Dad’s search to help son leads to effective learning aid

Jan Smit with some of the learning materials he has developed.

KOMATIPOORT –  When Jan Smit heard that his son with diagnosed with this disability, he immediately set out to find ways to help his young boy.

At that stage, the family lived in Swaziland and after several tests, Ritalin was prescribed. However, this had such adverse effects on the boy the family had to look at alternatives. While this was going on, Smit read up on everything that was related to his son’s problem.

After exhausting several avenues with therapists, his son went for eye tests and after receiving glasses they found that he was doing better in school. His “learning problem” was mostly caused by an eye issue. Thanks to his extensive research, Smit could help his son to catch up and improve in school.

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Smit had the opportunity to present a speech at the Swaziland branch of Toastmasters, a public speaking organisation, and titled it “The Pseudo-science of Psychology in Education”.

He spoke about his research findings and challenged how learning is presented to pupils, which caused a stir among the attendees. He was encouraged by some to condense his findings and present it as a learning course.

Hoping to help others to avoid the pitfalls of education, Smit developed “Natural Learning”, a course geared towards motivating pupils to learn and how to study in such a way that they remember more. “The educational conveyor belt is biased toward the analytical and rational learner.

“The intuitive and creative pupils lag behind their peers, become discouraged and eventually drop out of school. This is because no one has taught them how to learn in their own particular style,” he said.

The course started by explaining why learners were studying and asking what they wanted to achieve in the future to motivate them to learn. Next he looked at the brain, how it worked and revealed the secret of how to remember.

The process of learning was up next and pupils were taught that you studied through all of your senses. He explained how this was done and how to recall a memory through cues or triggers such as images, music or smells.

Lastly pupils were taught about efficient reading, the importance of sleep and the study environment and unconventional ways of making notes.

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Because of his broad focus, he drew on the best of learning methods from various countries and cultures.

“Teachers’ first task should be to ‘sell’ their subject to pupils and motivate them. Learning is like a slinky, 90 per cent revision,” he explained.

Smit approached the Department of Education’s head of curriculum in the early 2000s to provide them with the course for free and impressed the official, who wanted to incorporate it into the curriculum.  However, due to some shifts in positions, the proposal fell through and he had to start the process from scratch.

He has developed a simple and colourful course book and an in-depth teacher’s handbook, as well as a script for a CD. The material can also be presented via flipcharts for rural schools and electronically with PowerPoint slides for schools with more resources.

Smit has since done a trial with  20 pupils at Krugersdorp High School. Some had shown an increase of 15 to 20 per cent for their subjects.

He said a girl who used to bully other learners felt more placid and in control. He also presented the course to a group of children in Richards Bay, individuals and even members of organisation such as the SAPS, to a lot of positive feedback.

Smit has high hopes for his course, despite all the challenges he has faced. His ultimate aim is to help children and adults who struggle with conventional methods of learning to reach their full potential and motivate them to learn.

Anyone who is interested in finding out more about Natural Learning or having the course presented at their school can contact Smit on 082-573-2407 or [email protected].

Retha Nel

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