The Key Features of Remedial Education (Updated 2019)

remedial education

Remedial education (aka remedial learning) is basic catch-up education. It is provided to students who have fallen below minimum standards. Remedial education usually focuses on basic literacy and numeracy skills to reach standardized benchmarks for typical students of a certain age.

It usually involves trained remedial education professionals working in intensive small groups or one-to-one sessions. Many parents pay for private remedial education (private tutoring) for students falling behind.

The term “remedial” comes from the phrase “remedy” which means to fix or make up for something that has happened in the past.

There are other terms for remedial education, such as:

  • Developmental Education,
  • Basic Skills Education,
  • 3R’s Education (Reading, Writing, Arithmetic)
  • Preparatory Education, and 
  • Academic Upgrading

Read also: A List of 107 Teaching Strategies

Definition of Remedial Education

If you are writing an essay on remedial education, you’ll probably need to use some scholarly definitions. Here are a few good ones:

  • Schwartz (2012, p. 6) defines remedial education as “specific educational interventions aimed at addressing learning needs of a targeted group of children who are lagging behind academically or not mastering specific competencies in the early grades.”
  • Kasran, Toran and Armin (2012, p. 1597) define remedial education as “efforts in education to overcome the weak pupils learning problems in primary schools, particularly focused on basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, under the auspices of Special Remedial Teachers who have received special training in this field.” 
  • Wu (2012) argues “remedial learning strategies target learners with a poorer rate of academic progress.”

Scholarly citations in APA format for each of these sources are provided at the end of the article.

What is the Purpose of Remedial Programs?

Remedial education has several purposes, such as:

To ensure basic human rights are guaranteed. 

Many students who enter remedial learning programs have never had basic education. This may be due to war, poverty, slavery or other issues that can impact vulnerable people in developing nations. Education is a basic right set out by the United Nations and needs to be delivered to all children of the world. Remedial education often catches students who have not received education and aims to help them catch up.

Improving literacy and numeracy skills. 

Remedial education tends to focus on basic skills for life: literacy and numeracy. With these basic skills, students can have a strong foundation for future learning.

Avoiding grade repetition. 

Often, students are asked to repeat a grade at school if they have not met minimum benchmarks. To avoid adding another year to their education, students can instead be given remedial courses to allow them to catch up.

For credit at university. 

Students who have not met entry benchmarks of have below-standard GPAs may be able to enrol in extra credit programs run by libraries or study skills tutors that allow them to recover their scores and continue studies.

Avoiding drop-out. 

Remedial programs can help lower attrition rates in education institutions by ensuring students have the support they need to succeed.

What Students go into a Remedial Program?

There is no uniform type of student who is sent to a remedial program. The only condition is that the student need to catch-up to a certain standard expected of them.

While special education has many similar characteristics, remedial education is not only for students with learning disabilities. Rather, remedial education supports any student who has fallen behind for any reason. 

Examples of students who attend remedial programs may include: 

  • Students who have missed classes due to illness, truancy, displacement, or travel;
  • Students and refugees from poor nations where basic education was not guaranteed;
  • Adults education who missed their basic training in childhood; and 
  • Students referred to remedial programs by their classroom teacher.

According to Schwartz (2012), minority and traditionally marginalized groups commonly require remedial education due to barriers to education they have faced in their lifetimes:

“Traditionally, children who have been excluded, who live in remote or conflicted affected areas, orphans and other vulnerable groups are most likely to need remedial education.” (Schwartz, 2012, p. 6)

Eight Types of Remedial Education

Several of the following types of remedial support can be used in conjunction or separately to help students catch up to age appropriate benchmarks.

Small group tutoring

Remedial courses often send ‘remedial students’ off into small groups to support students who are falling behind. Often, schools bring in specialists who peel off students into small groups to focus on specific interventions.

Similarly, a common teaching strategy is to allow higher achieving students to work in groups alone. This gives time for the teacher to spend focused time with a small group of students who need additional support.

One-to-one tutoring

One-to-one tutoring has either a trained specialist, the classroom teacher, or a volunteer spend individual time with a student. While it is an effective way of supporting students, it is resource intensive. It is often hard to find enough time and staff to have one-to-one interventions while also supporting the rest of the class. Some parents opt for paid private one-to-one tutoring to address this shortfall.

Private Tutoring

Private tutoring is one of the most popular formats for remedial support. Parents who have the funds to send their children to after-school tutoring may use this as an option to help ensure their students keep up with their peers.

Specialist Tutoring

Trained specialists, such as in the reading recovery program, can provide research-based systematic programs of support to help students reach benchmarks. Often, schools employ trained specialists to come into classrooms and take one-to-one or small-group sessions with students in need.

Volunteer tutoring

Schools often rely on volunteer tutors to help provide additional support to remedial students. This may take the form of ‘parent helpers’ who come into the classroom to help the teacher and get to know the class better. A challenge of volunteer tutoring is providing sufficient training and support for the volunteers so they can effectively help students.

Peer tutoring

Peer tutoring involves one student helping another student on their work. This may take the form of older students coming into the classroom to help younger students. Or, it may be getting more advanced students in the same class to pair up with less advanced students to help them learn. Peer tutoring is explored in more detail in our article on 107 teaching strategies for teachers.

Withdrawal system

A withdrawal system involves removing students entirely from a mainstream classroom for a short (one lesson) or long (indefinitely) time to give tailored support. 

The challenge of withdrawal systems is that it might stigmatize students and exclude them from participation in mainstream activities. Exclusion based on special needs is highly discouraged by contemporary education scholars.

Computer assisted interventions

Computer assisted interventions (CAIs) provide remedial education via computerized lessons.

Computers have some potential Benefits for students who are falling behind, including:

  • Self-paced lessons for mastery of content
  • Pause and rewind possibilities
  • Accessibility for rural and remote students

However, there are some challenges of CAIs such as:

  • Potential lack of synchronous teacher-student interaction
  • Cost of use of technologies and internet

Read also: 5 Examples of Cognitive Tools in Education

Read also: The Benefits of Wearable Technologies in Education

Typical Remedial Learning Settings

Before and after school hours

Interventions are commonly designed as after school activities. Similarly, university level remediation may take place as additional classes outside of regular class time.

This is a popular option for parents willing to employ private help to ensure their student keeps up with their class.

During school hours

Most officially endorsed remedial programs take place during school hours. 

In-school remediation has the benefit of having stronger links between the remedial educator and regular classroom teacher. The interventions can be well integrated in ways that complement what is happening during the rest of the school day.

Summer programs

Summer programs can help prevent learning loss over the summer. They also provide a prime opportunity for students to catch up with their peers while the peers are not in formal school setting over their break.

Many universities offer remedial summer programs to ensure students are upskilled for the upcoming semester. This is an option many students with non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB) may use to ensure they have the skills to succeed at an English language university.

Examples and Case Studies of Remedial Learning Programs

Reading Recovery (New Zealand)

Reading recovery is a whole language learning intervention for supporting children’s reading skills. It was developed in New Zealand in the 1970s but is now widely used in the UK and US. 

It was also commonplace in Australia prior to 2015 until the conservative government dropped whole language learning programs with a preference for phonics approaches.

The features of reading recovery are:

  • Designed for children ages 5 and 6 identified as having low literacy levels in their first years of schooling.
  • Runs between 12 and 20 weeks, 30 minutes per day.
  • Involves intensive one-to-one reading sessions with trained specialists.

If you want to further explore this case study, follow:

Read India Remedial Program (India)

At grade 5, half of rural Indian children cannot read at a grade 2 level.

Read India was a program aimed at improving reading levels in rural India. It was run by the NGO Pratham.

The intervention was structured as follows:

  • 3 month out-of-school intervention program for
  • Students grouped by learning level rather than age
  • Trained volunteers used as the educators

The program saw a 60% increase in learning abilities at the end of the program

If you want to use this case study for your own work, further reading is available here:

Pros and Cons of Remedial Learning Programs

a) Pros: Strengths of Remedial Education

Basic skills training

Everyone needs a good base of “foundational” skills. Foundational skills are the sorts of skills that are needed to learn more advanced things.

Examples are:

  • You need to know how to read so you can learn things from books
  • You need to know how to do addition before learning how to use money
  • You need to be able to write essays before doing college courses

Remedial education tends to focus on giving strong basic or ‘foundational’ knowledge to students so they can succeed in the future.

Reinforcement

Remedial education helps students reinforce knowledge. When a teacher presents information to their class, usually some will get it easily and be ready to move on. However, others will struggle. They will need reinforcement of the knowledge.

Unfortunately, students often don’t get a chance at reinforcement and knowledge consolidation. That’s where remedial classes come in!

Small group or one-to-one support

A remedial program will provide information in smaller, one to one opportunities for students. 

While a mainstream class may have 20 to 30 students in it, removal from that class to go into a remedial course will give them more tailored student-focused opportunities.

b) Cons: Weaknesses and Challenges of Remedial Education

Lack of support for teachers

Kasran, Toran and Amin (2012) published a scholarly article highlighting the lack of support provided for remedial education teachers. Overburdened workloads, lack of resources and insufficient learning environments are often faced by teachers. This may be because remedial education requires significant and targeted time and resources above and beyond what is normally provided in mainstream classrooms.

Reintegration requirement

Once a remedial program has ended, students are often returned to mainstream classrooms. However, once intensive interventions are removed, students may begin to struggle once more. 

A strong remedial program would provide students with not only knowledge but learning and study strategies that are used well after the intervention has ended.

Frequent Failure of Remedial Programs

Educators such as Michael Nietzal argue that remedial programs are less successful than we might hope. He argues that the use of remedial courses as prerequisites for college have low levels of success. His suggested alternative is embedded additional support and tutoring within mainstream courses so that students get ongoing support rather than a one-off remedial solution.

References for your Essay

Don’t forget to cite your sources! Teachers like to see scholarly citations to back up your claims.

Here are the scholarly sources I used for this article – feel free to use the citations below. They’re currently in APA format:

Schwartz, A. (2012). Remedial education to accelerate learning for all. GPE Working Paper Series on Learning 11(1): 1 – 65.

Wu, Y. (2012). Remedial learning. In: Seel, N. M. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of the sciences of learning. New York: Springer.

Poverty Action Lab. (n.d.). Remedial Education in India. Retrieved from: https://www.povertyactionlab.org/sites/default/files/resources/Case2_Balsakhi_India_.pdf 

Kasran, S., Toran, H., & Amin, A. (2012). Issues and trends in remedial education: what do the teachers say? Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 47(1): 1597-1604.

Generation Unlimited. (n.d.) Remedial Learning. Retrieved from: http://genunlimited.org/Remedial-Learning(1).pdf

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Chris Drew, PhD (aka The Helpful Professor)

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