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What is Remedial Education?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Remedial education is education which is designed to bring students who are lagging behind up to the level of achievement realized by their peers. Most commonly, it comes up in the context of postsecondary education which is designed to provide college students and adults with basic skills which they did not learn in high school. Educators who work in this field may work for remedial education programs at colleges and universities and for adult literacy programs which offer this type of education to people who are not interested in going to college, but could benefit from additional education.

There are a number of reasons why a student might need remedial education. Some students attend schools of poor quality, and don't receive adequate grounding in math and language to prepare them for college or life. Other students may have transferred in and out of schools or missed school a lot, creating gaps in their education which contribute to lack of knowledge in core subjects. Students may also have learning disorders and other issues which have impaired their ability to learn.

Historically, people who graduated high school without basic skills were out of luck. Some students who attended college started classes, realized that they were underprepared, and dropped out. Poorly educated adults struggled to find work and make a living, and often found themselves unable to advance because they lacked the skills they needed. Remedial education addresses these problems by giving people an opportunity to develop skills which they can use to pursue higher education and career goals.

In remedial programs, people are usually given assessments to determine their level of competency. Based on test results, the students are placed in classes which are most likely to provide benefits. Classes are often small, with a focus on high teacher-student interaction, and they can take place at night or during the day to accommodate various needs. In the course of the class, the instructor will bring students up to speed so that they have skills comparable to those of their peers.

Some students may be embarrassed about needing to take remedial education classes, especially if they are attending college or university. Some institutions have gotten around this by offering remedial courses in the summer so that students can start on the same level of their peers. Other programs have used slightly different names, since “remedial education” carries some negative connotations. Students should remember that if they need to take such classes, it probably reflects more on the education system than on them.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By subway11 — On Jul 04, 2010

Sunny27- I agree, but I don’t think that there is so much stigma for college students taking remedial courses anymore. It is so common that most college students probably accept it.

It is better to take care of any academic deficiencies in the beginning then to flunk out and lose the entire opportunity to earn a degree.

Many courses especially in math build on previous material, if the student did not have the foundation and knowledge of these topics, a student can not progress.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 04, 2010

Great article, and I agree that remedial students need not fee embarrassed by the notion of needed additional help. While there are many public schools that lead the nation in academic success, most do not.

As a matter of fact many states have an abysmal graduation rates with almost half not meeting the minimum requirements for a high school diploma.

Subsequently, more and more colleges and universities are expanding their selection of remedial courses.

Usually once a student completes a remedial course, he or she performs well in the remainder of their academic career. It is far better to take a remedial course than to never have graduated from college.

By anon65267 — On Feb 12, 2010

It is the best thing to help out the children who are suffering from this problem.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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