“A CHILD has a right to play. Parents have a responsibility to make sure that children are given freedom to play. Parents are supposed to encourage children to play because it helps their growth. Children are not supposed to be overworked with homework or work at home. Children should be left to play.”  Jane Nyambura, child participant in the IPA Global Consultations on Children’s Right to Play, Nairobi, 2010

On August 4, the curtain comes down on the second term for primary and high school learners. 

Back in the day, the closing of schools was a revered moment as it was characterised by a lot of family activities. 

During the August school holidays, the nation commemorates the  Heroes and Defence Forces days, meaning time off work for parents and guardians who took the opportunity to visit families in rural areas or other cities. 

The highlight for most learners was that parents and guardians got to leave them behind when they came back to work. 

It was a time for the urban dwellers to explore life in the rural areas. 

During the day, children were given the opportunity to explore the forests and mountains, enjoying wild fruits, such as masau and tsubvu, hunting for small animals, such as rabbits and birds, as well as searching for firewood.

They also were engaged in household chores, such as milking of cows, cleaning the house, fetching water and watering the gardens. 

Night time was a hive of activity as people gathered around the open fire enjoying song and dance as well as folktales that were told by the older people. 

For those learners in the rural areas, it was also an opportunity to visit the urban areas. 

For them, the major highlight, if they were visiting in Harare, was to witness the annual Agricultural Show that is held in August.

There, they partook in fun activities, including horse riding, face painting and watching the fireworks display. 

Holiday time for rural learners was an opportune time to experience the city’s bright lights and watch television. 

The various experiences of both urban and rural learners during the holidays culminated in rich compositions being wrote during the first week of schools opening in arguably the oldest assignment:  ‘What I did during the holidays’. 

Sadly, this culture of school holidays seems to have been eroded with the advent of the new curriculum. 

Of late, learners from as early as kindergarten are being made to attend extra lessons during holidays. 

This is despite the ban by Government for schools to conduct extra lessons. 

Both private and public schools seem to have ignored the directive, with children not being afforded the chance to rest during school holidays but are made to attend extra lessons. 

Gone are the days when holiday school was a preserve for examination writing classes. 

Schools and teachers are capitalising on school holidays by making learners attend extra lessons, either at school or at teachers’ homes, at a cost. 

Primary school learners are being charged between US$10 and US$30 for extra lessons during the holidays with those in high schools paying between US$3 and US$10 per subject.

With their school holidays now occupied, one wonders when learners will find time to rest and play. 

The right to play is one of the key rights children are supposed to enjoy. 

The children’s right to play is highlighted as an important element under Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (CRC).

The African Charter on the Rights And Welfare of the Child in  Article 12 calls on State Parties to recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. 

States Parties are also obliged to respect and promote the right of the child to fully participate in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Child Rights advocate Thandiwe Pilime said, not affording children time to rest and play is an infringement of their rights. 

“Promoting children’s right to play is necessary because its fundamental importance is often overlooked, being understood by adults as ‘a luxury rather than a necessity of life’,” she said. 

“The sooner parents understand that children deserve time to rest and play during holidays the better if we want to see a healthier and well rounded future generation.

“Yet children’s needs for space and time to play are often misunderstood or ignored in broad development policy, plans and practice; this could have high costs for children.”

Pilime said more harm than good was being done by not allowing the learners to take a break from school. 

“Yet play is more than mere indulgence; it is essential to children’s health and well-being,” she said. 

“Play offers opportunities to move beyond existing ways of being, to transform structures and cross borders and it appropriates, inverts and subverts adult cultural expectations of children.

“While adults may desire children’s play to act as a socialisation process, at times it transgresses this, giving rise to adult concerns that play is disruptive, threatening or of no value, which leads to sanctions and prohibitions.”

Pilime said it is wrong for parents to think that because a child is not performing well in class, what he/she requires is more time studying and less play time.

“Taking away holidays from learners takes away their time to unwind and learn basic life skills that are not taught through formal education,” she said. 

“A rounded student is one who has had both formal and informal education. 

“During the holidays, it is time for elders to monitor the activities of students, sit them down, talk to them about issues pertaining to sex and drugs. But without those holidays and visits to aunts and uncles, where do we expect the children to learn from.”

As schools are about to close, it is important for Government to put in place measures to effectively enforce its ban on extra lessons in schools to ensure learners have time to rest and play.


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