Sunday, August 26, 2012

Learners should not bear failures of the system

Sunday Nation 26 August 2012

As we continue to debate the merits and demerits of asking children to go to school during “school holidays”, there is a feeling that the debate is lacking in factual content, and is mainly concerned with emotional and financial considerations.
Perhaps the reason teachers and other proponents are unable to provide convincing arguments in favour of holiday tuition is that these reasons do not actually exist.

To recap, the following reasons are cited. First, that they need these extra classes to complete the curriculum. Second, that weak students need the extra classes to catch up with the others. Third, that some schools are less endowed with resources and need extra tuition to catch up with better resourced schools.

A critical examination of these reasons reveals that there is no serious justification for this practice. The first argument about inability to complete the curriculum in the allocated time speaks to a lack of expertise on the part of education planners, managers and implementers. The consequences of this failure should not be loaded on the children.

If the curriculum is overloaded, it should be decongested. If the school managers are unable to plan well enough to complete the curriculum during the school term, they should be retrained or retrenched. The same fate should befall teachers who are unable to complete the curriculum in the time stipulated by education experts.

The “weak student” argument does not justify subjecting whole classes to holiday tuition. It is unlikely that a whole class or school has only weak students, necessitating extra tuition for all of them.
The “under-resourced school” argument similarly does not adequately explain the nationwide craze for holiday tuition. In any case, if a school has no resources to deliver the curriculum during the school term, where do these resources materialise from during the holidays?

In my view, the diagnosis of the problem by the teachers may be correct, but the prescribed treatment (holiday tuition) is not beneficial, and may even be harmful. The truth is that the problems identified cannot be redressed by extra tuition which, as demonstrated below, may be more harmful than beneficial to the children.

Children learn through both didactic and experiential processes. Play and non-academic pursuits are just as important in learning as is classroom instruction and their absence stymies the children’s experiences, interfering with development of critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Further, a proper education system is structured to take into consideration the differential rate of cognitive development in children to avoid loading the mind with concepts that it is as yet unable to comprehend.
Extra tuition messes up with this process of gradual introduction of concepts, interfering with learning and creating a cohort of youth that is relatively rigid in their thinking, unable to appreciate experiences outside of what their teacher said in class.

Finally, inadequate rest causes physical and psychological stress, which is not only detrimental to learning, but also increases the risk of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and other disorders.

Parents advocating for holiday tuition partly because they are not ready to spend time with their “troublesome” children must weigh the purported benefits with the risks identified above, and decide if that is the fate they want for their young ones. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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