Research from The University of Western Australia has found more needs to be done to help teachers support students returning to school after cancer treatment.
Cancer affects more than 600 children under the age of 15 in Australia every year, however there is currently little research on the important role teachers play in supporting those students.
Anne Gaunt, a Masters student in UWA’s Faculty of Education interviewed primary school teachers in Government and independent schools who have experience in dealing with students in remission from illnesses such as leukaemia and brain cancers.
Through talking to teachers she found many children who survive cancer end up with learning difficulties such as memory and recall problems, fine motor skill deficits and a loss of concentration. She said teachers needed to help identify these difficulties, which could often be confused with a socio-emotional or health issues related to cancer treatment.
“Sixty years ago, cancer was a death-sentence, but today eight out of 10 children diagnosed survive,” Ms Gaunt said.
“There is a serious problem of educational equality for children left with neurocognitive disability from their treatment. My research aims to shed light on this important issue for WA schools.”
“Although adverse neurocognitive effects are discussed for survivors of central nervous system cancer therapies, there is no research into how this matter is addressed in Australian classrooms.”
Ms Gaunt said the teachers interviewed indicated they wanted to be better prepared by understanding how to protect students’ wellbeing.
“They want to find out how best to encourage students to transition back into a school environment by providing them with manageable tasks, identifying learning disabilities and communicating better with the children’s family to support those students, as much as possible” she said.
The areas needing the most attention included developing IT learning programs to help cancer survivors learning and interaction with other students, more work into the cognitive rehabilitation of students and improved communication between teachers, families, school psychologists and hospital staff.
Ms Gaunt hopes the findings will help teachers by highlighting how they can better support students recovering from cancer in readjusting to school life.
The research has been published on The University of Western Australia’s website.
David Stacey (UWA Media and Public Relations Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229/ (+61 4) 32 637 716