By Peter Nguli
As the war of words continues between the Education minister and the teachers over holiday school tuition classes, the rot learning continues to wreck havoc on pupils as parents dig deeper in their wallets to pay for the tuition services. But what are the implications of this holiday tuitions to the pupils, parents and teachers? Are they worth the cost?
What our education system strives to produce are creative and intelligent youth who will take our country forward into the golden age. Instead, what it mostly produces are robots that possess an amazing capacity for storing facts and churning them out at the press of the right button.
Qualities like independent thinking, problem-solving ability, initiative, leadership skills and social competence fall by the wayside as getting high grades becomes their only goal. Sadly these are the very qualities that our youth need to succeed in life.
According to Nita Kulkarni, a freelance journalist, ‘programming’ starts early in life, in school itself. The ideal student is one who has the ability to sit quietly for hours, his eyes transfixed on the blackboard, never contradicting the teachers. He is one who works neatly, quietly and for long hours.
This favourite of the teachers realises soon enough that this is all that he needs to excel in school. He has to become obedient and organised, and give up large chunks of his ‘idle’ time. This precious time is time which every child deserves to have, time which every child uses to gradually develop his creative and social skills.
The problem is that there is minimal or no research available to know exactly the impact of coaching classes on the student’s academic performance, or the psychological, intellectual and physical repercussions. This is not counting the financial burden on families.
What parents and pupils fail to understand is that developing skills is essential for the child, not just being a book-worm. When a child loiters around playing marbles, ‘hanging out’, cycling, or just doing ‘nothing’ he is actually developing leadership and social skills.
And when a child spends time learning extra-curricular skills like swimming, playing the isikhuti, climbing trees or simply playing football, he is developing. So if a child aims to please his teachers, gives up what he has to, and concentrates on getting high grades, he will go on to be a 'top cream'. Intelligence may or may not be one of his qualities but he will nevertheless get the best start in life.
He will procure admission in a good college or high school of his choice, and perhaps get a high-paying job in a multinational firm. But few years later, he may well be surprised to see that someone whom he considers ‘mediocre’ has overtaken him in the rat race.
That is why we should support Mutula Kilonzo, the Education Minister because in Kenya, holiday tuitions have become a parallel education system– the coaching class industry – and is a booming, thriving multi-million business. Parents pay dearly because it is compulsory and pupils who fail to pay are sent back, perhaps even punished. Some schools in rural areas charge about 2000/= on average but what is painful is that some families have little or nothing to eat at all, leave alone being able to pay for their children's extra lessons during holidays.
We all know that majority of Kenyans, over 60% of the population, live under one dollar a day according to World Bank projections. No wonder these fees are exorbitant for an average parent or someone with a low income a month and perhaps other kids to educate. In some areas, there is severe famine or drought and where farming is practicable, parents still struggle to make the ends meet. So there is no doubt that the tuitions do deliver the goods but at what cost?
The main problems is manipulation by teachers and in some cases a form of blackmail arises in which teachers teaches only half the curriculum during the term and then require their pupils to pay for their other half during the holiday tuitions. The bitter reality is that academic brilliance does not always guarantee future success. And neither do the tuitions guarantee that brilliance. It is often the so-called ‘average’ student who goes on to achieve great things.
Teachers may rightly blame this on an over-loaded curriculum and cut-throat competitions. But this cannot be justified at the expense of physical and mental strain these tuitions put on the students. Ideally, the calendar dates may show its school holidays but the student has not enjoyed his holiday.
Teachers may further argue that they are simply filling a desperate need because of a bloated syllabus hence the rote learning that is required by our examination system – thus leading to these tuitions so as to spoon-feed students and teach them ‘tricks’ to beat exams. But in reality these tuitions don’t teach, they make you solve paper after exam paper and provide tips to score well.
Forget about real knowledge or even developing any mental abilities (besides memory) – it’s the marks that count. On the same note, teachers rightly argue that private schools do better because tuitions are the order of the day. Which begs the question: Do the ministry's directive banning tuitions also affect private schools?
The pressure that teachers and some parents exert on children to do well at school seems somewhat pointless if academic success does not always bestow a life-time of success on children and in contrast it’s not every student who attends the tuitions is guaranteed of the same as a lot depends on ability.