Teachers can help students to learn with minimal stress

Students of Starehe Boys' Centre perform a dance during the commemoration of the Centre's 60th Founders' Day at the school in Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

In the late 1990s, students of Butere Girls High School used to march on roads and paths within the vicinity of the school. After stepping out of the main gate and onto Butere-Shiatsala road, they would take any direction—but always in the company of a teacher or teachers.

The institution was then headed by a vibrant lady by Mrs Ruth Otieno. The march always took place after the formal teaching which the Ministry of Education designates as 3.30pm. The students took long walks during games time along the busy Butere-Shiatsala road, either towards Butere Upper Market or towards Butere Lower Market. Sometimes, they branched off the main Butere-Shiatsala road into smaller roads.

They would always be back to school in time for supper around 6pm in readiness for ‘preps’ time. The Ministry of Education designates ‘preps’ to start at around 7pm until around 9.30pm.

I was fascinated by the spectacle for several reasons. The marching reminded me of the experience I had at National Youth Service in Gilgil between May and August 1986. Part of the training entailed what in military lingo is called route or foot march—a long march on foot, done by soldiers when training over rough roads, tracks or difficult terrain.

Difficult though it was, the foot march gave us an opportunity to walk out of what appeared to us as a restricted environment.

The walk of Butere Girls High School students was also leisurely, just like ours a decade earlier. Some of the students jumped up and down, others playfully ran after each other, plucking leaves here and there and sniffing at them. Obviously, the students were enjoying the walks and being away from the rigours of academics.

Once in a while, I saw some students simply walking barefoot, apparently wanting to feel Mother Earth without the obstruction of shoes.

The marches created an opportunity for students to walk away from the school routine. They gave students time to relax their minds, body and spirit.

Embedded in a quality education such as ours is curriculum rigour. A rigorous curriculum is cognitively demanding and challenging to students. Besides, they sit for long hours in the class.

Five or six hours of class hours leave students drained. The route march I observed students of Butere Girls undertake was doubtless, therapeutic. It refreshed their minds, bodies and spirits.

The walks are not the only strategy to obviate the monotony of teaching and learning. The Ministry of Education has provided what it calls school hours—period during which the student is expected to be in school. The policy outlines what should happen and at what time during the school day.

Section 84 of the Basic Education Regulations, 2015 provides for co-curricular activities from Monday to Friday. It also provides for breaks reasonably long enough during formal teaching hours for students to relax.

It also provide for self-directed activities from Monday to Friday, and for preps between 7.30pm and 9.30pm where students are left to carry out their individual learning or revision work.

This breaks the monotony of actual teaching and learning in the classroom. Students get to learn without stress. Whatever stress that is associated with the rigours of learning is obviated by the breaks.

We have other techniques of making learning rigorous but fun at the same time. Secondary school administrations in the ‘70s and early ‘80s devised creative systems of helping the students reduce the tension or stress associated with learning.

Some headmasters and headmistresses invited music bands to play for the students during some weekends and students danced the whole afternoon.

Others heads organised symposiums in certain subjects where, almost always, the discussions were between a boys’ and a girls’ secondary schools.

I had glorious moments participating in discussions of the then “A” Level Christian Religious Education between students of Kakamega High School and Mukumu Girls High School one Saturday. We had a similar academic exercise later with students of Bunyore Girls High School.

We always went to the girls’ school. I don’t know why. But whatever the reason, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Sometimes dancing was organised after the discussions; a session that lasted about an hour. The students left the symposiums thoroughly entertained and relaxed. And slept soundly without stress later. We embarked on the new week with fresh minds eager to learn.

There were also sporting activities where the entire student body got immersed either as participants or fans.

In other words, the school administrators did certain things to create an esprit de corps, a feeling of pride and mutual loyalty students shared about their school.

The classroom was never a source of stress for the students. The cheerful atmosphere that permeated the students’ body diffused whatever irritations and anger they encountered in school.

All these happened because the overriding focus of the teachers and the students was the curriculum: Knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and desired behavioural disposition. Every school programme was meant to build the minds, hearts and souls of learners.