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Let the children play

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WHOEVER said a curriculum cannot succeed unless the learners are caged all year round was wrong.

Do children need to be caged all year round to understand things related to their lives?

It now appears that our children’s time is all swallowed in education quarantine, weekend classes, extra lessons, holiday lessons, even lessons on public holidays, to the exclusion of everything else.

And after all this effort, what type of a human being are we producing?

I cannot help but revisit Charles Dickens’ character, Sissy Jupe, in Hard Times, a satirical treatment of the British education system.

Jupe is dismissed for failing to define a horse while a classmate wins all the accolades for defining a horse as follows; “…graminivorous, quadruped, 44 teeth, sheds hoofs in the summer ….”

This is a classic example of the factory model of education, of the traditionalist approach to teaching and learning, which the British education then promoted. 

What mattered was not your feelings nor your emotions; not how a child feels when he/she sees a horse, when he/she caresses its soft silky coat, no, all that was dismissed as inadmissible; what was admissible were hard facts only, as emphasized by the teacher.

What has happened to the Zimbabwean intellect? 

Has it deteriorated so much that, for students to be successful, they have to spend the whole year in school, without break?

For so many years in our country, for decades in fact, children went to school under stringent conditions, with a minimum of teaching aids, insufficient textbooks, no libraries (the likes of Dambudzo Marechera scrounged garbage sites reading cereal boxes and discarded magazines), no TVs, computers, calculators and laboratories, poorly paid teachers including examinatins calculated to let through only specific percentages of Africans.

There were no extra lessons, holiday lessons nor weekend lessons, but children still passed, overwhelmingly so, spilling over to neighbouring countries because the bottleneck system failed to strangle the Zimbabwe intellect, and wherever Zimbabwe’s children went for further education, they excelled, they blazed a trail!

That could not have been a fluke.

Who is this then who has hatched this lie that our children can no more make it; that they need to be in the school all year round, including weekends; that their intellect has deteriorated to the extent they cannot master anything unless they are in permanent school quarantine? 

This is not learning, it is imprisonment.

This is shutting them in factories six-to-six and beyond.

Some parents have bought into this lie that their children cannot make it unless they spend 365 days in school, that this is the only way their children can learn… learn what?

 So bad has the situation become that the children have now lost confidence in themselves. They now believe they won’t make it unless they take extra lessons, holiday lessons, weekend lessons and they plead with their parents to pay for extra lessons or else they won’t make it.

Recently, a child came home ecstatic to announce that that the best in the class are among the ‘stayers’. 

“We have registered the greatest improvement in our class,” he chimed. 

He has confidence in himself because he is a stayer; he stays behind for extra lessons, outside that he does not believe he could make it. 

Recently, a child was asked by his father whether he has been doing his homework. He replied yes.  Has it been marked, he answered no. Why? Because the father has not paid the US$10 for extra lessons.

What does this do to the child’s psyche? What does this do to the Zimbabwean psyche?  Children end up feeling they are dumb unless they spend all their time in school.

But this is far from the truth, Zimbabwean children have been excelling for eons until someone hatched this lie that they can no more make it unless they stay caged in school.

When do the children process the material they are forced to swallow all year round? 

They need time away from the classroom, to think through stuff learnt, sift it, ensconce with it if necessary, relate it to real life and discard what’s useless.

Children are intelligent beings who must have normal lives, you don’t create geniuses, by locking up children all year round, it has never worked that way? 

This is why, in many cases, geniuses are school dropouts. 

They have to drop out of school to be free to think, to dig out each special intelligence in them, and when they find the hidden treasure in them, they are able to make landmark contributions to their communities, society and the world. 

Reflection is a critical intellectual process and our children are starved of this and then labelled dumb.

Who hatched this creature called ‘extra lessons’, ‘holiday lessons’, and mountains of incomprehensible homework?  

Free the children, let them be intelligent beings, not automatons. 

Why is it the products of this excessive drilling are totally disabled once they leave school. 

They cannot contribute anything for their own upkeep, for the family, community, nor the society; they tend to be parasites who are experts at computer games, abusing drugs and dressing like renegades. 

What have we bequeathed to them? 

Whatever did we keep them in quarantine for, for over 10 years when they are totally inept in the art of living.

Is it not because we have deprived them of the play component outside the school system.

We are denying our children the chance to play yet it is an important way of learning.

Much of meaningful learning takes place outside the classroom and yet we lock the children out of this all-important arena of learning. 

Because of the current obsession with caging up the children in the school, the kids in the city no longer have the opportunity to go home (kumusha) since their holidays have been swallowed by holiday lessons. 

They no longer have the opportunity to be with their grandparents and siblings in the extended family, so they are denied the opportunity to know who they are, where they come from and what matters in life. 

They miss out on great moments of harvesting with mbuya nasekuru as well as cousins and friends; to fish and to herd cattle, to watch uncle build a hut and assist with that, and how to milk cows and enjoy the warm fresh milk straight from the udder. 

We are not letting in fresh air into the lives of the children, into their minds, mundangariro dzavo.

We believe in locking them up behind four walls, and we tell ourselves this is education when, in fact, it is a travesty and our country is paying.

Children who spend all their lives behind four walls are headed for disaster and our nation is bleeding. When children come back from kumusha they feel normal, full of fresh ideas and confident about who they are, vangava Sambiri, kanaSamaita, kanaMandlovu, Mamoyo kana Masibanda, yet how can this happen when they are always caged. 

Teachers tell parents who resist paying for extra lessons not to blame them when their children do not make it. 

But what is the problem, these children are not mentally challenged, why can they not learn under normal circumstances without extra drumming and drilling.

The pundits of extra-drumming and sentencing our children to ‘permanent’ education know what they are up to; it is a harsh attack on the Zimbabwean psyche.

Our children can make it under normal circumstances; they have to be taught in a manner which allows them to know who they are, to take control of the teaching and learning process, to be creative thinkers, full of imagination and uniqueness, not empty vessels to be filled without the opportunity to think through and meaningfully apply their learning.

The children would rather be sissy Jupe who has not memorised the definition of a horse, but would rather enjoy the silky smooth coat of a horse. 

Such children will more easily become electronic engineers or astronauts because they are grounded in their concepts. Anyone who lives behind four walls without venturing out to rest and play, swallowing strange things unrelated to life is poorly prepared to make a difference in his/her own life, that of the community and the society, let alone the world.

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