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What are these private schools up to?

DO you have a child attending a private primary school in Dar es Salaam? If yes, do you agree with academic schedules of the most schools which usually starts at 6:00am for classes four and seven who are preparing for this year’s national examinations?

I was recently involved in a research conducted in Dar es Salaam on the effectiveness of remedial classes in primary schools and we discovered that classes start very early in the morning and go on till late evening.

Most private schools have set aside more time to teach pupils who are preparing themselves for national examinations, irrespective of their recorded academic performance.

The research we did was mainly based on standard four and seven pupils who shall this year write their national examinations and some schools think the right way to make them pass is to provide them with extra occasional academic instructions, which to me is not.

Generally, a good number of parents say ‘no’ to this education system and I shall state why they discourage it.

The study was prompted by parents who have pupils attending private English medium primary schools, who thought such schools were overdoing things, as they insisted that pupils need ‘extra hours’ learning programmes, to enable them excel in their studies.

The findings indicated that in some schools, pupils usually work up very early (some as early as 4:30am), then catch a bus to school, to enable them begin classes at around seven o’clock when they are actually feeling sleepy, because they did not have enough time to sleep the previous night.

In some schools for example, classes for standard four and seven pupils end up at around 6:00pm, thus making the pupils very tired, despite the fact that they also have some homework to do while at home and that automatically reduce their sleeping hours.

It is at this juncture that I would like to ask a question to my sister, the Minister for Education, Science and Technology Prof Joyce Ndalichako whether private primary school in Dar es Salaam can begin teaching pupils at 6:00am.

Professor - Is there a need to conduct extra curriculum studies so early for children who are preparing either for class four or seven national examinations, while there is an ample time of doing so during the day if schools have proper time management?

Shouldn’t that be done privately at home, under the discretion of parents or other guardians? I pose this question because I am among parents who strongly believe that life of a primary school pupil should not revolve around academic performance only, but rather through the entire human formation that is vital at an adolescence period, leading to adulthood.

I am also among parents who discourage enrolling primary school pupils in a boarding school because I strongly believe at that tender age, there is no ‘alternative’ parent that can provide better care for my children, more than my wife and I.

I remain optimistic that the Ministry of Education has already set aside enough time during the whole year, to help a child learn progressively, and meet the expected standards without necessarily attending more classes during the day.

Our findings have shown that many pupils agree that attending remedial classes or assigning too much homework over the holidays really is a form of cruel and unusual punishment and it does not necessarily help pupils to pursue better academically and the opposite could be the result of such formation.

You would be surprised to learn that some other research made by some other quota have suggested that assigning too much homework or some extra classes to pupils could be a bad thing to do, as that denies pupils more time to do other things.

Records show that some countries in Africa have cut back on the amount of homework in the efforts to consider children’s social development and some schools have also modified their programmes and no homework is allowed over weekends and during holiday vacations, except for reading.

In the United States for example where I have occasionally visited, no more than ten minutes (of homework) per grade level, per night is allowed and homework has fallen in and out of favour over the decades.

In Tanzania today, pupils in some private primary schools are busy with academic schedules and according to a recent findings, extra curricula hours may become obsolete and of no help to them. In our today’s world, thanks to computers, learning is occurring 24/7 in some schools, with access to software programmes and worldwide connections.

I read an article recently, which affirmed that next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and schools disappear, because role of parents may disappear in the children’s formation.

I think as parents we should now try and see how we can educate school owners to understand that at tender age, children need wholistic formation where their parents play a key role.

Rather than assigning too much homework to our children, schools should create a true interest in learning and this shall often help our children pursue learning about topics they like on their own, without necessarily being taught by teachers for longer hours.

After all, this is the way of the 21st century and information is everywhere and more class work or homework doesn’t necessarily equate to higher achievement and that is what really disqualifies extra time for letting pupils attend remedial classes.

Yes, too much teaching and homework can actually be a bad thing, because in 1989, Duke University reviewed 120 studies and found a weak link between achievement and extra classes that pupils attend.

In a similar recent review of 60 studies, researchers at the same university found assigning homework was beneficial, but an excessive amount of homework was counterproductive.

The research found homework was more beneficial for older students than younger ones and that discourages the need to conduct remedial classes for our pupils in class four and seven when preparing for their national examinations.

I think teachers in our primary schools today should assign homework for improving study skills, rather than learning and that explains why many studies so far conclude less benefit for younger children who attend remedial classes. Let us ask ourselves a question - Do our teachers receive specific training on how to supervise pupils how to do homework?

This is because I strongly believe that homework should be uncomplicated and short, at times involving families of pupils and also engaging the pupils who have special interests of doing so and that should be done privately, not in school surroundings.

I believe schools which assign more homework don’t necessarily outperform those with less homework and schools that assign more homework don’t necessarily perform any better.

I recently read a Stanford study which found that in countries like Japan, Denmark and the Czech Republic, little homework was assigned and students outperformed in countries with large amounts of homework such as Greece, Thailand and Iran.

I also recently read an article which said in Japan, no homework policies is allowed at younger levels and this is done to allow family time and personal interests for pupils and their parents.

Instead of our schools assigning more homework for our class four and seven pupils, I think they should encourage them to read notes at home.

Our schools should know that if they approach the activity with a day schedule spirit, many pupils will be engaged and utilise the time wisely and effectively.

Our schools should not assign holiday busy work, simply because most academics agree that busy work does little to increase learning.

Schools should know that too much homework may actually decline achievement and assigning excessive amounts of homework could also be detrimental.

In fact, a 2006 study by Yankelovick found that reading achievement declined when students were assigned too much homework.

May I conclude by insisting that family time is more important when children come back from school and if schools assign less homework, it can make it easier for families to have time together.

I strongly believe that learning for fun and interest, might produce more meaningful engagement than assigning homework and that shall enable our country get learned professionals to serve the country at different capacities.

Let remedial classes be run outside school compounds and at the interest of specific parents, not at all engineered by school authorities.

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Author: DEO MUSHI

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