The Importance of the Independent Learner in Today’s Economy.

The impact of New Jersey’s financial crisis will be felt for many years. However, if New Jersey does not get its finances in order, the impact will be more significant and long lasting.

Reductions in education funding have been the most visible and widely publicized cut that New Jersey is now facing. California is in great hardship because they have not taken action as New Jersey is currently taking. This has caused California to close many of its schools and has even reduced the school calendar year by one full week to save money and help keep school doors open.

The most significant effect of reduced education funding will fall on the dependent student. What does this mean? Students are categorized into two groups: Independent and Dependent Learners.

Independent Learners have strong basic academic skills, and are at (or above) grade level. They are also generally well-organized and have good study habits.

Dependent Learners most often have skill gaps, are disorganized, and have poor study habits. The skills gaps are a significant contributor to the disorganization and poor study habits. Skill gaps lead to frustration and lack of confidence in a student. This often leads to reduced interest in specific areas of school or school in general.

We, as residents of New Jersey, have two choices: Fight City Hall — when was the last time that someone won this fight? — or learn how to flourish in this new environment. Remember, there is always an opportunity in every situation!

The effects of budget cuts on our schools.

The effects of reduced educational funding will cause class size to increase and reduce support in the classroom (i.e., classroom aides, special education and support teachers, reduced equipment, and school supplies). The Dependent Learner will suffer the most in this new reality of New Jersey education; the Independent Learner will flourish in this environment.

Academic skill gaps are a significant reason why students are dependent on extra resources in the schools. These are skills that have been forgotten or never mastered in earlier grades. Education is a series of building blocks. Skill gaps will have a significant effect on students as they progress through their education. Long summer breaks, non-educational activities, and home environments that do no support education are causes of dependent learners losing educational skills. Students not having the knowledge to utilize existing resources to their fullest extent are also a major skill gap.

What are the solutions?

Filling Skill Gaps
The first step in helping all students become Independent Learners is to identify and fill academic skill gaps. A good quality learning center that has proven materials and programs can quickly identify skill gaps and build a custom plan to fill the gaps. This approach has rapid results and often sets up the student for long-term results with a minimum investment of time and money.

Avoid Summer Learning Loss
Summer learning loss is a well-documented occurrence. Many studies show that students can lose as much as 2.5 months of skills over the long summer break. Many countries with a highly educated population do not have summer breaks in education. In fact, our summer break dates back to a time when the majority of the US population was employed in agriculture and needed the summer break to work their farms. As our country moved away from agriculture, the educational calendar remained the same even though the need for the summer break was no longer truly necessary.

Every student, including Independent Learners, would benefit from some form of structured education during the summer months. This is the only time of year that allows the Dependent Learner to make great progress in learning. The Dependent Learner can make great gains and ‘catch up’ with the educational skills of the rest of the grade that is currently on summer break.

Reduction of Non-Educational Activities
Students have very busy schedules. They must balance rigorous education demands, sports, clubs, and part-time jobs. Helping students reduce the time spent on non-educational activities can free up quality time needed to focus on education. While extra-curricular activities are important, they rarely lead to future careers. For example, many high school sports require a schedule commitment of 5 to 6 days per week. This significantly reduces the amount of time that students have for education requirements. Many of these students will never pursue a sports profession; however, they spend more of their high school education time on practicing sports than on practicing educational skills.

Create a general environment at home that supports education and the importance of a good, quality education.

Students are a product of their parents and culture. If parents are not creating the message at home that education is important and valuable then the children will not feel that education is important. Support from home is very crucial in order for students to succeed in this new educational environment.

Give students the tools to utilize all the resources that are available to them, and to their fullest extent.

Many students today do not understand how to utilize their textbooks as a resource for studying. Many students do not take proper notes that provide a high quality of recall of material covered in a class. Teaching the ability to utilize all the valuable resources that are available to them is very important in developing Independent Learners.

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