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.