The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Our Children Need Well-Rounded Education

opinion

Some time back a friend told me her child is lamenting because she thinks the holidays are too long. She loves school. I could not believe my ears. My boys would never complain of a long holiday, never! They die to be out of school. I read a book once by James Dobson about raising boys. In one of the chapters he tells how the schooling system is not friendly to boys. Whereas sitting still and concentrating for spans of time is not too difficult for little girls, it is torture for small boys who are wired with so much energy. His advice was to gear school activities in such a way that their energy is maximised.

Being a mother of boys I tend to agree with his assessment. Over the weekend the boys' school held a prize giving day and as is often the case, most of the prizes, except for sports, went to girls. I looked on trying hard not to be envious as my friends with girls left with myriad certificates. I consoled myself though with the various sport certificates my boys have won over the years and the few general ones they got that day.

The sad truth though is that education in Kenya is becoming a cut throat business. Sometimes I wonder what we expect to achieve with all the pressure given children to perform. I watch some of the neighbourhood children standing in the cold stooping under the weight of their school bags waiting for the bus at the crack of dawn. Some of them will not be back till almost nightfall. I met a gentleman running a study centre who told me of a parent whose six-year-old child goes to school, for Kumon, and for tuition. The little boy is so overwhelmed by the homework from the three sources. Yet his father keeps pushing him and pushing him.

Please don't get me wrong. I am all for children being motivated to aim high and excel; but I also believe that there is a limit beyond which the pressure ceases to be motivating and borders on abuse. If all the pressure is geared towards only one part of the child's development, then it is ultimately destructive.

My years as a stay-home mom made me realise that education is so much more than the ABCs and the 123s. Those are important and they have their place. But there is a whole lot more learning that takes place in the playground, at home and outside the formal set up that is as important. Through playing for instance, a child learns how to interact with others, how to assert themselves and how to negotiate and respect others. Within the playground, socialisation takes place and the children with inborn leadership traits begin to hone in their abilities. Sporting abilities also get expression in the field and the child quickly begins to learn that there is another law altogether at play beyond the controlled home and school environment; the instinctive law of the jungle. Pretty soon you get the opportunity, as a parent, to recognise your child's strengths and weaknesses and are able to know where to focus your attention as you help your child attain their full potential.

Whereas academic excellence is important, I think it is also overrated. The assumption that success in the classroom is equal to all round success is not only false but dangerous. Many gifted students have gone through the system unprepared for life outside the classroom. They were never given opportunity to try or learn other important life skills and this has ended up crippling their potential. I cringe when I visit homes where children are not allowed to clean, play or get involved in sport because they have to study. It saddens me that their well-meaning parents don't seem to realise it takes so much more than books smart to make you succeed in the real world. A person also needs to learn how to lead and manage self.

As parents Tony and I have committed to striving to do both: to ensure that TJ and Toriah give their school work their best effort but to also give their individual gifting room for expression. We will also endeavour to teach them to clean and be responsible for themselves and for their environment. Hopefully we will raise them to not just be academically apt, but to be responsible citizens and, more importantly to me, good husbands.

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