Case A: Abdul is an 8-year-old boy Primary 4 pupil who is usually cheerful and happy. However, he is struggling to cope with the sheer volume of home work they were expected to complete on a daily basis. His Mother, a busy medical doctor initially attempted to help him, but soon realized that she could not cope. The assignments sometimes took them 2 – 3 hours to complete – even with her guidance and help. So, she gave up and employed a lesson teacher to help him with the homework. Thus, Abdul would return from school at about 4.30pm, eat lunch, rest for about 30 minutes and then Lessons will start at 5.30pm. On the average, the lessons would end at about 7.30pm or 8.00pm. At which time he would have dinner, say his prayers and then retire at 9.00pm.
He gradually became withdrawn and looked pensive most days. When his mother eventually noticed, she decided to have a chat with him. ‘Abdul, I noticed you don’t look so happy these days. Is there a problem at school? Anyone or something bothering you?’ She enquired. ‘No Mum’, he replied. ‘I have nice friends and the teachers are good. It is just that life is too hard’. ‘Life is too hard? What are you thinking about and how did you come to that conclusion?’ His mother, was clearly alarmed at this stage, but struggled to act calmly, as she was determined to get to the root of the matter. She sat up straight and encouraged him to share, by wrapping her arms around him. ‘Well, I have so much homework to do every day and I feel overwhelmed.
My teachers always remind us to work very hard and I am feeling under too much pressure. I hardly get to play anymore or ride my bicycle. I don’t seem to be understanding my lessons anymore, but I don’t want to disappoint you and Daddy. That’s why I said life is too hard, Mummy’. ‘Okay, Abdul. I understand now and I agree that the work load may be too much really. I want you to relax and take it easy. No homework or lessons for you today. Off you go to ride your bicycle’. Abdul’s face brightened immediately and he ran off. As he exited the building, his Mother sighed and resolved to discuss this with his father and possibly have a word with the school teachers.
A number of schools appear to have no clear understanding of early child development and developmental psychology. Thus, they ignore or may be unaware that the most important task of childhood is play, socialize and learn at their own pace. Instilling good habits, learning manners, building their self-esteem and confidence, learning to interact with peers and adults in a respectful and considerate manner are far more important building blocks in preschool and early to mid-primary school. The additional learning milestone is to promote their curiosity and promote learning and seeking for information as a form of adventure that opens up new information.
The most important task of early education is simply to teach them to read and write. And to learn the rudiments of mathematics, while promoting their interest in other subjects as a form of exploration. The excessive focus on children aged 4 – 10 years offering as many as 15 subjects and being pressurized to do very well in all the subjects is unhealthy. Thus, parents struggle to cope and end up employing lesson teachers. Ultimately, the end result is that the innocent children are made to study for nearly 12 hours every single day. This is nothing but sheer wickedness and torture.
Sometimes, the unhealthy pressure is from the parents: My child must graduate from the University by the age of 20 years, so he/she must skip primary 5 and 6 and go straight from Primary 4 into secondary school. Etc. This perspective fails to take into consideration, the fact that growth is not just physical but also emotional and psychological. While some children will appear to have coped without complications, the majority will struggle to fit into a much older class, to make new friends and to blend in. They lose out on having a normal childhood and attaining normal developmental milestones of maturation with their peers. For some children, they simply fall apart, fall into bad company or turn to drugs to help them cope or feel accepted.
Schools and parents need to wake up and protect our children from unnecessary pressure that achieves nothing but useless bragging rights. Childhood is to be enjoyed, so please stop stealing it from our precious children. Let them enjoy optimal emotional wellbeing and learn, play and mature at their own pace.