School holidays have benefits for children; spare them the tuition

This child seems to embrace the Competency-Based Curriculum, a new system of education during the school holiday at his home in Karatina. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Education is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which moulds and develops men. Last week, Early Learning and Basic Education Principal Secretary Dr Julius Jwan advised heads of schools against subjecting learners to holiday tuition. “Let children enjoy their holiday. Let them be with their parents so that when we open schools in April, they will be ready to start a very intensive programme,” Dr Jwan said.

Education systems across the world provide holidays during which schools are closed from study. For Kenya, the school calendar is divided into three terms—designated as instructional days. During school holidays, students break off to be with their parents or guardians. The school holidays are normally not counted as instructional days. It is a time for students to rest—to relax from the inherent rigours of learning. Similarly teachers get the opportunity to rest or relax from the rigours of teaching, which entails or should entail much more than going to class to deliver lessons.

In the best of all possible worlds, the government would not be constrained to remind school administrators that holiday is not meant for institutionalised tuition.

Truth be told. School holidays create room for parents to spend time with their children. They also create time for the teachers to spend time with their own families. School holidays allows both students and teachers to recharge so they do not burn out. The curriculum students are expected to master is intellectually demanding. Learning it requires attention, concentration and focus—and in effect energy and nerve sapping. Similarly, teachers need to adequately prepare before they get into class. Effective teaching depends on how well the teacher is prepared to teach. And this process happens outside the classroom—outside the actual official instructional hours of between 8am and 3.30pm each day of the week.

The breaks during the school calendar are aimed at allowing the accumulated stressful period of learning and teaching during the term to cool off. The cooling off period enables students to go back to school with fresh minds ready for new and comparatively more complex learning experiences. It also helps teachers to steam off and get back to school at the beginning of the term recharged.

Holiday tuition does not allow the learner to relax or cool off from the stress or fatigue associated with learning. Failure to relax implies diminished attention, concentration and focus during lessons or instructional time. Learning happens when there is attention, concentration and focus. A teacher’s competence without learner attention, concentration and focus is an exercise in futility. Holiday tuition and the relaxation associated with it—on the part of the learners—guarantees effective learning.

Apart from sustaining or restoring learner attention, concentration and focus, school holidays creates room for children to play, and interact with siblings at home and peers from other schools. They invariably compare the distinct educational experience they each have had in the just ended term. The interaction has inherent educational value no teacher can discount.

Additionally, school holidays provide children with an opportunity to learn things not taught in school. The school or the classroom is not the only fountain of knowledge children require to live and or earn a living. Important as academics are, they are not the only component in a child’s education. Home life or life outside school, provides irreplaceable opportunities for children to interact socially. The world beyond the physical boundaries of the school has people who mentor, inspire and coach them about the vicissitudes of life as they participate in family and community life. They integrate this knowledge with what they learn at school.

School holidays enable their parents and guardians to understand them better and in case of negative embryonic tendencies, nip them in the bud. An educational institution is a kind of machine. Unlike a family, it is impersonal and overly regulated or structured. It doesn’t have the milk of kindness children or even adults find in families. Compassion, care for others, mercifulness or indulgence. That is the definition of a home. In most cases, the home provides a wider latitude for the idiosyncrasies and indulgences of children. Of course, outrageous ones are restrained.

Children want a piece of this—during school holidays. There is also adventure. The home or life outside school provides adventurous situations with significant educational benefits. It helps children develop technical, intellectual and social skills by overcoming challenges and sharing decisions. Adventure helps students to overcome fear, anxiety and physical stress. It means putting them in a problem fraught with risks.

I remember former Education Minister, the late Mutula Kilonzo, saying teachers should let children be at home, look after cows, and climb mango trees and when they fall down, in the process of plucking mangoes, they will be learning life’s lessons.

Educationally beneficial experiences to children during school holidays are family visits to relatives and friends, or tours when parents or guardians can afford them. Some families receive visitors and relatives. This too is educational in nature.

School holidays is a central element in educational policy, curricular and standards. To subject learners to holiday tuition is in fact to make nonsense of the educational policy, curricular and standards the government has designed for children—the next generation of leaders for the country.

School administrators have an obligation to nurture learners in ways that meets the holistic objectives of education. Those who insist on holiday tuition do so for commercial and not educational reasons the schools were established to meet.

They have no place in our system of education.