How to teach our children to be heirs of Zimbabwe …beyond the textbook

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MOSTLY parents and schools are worried about textbooks.
They are content and reassured that once the child has got the full set of textbooks, they then are all set.
Parents will go to the end of the world to find textbooks for their children.
They will buy them from the street corner, anywhere no matter how expensive.
Their main reason for being so religious about textbooks to the exclusion of almost anything else is their pre-occupation with children passing examinations.
They feel that once the child learns everything in the textbooks, then they surely will pass the exams because the exams are based on those textbooks.
This gives them a lot of confidence.
If we follow this reasoning, we find that it just does not work out as simply as 1 + 1 = 2.
The Ordinary Level pass rate averages 20 percent despite the textbooks, unless of course the argument is that only 20 percent of the students have textbooks, hardly! Coltart’s deal with Longman and the so-called ‘Friends of Zimbabwe’ distributed textbooks throughout the country and so the textbooks are not the panacea that is sought for passing exams.
In previous articles in this series we highlighted the problems in our textbooks, the eurocentrism, the irrelevance and de-contextualisation as a major source of the children’s disenchantment and consequent disengagement resulting in poor performance.
We also underscored the narrowness of our school curriculum which leaves out many students whose stronger intelligences lie outside the prescriptions of the current school curriculum so that even if the textbooks were good, the curriculum would still need to be broader to carry all the learners through.
However, our focus today is to underline that even with the best of textbooks catering for all the nine intelligences children come endowed with, there is need to go beyond the textbooks for they are only a beginning, at best a stimulant of greater things to follow.
The textbooks can engage the learners for some time, but sooner than later, the learners want to think independently, they want to critique what has been going on in the classroom, to evaluate it and form their own opinions about it, they want to follow their rainbow.
All these are invaluable thought processes because that is actually when mental growth takes place, when they exercise their minds, without this, learning is limited, afterwards the children gradually lose interest and operate at the minimum because there just isn’t a chance to follow their rainbow, there is no space to discover what is in themselves, to pursue their intrinsic interests.
It requires that students are availed other reading materials outside the textbooks which can allow them to independently navigate, interrogate, deepen and extent their understanding of what goes on in the classroom, at their own pace, on their own terms, and as their intellectual competenciesguide them.
This kind of exercise can enrich what is going on in the classroom, and stimulate cross fertilisation of ideas among the learners.
Imagine what would happen if a child crazy about motor cycles is allowed to pursue his hobby, his enthusiasm can carry everyone along including the teacher, far and beyond the mechanics and physics class.
It is far more than supplementary reading materials, it also requires creating activities that students can engage in beyond the homework and class related exercises.
It is no wonder that without these other noble activities children rush to complete the mandatory homework so that they can glue themselves to the television screen until kingdom come, which pre-occupation research has shown has a negative correlation to children’s intellectual development.
It certainly is not about more and more extra lessons and study groups, it is about assisting the learner’s minds to roam free, to listen to its promptings and pursue them.
In answer to this quest the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has developed a magnificent model in the form of children’s palaces.
At the children’s palaces children engage in scientific and cultural activities of their own choice which are not tied to any school programme.
They learn science, observe natural phenomenon, spend time at the space observatory studying stars and activities in the universe.
They are entertained by operas and they perform in some as they are nurtured in beautiful themes about their country and its revolutionary history, in love songs about the country, its people, hopes and aspirations, played out in beautiful song and dance.
The palaces also showcase the traditions of the Korean people, what it means to be Korean,they learn to write about themselves, their people, their history and always there is a romantic theme that runs through and what’s more, these palaces are so beautiful they bring tears to your eyes.
The waterfalls that cascade the walls as you tread the staircase from one floor to the next are entrancing, natural beauty is brought so close, so sweetly it is unbelievable, the sound of the waterfall, the fine soft spray from the tumbling waters transport you to a world of beauty so real you don’t want to go away, child cannot, but feel special in such an atmosphere.
In this beautiful world, the world of Western capitalist decadence which we cost our children to watch from the dishes we pay for so religiously every month is light miles away.
Here is a world in which children can mature handsomely without being traumatised by feelings beyond their psychological and social ages.
Here the buds open gently, sweetly, undisturbed and their beauty comes into its own and it cannot, but dazzle.
The children here are so attuned to music from the very early ages.
At pre-school all activities are accompanied by soft, beautiful music.
I had the privilege of watching an orchestra of five-year-olds conducted by a five-year-old, and it was out of this world.
The carpets in the children’s palaces are embossed with flowers so real you want to pick them, the brilliance of the colours enlivens the spirit, gently soothes the seeking mind, urging it on to unravel even more magnificent vistas.
The children’s palaces are so beautiful the children cannot but feel like princes and princesses, there is no rush, there is no coercion, the children follow the promptings of their mind, there is no area of learning beyond them, from aircraft engineering, aeronautics, calisthenics, growing apples, silk making and to opera…the list is as long as the endless search of the mind.
It is a blissful atmosphere where it is not possible to imagine anything ugly.
In this set up each of the nine intelligences have unlimited space to grow, mature and bloom.
The socialist education here fulfills the maxim that ‘man is the master of his destiny’ because all that is ensconced within him is given maximum opportunity to grow and mature so that it becomes a precious spring for man to use for his benefit.
Children love everything so incandescently beautiful, gentle, serene, it makes them feel at peace and they are able to give their best in such an environment and in this regard, the children’s palace is just what the doctor ordered.
The children here will never feel afraid, because they have had a chance to grow and mature undisturbed, thus they are sure of themselves, and will never doubt what they are and what they are capable of.
They never feel they are second to anyone because the special incandescence of each is allowed to shine at its brightest.
Thus there is a much greater world beyond the textbook and the classroom, these are just but a stepping stone, not the be all and end all.

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