6 March 2013

Kenya: Let Children Take Charge of Their Learning


One of the tasks I hate most in parenting is helping with homework. I think the main reason is because my boys and I do not necessarily have the same idea about what helping is.

According to them, helping means doing the homework for them whereas as far as I am concerned, helping means just that helping - more so where one is stuck. As my sister once told me, the reason we pay school fees is so that someone else can do the teaching of ABC and 123.

Actually I don't remember my mom ever doing with me my homework or even sitting with me as I did my homework. It was obvious to me, even then, that homework was my responsibility; her role was to make sure I did it. In the event that I didn't, well, let's just say that my experience the following day in school would not be all painless.

Back in the day, children knew that homework was their responsibility and they suffered the consequences by themselves back in school when they did not do it. I don't recall either of my parents being summoned to school because of my homework or even getting a letter. The teachers dealt with it. You got your punishment and over time got the message: Homework is your responsibility.

I wish my children went to school back in the day. In a weird way I feel cheated every time I get a note from the teacher about an assignment not done or when I am sitting like a sentry on the table waiting for the boys to finish their homework. I realise that as a parent I need to encourage my children with their school work, but I am convinced that somewhere within the process our children have began to lose the sense of responsibility.

They begin to believe that homework is a shared responsibility and my role is to keep reminding them to do it and to make sure that it is done well. Worse still there is the pressure on my side that all the answers need to be correct.

My cousin was visiting once as I 'helped' the boys with homework. She watched the drama for a while and then called me aside and shared with me what has been a lifesaver for me. Perhaps the information was obvious to most parents, but being an A type persona and an overachiever, it was a major eye-opener.

"Carole" she began, "I think you are crippling your children intellectually." She went on to explain that homework was extra work done at home to ensure that the children understood the concepts taught earlier in the day. The only way the teacher would tell my child did not properly understand a concept was if the child got the assignment wrong. "Allow them to do their work and make mistakes Carole. That is how children learn."

I realised that day that the pressure I had perceived as coming from outside was actually internal. I needed to allow my children to learn and the best way to do this was to ensure that they did their own homework.

If they did not understand a concept I would try and explain it, but now instead of poring over their work, I just made sure that the amount that was to be covered had been covered, whether or not they made mistakes in the process.

The process has been an arduous one, but it has also been fulfilling as I watch my boys take responsibility of their learning and actually learn. Yes, some stuff has changed from the old days, but not all things.

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