I got a reality check two weeks ago when my sister told me that my beloved niece has homework to do after school everyday. No big you would think until you realize that my niece is 4 years old and at nursery school!
I was horrified, but my sister was resigned to this state of affairs because she hoped her daughter would get into one of the top private primary schools and this would require little young Missy to score 90% on the school’s entrance exam! My head was spinning, wondering how far have we sunk that a child needs to score 90% to gain admittance to primary one.
The reality is that the tip of the iceberg has simply popped up a lot earlier than it usually does. My rude awakening occurred a few years ago when another set of nieces and nephews returned from school with more homework than I can ever imagine ever doing. Four or five different sets are the norm, including one which requires that they show evidence of having read a news item in the day’s newspaper……the kids copied the newsprint word for word, regardless of whether they understood it or not!
The books school kids carry have got so numerous that the school bags now have wheels! The homework is so plentiful that in order to complete it before bed time one must start as soon as you arrive back from school. Now considering the Kampala traffic jam that means they get home at 6 pm and have to get studying immediately if they are to be in bed by 9pm. They sad thing is that these school kids are up every morning at 5am if they are to beat the traffic jam, so this works out to be a 16 hour study day……in primary school!
The devil in the detail is even more worrying. The drive to gain a school an academic reputation drives management to cram more and more lessons into a working day almost always at the expense of music, dance, drama and sports which have literally disappeared from the school activities. I have always asked friends how any schools in Kampala still have a choir…. Nobody knows but I am sure the results of such a survey would tell a sorry tale, one where the liberal arts have lost all respect.
I remember asking my nephew whether he played tennis, chess, drums or swam etc. His answer was the same: ‘I am not a member off the tennis society, not a member of the chess society, music society nor the swimming club’. This begs the question how does a child know which activity they would like to pursue if they are not exposed to everything first?
The worst part of all this academic rat race is the issue of after hours coaching. It has been so ingrained in kids and their parents that academic successs can not be had without being coached even during the school holidays. The dark side of this was exposed when a lady, concerned by her son’s unexpectedly poor performance in a particular subject, went to the school and sought out the teacher concerned. Without batting an eyelid the teacher informed her that her husband had not ‘facilitated’ him during this term!
There in lies a dangerous scam whereby teachers down grade your child’s test marks and then offer to ‘coach’ them to success. The trick is to always pick a bright student because they actually had no problems in the first place and will easily show ‘improvement’ with ‘coaching’. What this does to a child’s psyche is debatable, but I would wager that it does not build confidence nor self esteem.