided the necessary support in connection with schoolwork.” (Italics ours.)
Two American researchers, W. R. Morrow and R. C. Wilson, who have studied the family relationships of 96 high school boys, both “bright high achieving and underachieving,” found that good family life made a difference. Better results were attained by those having a more harmonious and emotionally supportive homelife. These researchers, therefore, maintain that the atmosphere in the home affects schoolwork and associated activities. They also found that children who had received a negative attitude toward school from their parents were often negative in adapting to school.
What Parents Can Do
So, parents can do much to foster their children’s interest in schoolwork. How? They should be interested in it themselves. This is not just a matter of asking now and then: “What happened at school today?” Rather, parents should manifest interest in more specific things—details regarding schoolwork. Then, they should discuss matters in terms that reveal an understanding of what their children are studying.
It is also important that parents show that they expect something from their sons and daughters at school. It is good for children to have reasonable demands put upon them. At heart, they do appreciate this. Otherwise they may reason: “Why exert myself when nobody cares about the result?” In this connection, Professor Alvar Ellegård noted: “It is unnatural for people above childhood not to have demands on them. Lack of demands does not make life happier.”
Hence, parents ought to tell their children what is expected and then follow through accordingly. They can praise and reward success, and provide comfort and help in case of failure. This gives children a wholesome feeling of importance and assures them that somebody really cares.
Parents might also stress the usefulness of education. They could explain how they themselves have benefited from learning a certain subject at school. Also, they might point out to their children which problems and situations in adult life require certain skill or knowledge.
Putting School Information to Practical Use
Another way to motivate children to study is to arrange situations in which they can put their newly gained knowledge to practical use in everyday life. Many educators have discovered the importance of practical application of schoolwork. Efforts have been made to combine theory with actual work. Students are periodically sent out to places of employment to put acquired knowledge to use. Similarly, parents can give their sons and daughters different tasks and responsibilities.
When it comes to some foreign language, why not arrange for the children to use it as much as possible? Perhaps you could take them to places where the language is spoken, ask them to translate clippings or quotations in that language, or invite to your home friends who speak the language.
For practical application of mathematics, children could be encouraged to keep a personal account book, to total receipts in the household, to calculate the costs of certain repairs at home, and so forth.
For reading exercise, parents could have their children read aloud to them. Some youngsters have gained much happiness and practical experience by reading to blind persons and others unable to read for themselves. One father has his daughter regularly read study material for him on recording tape. Then, when going to and from work, he listens to it in the car on his cassette recorder.
Many parents have found it good to let their children do manual work and thus get used to handling tools. Such practical application of knowledge contributes toward the development of the mind.
Appreciating Education’s True Value
Even if certain subjects taught in school do not seem necessary for the future, children can be made aware of their value. Knowledge of various fields serves to broaden the mind, provides a more balanced education and gives training in learning. The brain is much like a muscle, in that its capacity can be increased by training. Studying also gives practice in self-discipline and improves powers of thinking and concentration.
If certain school instruction is contrary to the family’s religious convictions, as sometimes is the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is important that parents not use this to encourage contempt for school in the minds of their children. Instruction that includes information that may not be in harmony with the Bible, but that does not require a pupil to disown his faith or to take part in an act of false worship, can still be useful. It can give the youngster an understanding of how certain people think and how they might be helped to appreciate the value of God’s Word. A balanced, but still uncompromising, attitude can aid children to avoid many embarrassing confrontations and conflicts at school. Instead of being argumentative when such subjects are dealt with in class, children should be taught that much more can be gained by being tactful, polite and cheerful.
In many countries school education now is free. This may cause young people—and even parents—to minimize its value. But knowledge of how expensive it is may assist all more fully to appreciate its value. In Sweden, for example, during the 1976/77 school year every student in comprehensive school cost the taxpayer 12,300 Swedish crowns (about $3,000). One can easily imagine how an average family man with three schoolchildren would feel if he had to pay for their education. Hence, free education, if missed when we are young, may be very expensive to get in later life.
Good Contact with Teachers
Parents can show interest in their children’s instruction through good contact with teachers. Many teachers would like to have more of an interchange with parents. This creates better understanding among all parties involved—teacher, pupil and parents. Feeling that the parents care about their child, the teacher may be moved to take a greater personal interest in him as a pupil. The student may also be more inclined to behave well and show proper respect for the teacher.
Life at school nowadays may be very trying for many pupils. That is why they need love and a sense of security. A school nurse with 30 years of experience says: “The lack of security in some children is frightening. Something basic is missing. I know for certain what is needed: love and interest. You can pour love over a child. He soaks it up like a sponge.”
So, very often insecurity and a feeling of meaninglessness are responsible for school fatigue. Therefore, parents can do much in dealing with this problem by striving to provide their children with incentive for study. This they can do by taking an active interest in their children’s schoolwork and giving them a sense of security, making them feel loved and appreciated.
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Parents should take a sincere interest in their children’s schoolwork