All things being equal!

comments 20

Isn’t it strange how conversations you have with your kids can transport you back in time? A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I headed off for a girlie day out. As is usually the norm in our car the radio was turned on and we settled back to enjoy the drive. After a short silence she began to tell me about school. She told how the teachers have favourites. Kids who happen to be confident and brash. She explained how they are seen as clever because they aren’t shy. She also explained how other kids are clever too but are just shy and less willing to put themselves forward. I heard of kids who can write the music for Star Wars so it can be played on the tin whistle and a little boy who can name all the mechanical parts to his scooter. Multiple intelligences are what we educators call it. Regardless of the name, she had hit the nail on the head. In the hustle and bustle of a busy classroom some kids get overlooked and it’s just not right.

As I listened I was transported back to when I was in fourth class. I went to a convent school in a country town. I remember clearly how the class was divided into groups. These groups supposedly represented the ability of the student. We had the A, B and C groups. A being the clever kids, B the kids who needed a little support and C being the group that even with scaffolding was never going to go far. I vividly remember sitting in that classroom and thinking that the system of division had very little to do with ability and much more to do with what your parents did for a living! Yes, at ten even I could work out that the girls who’s parents owned businesses or farms where in the A group, the girls who’s parents worked where in the B group and the C group was for those who had parents who where unfortunate enough not to be working. Listening to my little girl describe her school experience illustrated how little has changed in the Irish school system.

When I returned to education a number of years ago it was to pursue a degree in Psychology. As an undergrad I got to choose three subjects for my first year. I choose Sociology and English along with Psychology. It wasn’t long before I realised that I wouldn’t be continuing with Psychology in year two. Sociology was where it was at for me. I soon discovered that there where theories and names for the thoughts and feelings I had regarding the inequalities in society and I couldn’t wait to find out more. The education system has always fascinated me so it was no surprise when I choose post graduate study in this area.

While listening to my daughter explain about her experience within the classroom I wondered why has the passing of time and changing practises in teaching training done nothing to foster a more equal and inclusive learning environment for the next generation? Research in the UK has shown that if kids are not encouraged to participate and speak out in class that their academic development can be affected. During the study teachers were encouraged to ask every child to answer a question rather than relying on the few who are more than willing to answer. To help ensure that every child had an equal chance of being asked, all names where written on lollipop sticks. The teacher would then draw a stick from a jar rather than choose from raised hands. Resistance came from teachers as well as kids. It is much quicker to ask those who you know will answer. The shy kids went as fair as removing their names from the jar. The kids who always answered resented the fact that they were no longer getting the attention. Eventually after overcoming the initial resistance the study got underway. The findings? They probably won’t come as a surprise. Those kids who had been seen as less able where just as able as their more confident peers!

We really need to remember that with a little time and encouragement all kids shine. It is more important now than ever when education is facing into years of cutbacks that we don’t lose sight of the fact that multiple intelligences exist. Just because a child is quiet and reflective doesn’t mean they are lacking in ability. Isn’t it time we embraced difference? I know my little girl is not going to transform into an over confident brash ‘clever’ kid ever. I also know that by assuming she isn’t ‘clever’ because she’s quieter than others is a huge mistake on her teacher’s part. I was that quiet reflective child once upon a time.


The Author

I'm living on the Leitrim border with my lovely husband and two terrific kids. It's the little piece of heaven that I dreamed of growing up. I work in Adult Education by day and during my free time I read, write, knit, plant and bake not always in that order. I blog about life, love, family and everything in between. Pull up a chair and have a browse while you're here. All the best, Karen


  1. Trich says

    Brilliant Karen, keep high-lightening this as it is NB! Go raibh mile maith agat xox


  2. Claire Rafferty says

    Love it. This really is such an important message to get accross. All children are brilliant in their own way. It would be a very boring world if we were all the same. Fabulous writing as always. I remember that quiet reflective child years ago who always had a cute little cheeky side to her too xxx


    • Thanks Claire, I find astonishing how a ten year old can sum it up yet teachers seem to be blind to it:)). I’m almost on my holidays, I’ll be travelling to navan soon:)


  3. Eimear says

    I can really identify with your experience. The children in my class who came from certain areas where just sat in the corner. There was a definite class divide.
    Thanks for writing.


  4. Hazel Katherine Larkin says

    Thanks for this post, Karen. Just over a year ago, my (then) six-year old’s teacher told me my child was developmentally delayed in several areas. Alarmed, I scrounged up the money to take her to an Ed Psych. Turns out, my little girl is in the top 1%. But she was ‘quiet’ and ‘shy’ and ‘weird’ – so was labelled and treated as though she was slow – instead of being challenged.

    Children are different. They learn differently and they have different ways of expressing themselves. There is no one box that all children fit into. Our education system needs to realise that.


    • That’s so true, rather than take the time to encourage the quiet kids are left to their own devices. My little girl sounds similar to yours:)


  5. Bernie says

    Lovely piece, Karen. We were “graded” in secondary convent school and I, like you, remember feeling it just wasn’t right, and there was an air of superiority emanating from the A classrooms….. Harry Chapin captured a sentiment (not quite what you are rererring to, but it shows the importance of allowing a child freedom to be creative)
    Well done 🙂


  6. I’m fascinated by the research, but I’m not sure the solution would ever be to put every child in a class of 30 different children. I always think of my own son who is now thriving in a class of 6 where they can help him where he is weak (concentration, behaviour) and push him where he is strong (maths, science, history). I would wish that every child could enjoy school like he is now.


    • You make a very valid point, but unfortunately not many will be lucky to be in a class of six. My son is in a class of four within a room of almost thirty! Three different classes, the reach fascinated me too, and while I know it’s a numbers game I think confidence and self esteem can be encouraged by including all members of the class. Thanks for reading 🙂


  7. Benedicte says

    You’ve got a very clever and sensitive little girl Karen!
    Really enjoy the read, like you it brought me back many many years ago. I guess it is also up to us parents to make our children realise how special they are!


  8. says

    You totally nailed it, I went to a convent school in Rathmines,Dublin, and I coming from Tallaght, ….Huge mistake…I was the quite shy child sitting at the back of the classroom minding my own business. Teachers thought i was a D student,but little did they know i was listening to every word they said..I’ve always encouraged my girls to speck out,weather they irritate a teacher or not,its so easy in our Education system to get left behind and hate the School years..Hannah is one bright spark.::)


  9. Tasha Skelly says

    Another fab blog hun. Things never change. The social division in gems school is very evident. I’m kinda over it now but been a young single mother over the years i hve definately been looked down on by the more well to do 2 parent familys. I do a better job than most of them cause i hve to b both parents in my house 🙂 Schools really need to revise their methods if the quiet shy kids r ever to hve a chance to b equals in class.


    • I know Tash, and all the research is there just sometimes not put into practice. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.


  10. Andy (@militantcactus) says

    Missed this for some reason :/
    Love the lolly stick concept – just goes to prove that with some gentle nudging the quiet ones can answer questions or give an opinion.
    And Hannah’s one smart cookie 🙂


    • hey Andy, oh I was really ticked off when I lashed that one out:), lolly pop stick method is worth a try, I suppose it’s easier and quicker to ask the old reliables though. xx


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