Mobility impacts learning

It’s a fact: Mobility impacts learning. Teachers in International Schools know it. Psychologists such as Douglas Ota and Lois Bushong know it. Researchers including Professor John Hattie and now Australia’s NSW Department of Education know it too. On the surface, the news looks bad for students who move schools out-of-synch with normal transitions (such as beginning high school). The first step to addressing any problem is to identify it. From there, we can work towards a solution…and the good news is, there is a solution.

 First the bad news:

The problemMoving is regarded as equally as stressful as death and divorce and repatriating is the hardest of all moves. In 2009, Professor John Hattie published the largest educational study of its time, looking at what actually works to improve student learning. Ranked 138 out of 138 (i.e. the single factor most detrimental to learning), is unmanaged mobility.

New research from Australia’s NSW Department of Education aligns with Hattie’s research and from my experience as a domestically mobile child, a parent of two globally mobile children and a former teacher in an International school. Last week, Alexandra Smith from the Sydney Morning Herald reported, “students who change schools several times do worse in literacy and numeracy than their peers.”* The statistics are confronting. In the Australian state of NSW alone, 54 000 government school students change schools each year, 1 in 4 students change schools at least once, 55% of school moves occur during the school year and 1 in 8 schools have high levels of student mobility. The moves recorded in this data do not include forecast moves such as beginning Year 7 or entering an Opportunity Class nor do they include students in the Independent School sector.

Why is this so, I hear you ask? Transitioning to a new environment is hard. It impacts the academic, social, emotional, physical and spiritual elements of a child…and their family.

Academically, gaps in learning are inevitable as schools design their own curriculum based on their educational authority’s syllabus. It would be nice to think that, in Australia, the implementation of the Australian Curriculum would impact positively on this, for those moving within Australia. With each state interpreting it differently, however, it appears there will still be discrepancies.

Socially, leaving old friends and making new friends is onerous. Working through the grief and loss of saying goodbye (if, in fact there was an opportunity to say goodbye), suppressing the feeling of disloyalty to old friends whilst trying to make new friends and dissecting the new social norms are just some of the challenges associated with the lack of belonging in a new school.

Emotionally, these domestically and globally mobile students arrive at a new school feeling sad and anxious. Sad because they have lost the familiar old life, anxious because everything is new and unknown. Add to this, anger at the parent/s who made them move and we have a cocktail of emotional turmoil that make focusing on schoolwork incredibly difficult.

Physically, all of the above takes a toll on a child or adolescent’s body. Symptoms of the strain such as stomach cramps and headaches, physical hyper-sensitivity and cultural fatigue resulting in exhaustion are common. Importantly, memory loss can also be apparent in mobile children who have so much going on in their world at this time.

Spiritually, it is not uncommon for questions to be asked about a Higher Power and themselves. When there is no support network to cling to, in a new environment, some students may grow stronger in their faith resulting in an inner peace whilst others may feel abandoned or angry thus adding more stress. With a transition to a new environment, questions of “Who am I?” are natural. The development of identity is inextricably linked to self-confidence and developed by learning basic cultural cues from society, as children. In many cases, for domestically and globally mobile children however, those cultural cues keep changing as they move from one culture to another or even one sub-culture to another. Their assurance of who they are and their self-confidence can be compromised.

Add to all of this, the fact that other family members are also transitioning to a new environment and going through their own challenges plus comprehensive school-based programs for handling the challenges associated with moving rarely exist so finding support can be difficult, if not impossible. It is not surprising the statistics show that these students can struggle in the classroom.

What can we do about it?

Now the good news:

Amongst those NSW Department of Education statistics was one that, as an advisor to schools & families on transition, concerned me greatly. 1 in 8 government schools have high levels of student mobility. What are they doing to support their students through the challenges of transition?

The solutionBy developing and implementing a comprehensive school-based transitions program, these schools can significantly reduce the negative impact of mobility upon their students’ learning. In supporting mobile students and their families, they can learn to think about transitions as a process, a life experience that can be purposefully managed…and that is the key, unmanaged mobility is what causes the trauma, managed mobility can be full of positives.

It is predicted that Generation Z will have 17 different jobs, 5 different careers and live in 15 different homes. ** Learning to proactively engage in the process of transition will be a vital skill for success in the 21st Century so by providing focused attention and nurturing, whilst looking carefully at one transition, schools can help their students & their families to more effectively engage in all transitions in life – whatever the context. By implementing comprehensive transitions programs, schools can ensure that mobility is not traumatic but a springboard for growth, not an inhibitor to learning but a facilitator of learning.

Does your school need help to develop a comprehensive transitions program in order to place your domestically and globally mobile students, their families and those who educate them in a position to succeed, inside and outside the classroom? Contact me. 

* Alexandra Smith

** Mark McCrindle

Photo Credit: Artflakes



2 thoughts on “Mobility Impacts Learning: The Bad News and the Good News

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