Quiet students lose out

March 1, 2013 - 06:27

Hyperactive pupils demand their teacher's attention, which often means their quiet classmates are overlooked. But these shy students may need just as much help as their boisterous peers.

Many quiet children have serious problems later in life. Sometimes these problems can be severe.

When researcher and former nurse Lisbeth Gravdal Kvarme advocates more support for schoolchildren who are shy, quiet and withdrawn, she says people often ask, "Why can’t we just leave them alone?”

“This type of attitude leaves these children without any chance to develop important social skills,” Kvarme argues.

“If they are to improve, they have to be challenged - but in a safe environment. We cannot just leave them be simply because teachers don’t want to bother them.”

Ten percent suffer seriously

Kvarme is an Associate Professor at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. With ten years of experience as a nurse, she has seen firsthand how withdrawn children struggle.

“We obviously need to respect that all children are not extroverts, but quiet pupils need to get used to hearing their own voice – even if they are shy by nature,” she adds.

Estimates suggest that between 10 and 30 percent of schoolchildren are shy and quiet - and of these, 10 percent are really suffering.

Struggling to cope later in life

Quiet children often find it difficult to keep up with fellow pupils because they fail to participate - but their problems extend far beyond the classroom. Many struggle to cope later in life, often experiencing bullying, depression or anxiety. A number may end up needing psychiatric treatment.

Access to school nurse
Lisbeth Gravdal Kvarme. (Photo: HiOA)

Kvarme agrees that noisy and hyperactive pupils need attention, because they can be disruptive as other students try to learn, but she emphasises that this should not come at the cost of quiet children.

Her background as a nurse leads her to recommend ‘drop-in’ access to nurses at school, without the need to book an appointment, which would be easier than the current situation. School nurses may be the only access children have to a medical practitioner, and can be a crucial channel for preventive care.

Quiet children want help

Research findings have shown that quiet schoolchildren want help to become more active and visible. Kvarme’s own research shows the importance of convincing these children that they are able to change their own behaviour.

Children need positive feedback from others to change their ways. They also need good role models and positive experiences with their new approach.

“Children learn through observing each other. When they become more socially confident, they will find it easier to make friends, to become more visible and to speak out in class,”  Kvarme says.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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