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Schools are killing our children

By Harriet Anena

 

It was April 18, 2014. Layibi Village, the place I call home, slept peacefully. Outside, one could be sure the moon was sprinkling its rays on the village, goats and cows moving lazily about, or sleeping – waiting for the next day.

But at 5am, the story was different. The shrill cry of an infant snapped me out of sleep and got me sitting up – in astonishment. I could hear the sound of a car speeding away and a man running after it – screaming: “Driver wait, driver, you have left him.”

The child continued crying, but soon he started running after the car and pleading. I could hear his footsteps and that of his father. “Driver, wait, driver you have left me…” the child pleaded.

That three-year-old boy is in kindergarten. He wakes up at 4am, Monday to Friday, ready to be picked by the school shuttle at 5am. If he is not ready by that time, the driver will not wait for him. The driver moves around areas within and outside Gulu municipality, collecting children to take them to school.

When school is done by 12:00pm, 1pm or 5pm, depending on what time-table the school runs, the children will be dropped at their homes. The child who stays furthest from town is picked first but dropped last after school.

 

My brother Daniel has a three-year-old son. He was recently taken to a new kindergarten after his previous school relocated to a place outside town. On his first day, my nephew told his teachers: “I don’t like this school. Call my mum and tell her to come pick me up.” For a three-year-old, the boy has quite a brain and words.

His teachers were stunned, but one of the things he hates about the new school is that he has to wake up so early.

I told mum this nonsense must stop. For Shs35,000 per month in shuttle fees, a child’s childhood cannot be messed up like that. Gladly for my nephew, he will stop boarding that shuttle when the month ends. His parents will drop him off at school at a fairly decent hour of 8am.

For what sense does it make to wake up a child at 4am for school when he won’t start singing nursery rhymes or learning the alphabet until 8:30am? Why should a child roam around the district like a politician canvassing for votes and reach school, drunk with sleep and tiredness?

Sadly that is what is going on – children leaving home at dawn for school and returning home at dusk, their backs bent with kilograms of books. Whatever they study that I didn’t learn still beats my understanding.

Is it because unlike in 1994, today’s Primary Two child has to answer the homework question about how many municipalities are in Uganda?  Or is it because unlike in 1992, today’s syllabus has evolved from singing rhymes and learning the alphabet to knowing how to subtract and multiply?

So what do they learn when they are in primary level – how to build bullet-proof planes?

Some will argue that times have changed. Indeed they have, but must that happen at the expense of the full development of children? Do we really need to sacrifice learning for cramming? Are the grades too juicy, the newspaper coverage for exam ‘stars’ too attractive that we don’t care what artificial knowledge these children carry in their heads?

 

It’s difficult to pick a suitable detergent that can clean the filth in the education system. But like I did with my nephew, if you have the option, let the child be a child. Or make noise, as a parent who pours millions of shillings in school fees and requirements – you can change this institutionalized disruption of children’s childhood.

Importantly, stop spectating and morale boosting as schools kill our children. For if we force children into adulthood now, what will they do when they become adults?

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