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Life Is Too Hard For School Children: What Is The Way Forward?

The story of Abdul, an 8-year-old Primary 4 pupil who complained to his mother that life was too hard, as he was feeling overwhelmed with school work and the volume of daily homework, he had to cope with was the focus of last week's article. It also reiterated that it was an unhealthy development that included skipping classes; all of which places significant emotional strain on the children.

The article generated significant interest as many parents could relate to facing these challenges. There was consensus about the fact that most schools are placing too much pressure and burden of learning on our very young children. Several suggestions were made, but questions were also raised about the way forward.

The responses were taken on board and consultative engagements held with seasoned teachers, school administrators, parents as well as Ministry of Education officials. The facts of the matter are presented below, as well as suggestions on what we can be done to arrest this negative trend.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility as parents to ensure that our children are protected and learn in the most conducive manner. At the very least, they should not be endangered by unnecessary emotional strain and pressure beyond what they should be handling at vulnerable young ages.

Facts of the matter

First, the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, is responsible for drawing up, reviewing and updating the nine-year Basic Education Curriculum (BEC), which covers the six years of primary school education and the three years of junior secondary school.

The first edition of the BEC was published in 2007 and the second edition in 2012; with the major differences including a departure from modular curriculum to a theme-based approach. Furthermore, it collapsed similar subjects, such as Home Economics, and Agriculture were merged as 'Pre-Vocational Studies'. A total of 10 subjects make up the final conceptual framework for the BEC.

Second, individual schools are responsible for their approach to implementation of the themes outlined in the BEC, with flexibility to either add more subjects and incorporate activities that would enhance learning for their students. Thus, some schools adopt a Montessori approach, while others apply a British International Baccalaureate for Primary Education approach.

Some schools adopt an amalgam of several approaches,and some have no clear educational philosophy. The schools are also at liberty to design a schedule for homework that they feel is most appropriate for achieving their learning objectives.

Third, school administrators and some parents admit that they end up providing extra classes and loading the children with homework as a result of pressure from parents who simply want the children kept busy and out of the way, for a variety of reasons - ranging from busy work schedules, late closing hours at work, and being too exhausted to spend quality time with the children.

So, what is the way forward?

Many children are caving in, under the emotional strain and pressure of studying for 10 - 12 hours every day at sometimes very precocious ages of 3 years old, so what is the way forward? The following are suggested proactive steps that can help to push back against this negative trend. These suggestions fall under three categories:

Role of the Government: The Government, through the Ministry of Education has the responsibility of providing regulation and oversight functions over the school curriculum implementation approaches. This responsibility should not be shirked, as primary school education is the foundation upon which subsequent learning is built upon. We need to get it right, starting from the very basics. We can certainly borrow a leaf from Scandinavian countries such as Finland, where primary school children learn through exploration and play, with minimal homework; yet they excel amongst their peers across the world.

Role of Schools: The school administrators must put their foot down and ensure that their responses to parental pressure is evidence-based and guided by global best practices. Even when understandably, parents work late and need the children to be kept after school, it needs not be for additional lessons, after a full day of schooling already. What is wrong with the children playing or sleeping while waiting for their parents?

Role of Parents: Parental education and awareness campaigns are urgently required to stop petty ego trips such as boasting about early age of entering secondary school, how many classes skipped as evidence of brilliance etc. These are not helpful. Even more importantly, parents who are aware, need to mobilise other parents ahead, and make a push to engage the School Authorities and other parents during PTA meetings. We need to rescue our children, and the best time to have started was yesterday. The next best time to start is NOW.
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Publication:Nigerian Tribune (Oyo State, Nigeria)
Date:Feb 28, 2019
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