Struggling to stay in focus

Inattentive students have a harder time completing schooling than their hyperactive classmates

We all remember the sheer joy we felt as we tossed those square academic caps up in the air – high school graduation, that all-too-elusive moment, had finally become a reality. Most people will agree that the path to a diploma is a long and arduous one. It is not simply 12 years of sweat and toil, but also a period of confusion, uncertainty, frustration and a whole range of other emotions. However, for many students with difficulties paying attention, this much-anticipated day never arrives.

Researchers from the Université de Montréal found that only 29 per cent of children with attention problems finished high school compared to 89 per cent of children who did not exhibit such problems. When considering students who are hyperactive, the difference was smaller: 40 per cent of these individuals graduated versus 77 per cent of students without this difficulty. In the study, teachers evaluated whether students had attention problems by looking for specific behaviours, such as the inability to concentrate, absentmindedness, and the tendency to give up or become easily distracted. Hyperactivity was identified by behaviour such as restlessness, running around, squirming and fidgeting. Using data collected from the parents and teachers of 2000 children over a period of roughly 20 years, the researchers concluded that inattention, rather than hyperactivity, is more important as an indicator regarding whether someone will complete their high school education.

The findings of this study have important implications. First, they serve as a reminder to teachers and parents to be alert to problems of attentiveness in students. It is often the case that teachers are more inclined to identify hyperactive students, and overlook inattentive with inattentiveness, as these pupils tend to be quieter and don’t disturb the class. But, as the study showed, identifying the latter group of students is arguably more important, as they are at greater risk of not finishing high school.

Furthermore, this finding also raises the possibility of the need to define a specific medical profile, solely for inattentive students. Currently, they are often diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, three subtypes of ADHD exist: those who are predominantly inattentive, those who are predominantly hyperactive, and those who are a combination of both. Present treatment methods for ADHD include computer games, music, sports, and Montessori education, which is a type of instruction that stresses freedom, independence, and respect for the child’s natural psychological development. However, as a result of the lack of a singular profile just for inattentiveness, there is less specificity in treatment methods for this condition. Given how crucial inattentiveness could potentially be in determining whether students complete high school, lead author Jean-Baptiste Pingault asserts that it’s necessary for this additional profile to be created to increase the effectiveness of treatment, and maximize the students’ chances of graduating. It seems that, with further research on why students fail to complete high school, certain conditions that impede students’ learning can be more easily identified and treated.