School is out! Primary and Secondary School learners all over are looking forward to what may qualify as a semester of play (close to 12 weeks- make a semester)
The memes are also out. Parents and caregivers are nervous about managing the abundant energy for both good and mischief that will fill up homes across Kenya for the next two months. Come January, many will be struggling to write or even hold a pencil (raise your hand if you relate)
It’s no different on this side of the Rift valley – while parents may not be tweeting about dreading the long holidays, we suspect there could be some anxiety about what to do with children for that length of time. After all a child’s only job is “to go to school and do well”.
Of course if you are Kenyan or have been here long enough you know that this largely translates to what is valued most is high academic achievement and parents will go to the ends of the earth to facilitate this even at the expense of any other form of development. We do value education, or schooling.. do we know the difference?
“What will we do with them?”- Kenyan Parents
As I write this, a timely “Let us take the kids out of your hair” text with an attractive flyer graces my phone’s home screen. I can’t help but sniff out the ‘nuisance reduction’ connotation to this message that to be fair, perhaps mirrors the feelings of a significant number of parents and guardians. Especially in the cities.
As educators and at a boarding school for that matter, we are constantly tasked to ensure continuous learning as pupils move from one activity to another be it in class or tucked cozily under a blanket with some hot cocoa and a movie to watch. At this point we’d also like to point out our appreciation of both play and sleep for a child’s development- so yes, down times are important too!
Schooling vs Learning
Given the global education crisis https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/immersive-story/2019/01/22/pass-or-fail-how-can-the-world-do-its-homework more of us should be contributing to the schooling versus learning debate. Does increased enrolment numbers in the region automatically make our pupils competitive on a global scale? Is school (the building) the ultimate indicator for learning and does learning end after the 3.30 pm bell goes or on a day like today when school bags will be tossed in a dark undisturbed corner only to be retrieved with great difficulty at the dawn of the coming new year? How much value are we placing on the mere physical presence in school? What aspects of learning do we prioritize? Are educators and parents placing more importance on their perceived level of academic achievement than anything else? Even character? The questions go on and on.
Before I talk about today and the buzz around it (at Turi, we are also excited, the closing date is weeks away but the musical extravaganza that is Orchestral Weekend is here with us), I must say something about yesterday. See yesterday had a buzz to it, at least for the children around Turi village. At the end of the school day, they could be seen strolling rather leisurely towards home, occasionally stopping to observe sights that are fascinating by village standards, perhaps not to all; chatting animatedly with friends or stopping for longer than usual for a drink of water at the tap just outside St Andrew’s. Exams were done, the school year was over and it was the day before D- Day popularly known in Kenya as closing day. It was not here with us yet but knowing it was coming was just as endorphin-inducing.
After School Activities – The Turi Children’s Project
Typically, on the often rainy Thursday afternoon, the pace is faster, less relaxed- after all there’s homework to do and chores to be undertaken. But for at least 100 local children, yesterday was an afternoon just like any other- at least where after-class matters are concerned. Headed towards the colourful gate that opens them up to a different kind of learning experience, they probably chatted about their plans for the holidays; which weren’t likely to constitute of much given their financial and social limitations. Still, spending every other day at the Turi Children’s Project premises after school has opened them up to a world of possibilities. Knitting, carpentry, computer classes, cooking, beading, tailoring, professional hair care are some of the skills they have acquired in the past year. TCP is an extension of their school day and with the newly introduced “CBC”, a complementary one! Eight year old Maria holds up her pretty pink handkerchief with pride, she has sewn a chicken on it. Teacher Nancy says that in a few years she should be able to make her own school uniform. It is practical learning and the same for Mungai who not only has his monthly haircut at TCP, but is also learning how to shave- a skill that increases his future ability to earn an income.
Evening well spent
Between 3.30 pm and 6.00 pm, there’s time for structured learning for the pupils but also time for play; there should always be time for play. When the weather allows it (google Turi temperatures) they can shake off the day’s woes with a refreshing shower. Their friends at St Andrew’s Prep School worked really hard in the last academic year to raise funds to buy towels for each of them. But something that many of us take for granted or are perhaps worried about the increase in cost this holiday is a satisfying meal; at 5.00 pm and before they leave for home they sit down to have their dinner, prepared at St Andrew’s and lovingly presented to them by the TCP kitchen staff. Emily who works at St Andrew’s during the day and at the TCP in the evenings tells me that their rather modern firewood ‘cookers’ have been used to prepare meals but for now, the food is cooked across the road and they do the serving and the cleaning afterwards.
TCP is making an impact in the Turi community
A list of the parents and their contacts is being put together by the team. This is because sometime before Christmas, there will be a big gathering of parents, children and TCP supporters/sponsors. Each family will receive a Christmas hamper that entails mostly food supplies; a welcome Christmas gift. They also need to get in touch with the parents so that they can together go through their children’s report forms from school and analyze their academic performance throughout the year. While TCP is focused on the children’s extra-curricular activities, they are cognizant of the relationship with performance in class. Discussions are had and practical measures put in place. The families supported by TCP are vulnerable in many ways. In addition to helping them get their basic needs, their social, medical and psychological needs are a concern for the project administrators and sponsors. Read more about TCP here https://www.turichildrensproject.org/.
The Turi Children’s Project is a beneficiary of St Andrew’s Prep Schools charity Love in Action which has instrumental in uplifting the wider Turi community in many ways. This is a story for another day. After paying them a visit yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of the value of after-school programmes both structured like this one and unstructured. The coming weeks are the embodiment of the word break. Not a break from learning but a break from schooling. Despite a child’s economic or geographic circumstances there is always something to learn, be it from manual labour (to be differentiated from child labour), unstructured play, reading for leisure or simply just taking a break and observing the world around them and finding out what makes things work.. or not work. The evils of television and other more sophisticated gadgets have been spoken about enough not to get a mention here and while they have their place in today’s society, it is important they are used to enhance learning and not curtail it.
Schooling begins today
Today marks the beginning of long days for care givers (and anyone whose daily activities place them in villages, estates and homesteads), possible long nights for parents and a break from schooling for primary and secondary school goers. It is also the beginning of a well-deserved break for teachers. For those mentioned before them, it marks the beginning of a different kind of learning. Learning that helps our children grow physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Ideas will be shared across the various platforms on how to pass the time and we would like to suggest teaching our children to think of others and give of their time and resources for the benefit of someone other than themselves. It does not need to be a big project like TCP, it may be as simple as taking responsibility around the house. We wish you well (and lots of energy).For those who have closed school, we at St Andrew’s School, Turi wish that you experience the joy of giving, the benefit sof physical activity and joy of rest.
Note: Before, I left the TCP premises last evening. A group of four boys came calling for Timothy, their carpentry instructor. As they were playing an enthusiastic round of football, the ball went off and knocked his motorbike, destroying his mirror and other components. During this break, items will be misplaced, windows will be shattered, wails and cries will be heard regularly and many will yearn for January. Be encouraged though, it’s all in the spirit of learning.
By a member of the St Andrew’s School, Turi community.