By Christy Anyanwu, Olakunle Olafioye and Agatha Emeadi
Six-year-old Semilore Alabi, a pupil of a private school in Lagos, returned home excitedly on Friday, July 30, being the final day of the 2020/2021 academic session. The young Alabi’s joy was obviously for two reasons. First she had just been promoted to the next class after a year of intensive academic work at school. In addition to this, she hopefully looked forward to a fun-filled holiday when she would not have to be subjected to unexciting routines such as having to be woken up early by her mother in preparation for school, rigorous academic grilling by her teachers and other monotonous schedules which are associated with the regimented lifestyle that comes with schooling in Nigeria.
Unknown to this young schoolgirl, she was a courier of a piece of news which she later found disturbing to her parents. Her class teacher had tucked in a newsletter which conveyed information on programmes and activities lined up by the school for the holiday period and the coming academic year in her report card.
Thus, Semilore’s hope of a thrilling holiday was prematurely dashed when on getting home; she realized that the school would be commencing another round of intensive coaching for the holiday period starting from Monday, August 9. By implication she has just a week of rest out of the seven-week holiday.
The frustration of the young Alabi is a reflection of what millions of schoolchildren in the country go through during holidays after laborious academic activities at school in the previous term.
An average student in the country wakes up as early as 5:00 a.m and gets ready for school. At about 6:30 a.m, he hops into the school bus that still has to rigmarole for at least another two hours picking other children and wading through traffic only to get to school, which resumes at 8:00a.m. Intensive school works then begin immediately until 11:30a.m when a 30-minute break is observed.
After this, he returns to the classroom for another round of school works until the school closes at 2:00p.m. Shortly after this, the school lesson begins and runs till 4:00 p.m when he officially closes at school and heads for home. At about 5:30 p.m, he is again subjected to another round of private coaching after which he settles down to face the task of take-home assignments.
Having gone through these hectic and monotonous routines for an average of 12 weeks, experts in the fields of education and psychology say students deserve a good break to enable them rest their brain and get recharged for fresh round of academic activities in the coming term.
Unfortunately, however, this never happens as most students are compelled to return to school immediately in the name of holiday coaching.
An educationist, Mrs Morenikeji Taiwo, said that the practice of depriving students the freedom to enjoy their holiday after rigorous academic works at school could be counterproductive.
“I had interviewed a good number of parents who enrolled their children for holiday coaching especially during long vacations and their defense has not always been far from the erroneous belief that students are likely to forget what they have been taught if they are allowed to abandon their studies for a period of about one and half month. But in actual fact, there has not been any empirical research to support this claim.” she opined.
Findings show that most parents are not oblivious of the consequences of over-tasking their children in the name of giving them adequate education or preparing them ahead of time.
However, the environment in which they find themselves seems to dictate their choices. Mr Anthony Ogbeide said that he could only wish to give the same treats his parents gave him and his siblings during long vacations when he was young to his children.
“The long vacation was always an exciting period that I always longed for because that was the only time we travelled to the village on visits to my grandparents. This came with a lot of exciting adventures and experiences. Life in the city, especially in those days, came with comfort and ease, but going to the village during the holidays afforded us the opportunity of experiencing life in another dimension. One could go fishing or swimming with one’s mates at the village river; we could go hunting and other exciting activities in those days. All this helped to broadening one’s knowledge even more than one would have learned in the classroom because these are practical experiences not blackboard and chalk things. But today, most parents, like myself, are constrained by a number of factors, including lack of funds from giving their children similar treats during holidays these days,” he pointed out.
According to Ogbeide, financing such trips at this period could be considered economically unwise.
“For most parents, the holiday period is a time to organize and prepare oneself for the financial demands of the new academic term. You have to pay new school fees, buy new textbooks, uniforms and other expenses. That tells you that it is not a period for frivolous spending. Also, since one cannot just lock the children up at home for the entire period, many parents reluctantly submit to the idea of enrolling them for holiday coaching at school where they will spend three or four hours before returning home to rest for the remainder of the day,” he said.
Experts admonished that since Nigeria’s education system is too tilted towards developing children’s academic skills, stakeholders should ensure that holiday periods are devoted to inculcating and developing other skills in order to adequately prepare them for future challenges.
A UK-based Nigerian educationist, Mrs Dolapo Ajakaiye noted that developing children’s academic skills alone was not enough and advocated that efforts should also be made to develop other skills especially during holidays.
According to her, “in UK, children are not put under academic pressure like we do here in Nigeria. For example in the UK there’s cut off age for education – primary school starts at six, Secondary at 11, College between 16 to 18 and university at age 18. Children are not put under pressure unlike in Nigeria. Few children are given extra lessons as per the parents’ choice. Rather children are enrolled in activities such as swimming, music, drama, gymnastics etc. Developing academic skills only is not enough we need to start looking into other forms of educational development such as developing interpersonal skills.
“Most of our graduates are unemployable due to lack of interpersonal skills. During holiday break children go on holiday with parents either within or outside the country depending on finance. Various activities like sightseeing, going to the park, window shopping, all these add to developmental stages of life. Children’s creativity comes to life. Communication skills improve. Also vocational education has become part of the UK educational system. Those not academically inclined can go the vocational route. The world is evolving. It’s time Nigeria moves on and becomes globally competitive.”
A counseling psychologist and lecturer at the Department of Psychology, Imo State University, Owerri, Dr Ann Ukachi Madukwe condemned the practice where schools and caregivers only concentrate on the cognitive development of students at the expense of other vital areas.
“Prior to this modern time, various psychological theories have been put forward to explain development in childhood. Development refers to physical, emotional, social and cognitive changes in the progression of the human child. Of all these aspects, cognitive development is the one mostly considered in schooling. Despite the importance of the rest to positive educational outcome in children; it is the seeming neglect of the other areas of child development and adult caregivers’ interest and pursuit of various means of livelihood that have resulted to ‘over-schooling’ as the only childhood activity. Over schooling can be understood as over-burdening, over-tasking and over-tutoring of school children,” Dr Madukwe pointed out.
She added that overburdening children with academic activities was a major disservice and advised against the practice.
She said: “That a child is denied play time, time at home with parents and siblings, time for extracurricular activities in the neighbourhoods and at church, may lead to the development of adults with even less patriotic mindset. It can raise people without sense of social contract or social responsibility. Therefore, it is imperative that proper child development orientation in which all the socialization agents-family, parents, school, church, media and community are allowed to play their role in child upbringing; thereby allowing the development of the whole person, while reducing stress due to ‘over schooling’ and its negative impacts on the child.”
Also reacting, Dr Kate Eyo, a consultant Anesthetist, University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, wants parents and school management to come up with creative ideas on how to get the best from students during holidays rather than subjecting them to additional rigorous acadmic activities during the period.
She stated that “Children need a break from the rigours of their so-called ‘normal’ school programme. I think they can be engaged in vocational training like arts and crafts, sewing, dancing, music lessons and computer training during the holidays. They could go to such activities two-three times in a week. I do not think the holiday should become their fourth term”.