Preemies start life in a struggle to catch up; this struggle can extend into later childhood and even into adulthood. A group of researchers in Scotland have proposed adding gestation length to a child’s school records to identify the preemies in the classroom so schoolteachers will know which kids might need a little special attention and to even the educational playing field a little bit more in their favor.

Dr. Nashwa Matta says a previous Scottish study indicates that the more premature a child is born, the more likely s/he is to have problems at school. Matta, a Glasgow pediatrician, notes that the number of preemies born in Scotland is rising since more women are delaying motherhood until later in their reproductive years. Currently, there are about 4,000 babies born prematurely in Scotland every year.

Matta cites the differing levels of maturity among preemies as the reason for various intervention strategies as the child grows up. Many preemies are clever enough that problems might not become apparent until the child’s school work becomes more complex, as in primary or secondary school.

Children born prematurely may experience difficulties with visual perception, especially when mathematics and number studies are involved. Multitasking, memory, and short attention span are also challenges preemies face in school.

Children who demonstrate these learning difficulties are prone to become targets of bullying schoolmates. Emotional maturity can come slowly to a preemie and loneliness is often the result when a child is mocked, bullied, or shunned by his or her peers.

Matta finds the risk of not fitting in and academic difficulties are most alarming when the preemie is born near the end of the school year. An end-of-year birthdate puts the child starting school a year earlier than the rest of the class when the prematurely born child is likely to be developmentally behind already. In many cases, if end-of-year preemies had been carried to full term, they wouldn’t be eligible for school enrollment until the following year, when they’ve reached a more competitive degree of maturity.

The concept of adding gestation data on school records was proposed at a one-day conference of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons that Matta organized in Glasgow. By alerting schoolteachers to the circumstances of the prematurely born child, she says measures can be taken to bridge the gap of emotional maturity and academic difficulties between the child and its classmates instead of allowing the gap to grow wider.

Matta’s proposal found support in the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS). An EIS spokesperson said education professionals at all levels “are aware of the broad range of additional support” sometimes needed so each child can benefit fully from the education system.

Source: Bradford, Eleanor. “Premature babies may be disadvantaged later in life.” BBC News Scotland. BBC. Mar 5, 2014. Web. Mar 12, 2014.