Repeating a school year will affect our children

While in primary school, repeating a class was frowned upon by all pupils. This is because the pupils who were forced to repeat a class were the ones who performed poorly in the previous end-year exams.

It was mostly the sole prerogative of teachers to choose the pupils who would repeat a class. Parents concurred with the teachers. I cannot remember even one instance where a parent questioned a teacher’s decision on the issue of their child repeating a class.

There were pupils who repeated different classes, several times. I remember one pupil, Mwangi, who even grew a beard and had a booming bass. We were with his younger brother, and he repeated classes a number of times, till we “found” him, and finished Class 8 with him. He was still performing dismally, but the school administration now just wanted to do away with him. They realised that, academically, he was beyond help. Plus, he was becoming a bad influence.

Way back, the modus operandi was, on the opening day of term one, the class teacher would, in front of the class, read the names of the pupils who would repeat the previous class. Then the repeaters, who were already in a new class, and came to school knowing they were being promoted to a new class, would carry their bags and return to their old class.

In this old class, some would have to bear subtle jibes from their new classmates, who would brand them names like, “dunderhead”. And that’s because, we were made to understand that the pupils who repeated classes were poor in academics and, of they didn’t pull up their socks, they would amount to nothing.

It was constantly drummed into our young heads that academics was the be-all and end-all. That repeaters would fail in life and pull handcarts, while those who passed exams would get good jobs and live enviable lives. 

I recall, when our successive class teachers called out the names of repeaters, I was separated from friends and desk mates.

I also recall a year when one pupil repeated a class, and went through the entire academic year without informing his parents that he had repeated. He was afraid that his parents would punish him. 

I don’t know about today, but, back then, no teacher or parent counselled a pupil who was set to repeat a class. Nobody cared to find out why a pupil had performed dismally. There were no remedial tests, which would have saved many a repeater from the pain and shame of repeating a whole year.

Nobody cared to know what a pupil who was set to repeat was thinking. They were expected to repeat a class, and tough it out. No buts. The strange thing is, many repeaters performed worse than expected. Maybe, just maybe, it was because - by the very act of repeating and words from parents, teachers and pupils - they had been labelled as failures, and they had resigned themselves to this fate. 

I realise that, in the present day, the circumstance that we find ourselves in is different. We are making all our children to repeat an entire year, because it’s a matter of life and death.

The experts are in a better position to make such life-altering decisions.

However, just like in my days, we have not heard from our children, who are the ones who’ll carry this enormous weight. The experts have acted like the class teachers of old; pronounced judgement on our learners, without offering them psycho-social support. 

Last week, I listened to a radio programme where they were asking pupils how they felt about the issue of repeating a class. They all said it was okay but I caught a tone of resignation in their voices.

Are our children really okay with this directive, or are they just parroting what their peers are saying? 

Let’s stop pretending. Our children are not all okay with this directive. Neither are some of us. But because there is nothing our children or we can do about it, we are biting the bullet. 

Do we know how our children will be affected by this directive?

Our children may not say it, and they may seem to be handling this weighty matter just fine, but they need counselling for them to come to terms with this pronouncement that has been made upon their destiny.

National exam candidates were pyschologically prepared to advance to the next phase of their academic journey. Now that journey has been stopped. If this happened to me, it would affect me.