By: Ayanfeoluwa Edun
The definition of underachievement is still under scrutiny as various schools of thoughts are yet to reach an acceptable consensus. However, underachievement is, in general, the discrepancy between an individual's performance and his or her abilities. It's believed that a gifted student is one with a score of 135 and above on the Stanford-Binet's IQ scale. I want to inform my audience about the identity of talented students. It's a misconception that they're usually among the best in their class – or even prefects and honour students. Gifted students are not always those with the best grades. It isn't easy to accurately delineate their characteristics. It, however, becomes easier to recognise them when their certain general peculiarities are understood. Gifted underachievement is due to a variety of factors spanning across the school, home, and relationship. Some of the school causes are peer pressure, deficiency of challenge, inadequate curriculum, unidentified learning disabilities, changing of school, conflict with teachers, insufficient teaching aid etc. Among the home causes are overprotectiveness, marital conflict, exaggerated expectations by parents/guardians, sibling rivalry, unsupportive parents, lack or excess attention, lack of parent-child communication etc.
All of these factors negatively impact gifted students. Usually, they begin losing interest in school activities – sometimes inadvertently. While some may be particularly interested in a specific area, they often don't perform up to their abilities. A gifted student from a fragile home always has to worry about the condition of his or her family while struggling to keep up with school activities. Yet, another gifted individual may have difficulty thriving in a traditional learning environment. Albert Einstein was a typical example of this kind of underachieving student. Unfortunately, unfriendly family factors are major players among the causes of underachievement in gifted students.
While this problem is largely recognised in developed countries, it's hardly known in developing ones. In these countries where economic marginalisation is a societal norm, quality education can only be accessed by those with surplus financial resources. The unprivileged get to attend public schools which are usually poorly funded. Some of the problems at poorly funded schools include insufficient teaching aid, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate number of teachers, more unqualified teachers than qualified ones, substandard school facilities, lack of necessary facilities to improve learning process etc. As you might have guessed, the problem of underachievement usually goes unnoticed. In such schools, gifted students face worse challenges compared to their counterparts in developed countries. Imagine a case where a gifted student suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) attends a poorly funded public school with insufficient qualified teachers, let alone a guidance and counsellor's office. If the worst comes to the worst, he or she might get expelled for becoming a deviant. Little wonder many of these individuals gifted in the use of computers (especially in coding) turn to internet fraud, a.k.a. Yahoo-Yahoo as it's called in my part of the world.
Coming back to less extreme cases, a gifted underachieving student may realise his or her potential a little too late. I call this Late Discovery. The effect of this is usually felt later in life. At the early stage, it may begin when they're processing their university application. Mainstream university applications place hyperbolic emphasis on standardised test scores and academic reports which are often a skewed representation of their abilities. As a result, this leads to the discrimination of gifted underachievers by the universities. Education systems in most of the world are not in favour of underachievers - it hasn't changed proportionately over the years, not to mention the lack of adoption of flexible and inclusive university application methods.
To tackle this problem, we must treat each student individually. The broadness of the problem of underachievement makes it impossible to treat it with a single solution. But first, recognising the problem is just as crucial as handling it. Effective leadership management is critical in helping underachieving students. Encouraging healthy parent-to-child and teacher-to-student relationship will also help a great deal in improving an underachiever's self-esteem, which will, in turn, reflect in his or her academic performances. It is also essential for schools, in general, to treat students as an individual, and not as generic robots fresh off an assembly line.