There’s a lot of talk on social media about primary school education. It usually starts with someone making an observation about some kid they saw. It could be a little girl squashed in an overcrowded school bus, a little boy shivering at a bus stop at 4.00 a.m., a child dozing in her father’s car in traffic, or a kid weighed down with a king sized backpack.
It could be a different angle, like badly driven school buses, or snide remarks about the amount of fees charged by certain educational institutions. Sometimes it’s as banal as memories from our own schooldays, or something as frightening as my daughter’s stories about what goes on in school bathrooms. *shudder*
There’s the issue of children fighting with grown ups at bus stops while making their way to and from school during rush hour. Or other kids roaming around town in school uniform as they wait to find means to get home. In more remote areas, they walk for miles to get to school, or skip class for (lack of) books, clothes, or sanitary towels. The discussion often escalates into ‘Let’s change the education system‘ or ‘Is this really worth it?‘
Once in a while, the discussion is triggered by a national tragedy like students committing suicide after exams, or private schools using ‘interesting’ methods to improve their national rank. I don’t generally contribute to these discussions, because I’m one of the ‘insane’ parents who took my child to a private school.
When I first moved back home after 4 years in Tanzania, I placed my child in a government school. I wasn’t financially stable yet, and I wanted her in a place I could easily afford. St. Georges is a pretty good school, but it was quite far from home, and after I’d paid the school levy of 7,000/= a term and the Jimcy School Bus Fee of 8,000/= a term, I wasn’t saving a whole lot, so I ‘tightened my belt’ and moved her to my alma mater, a touch more pricey and 10 minutes’ walk from our flat.
Previously, my daughter had been in two English-Medium schools in Tanzania. [As a general rule, public schools in Tanzania teach everything in Swahili, including English lessons.] She started off at Dar es Salaam International School, and when that got too pricey, I moved her to Feza Primary School, where, among other things, she learned Turkish. Both schools cost a lot more than my monthly rent at the time.
I suppose it seems … unusual … to spend so much on education. For me, education has always been the most important thing. It’s true that the Bill Gates’ and Richard Bransons of the world dropped out of school. I personally left campus before I got my degree, a fact that still bothers me a lot. But I think I’ve gotten as far as I have because of the solid foundation I had in primary and secondary school.
I’ve been lucky to get into a career where talent matters more than papers, but not everyone can say that. So, for me, spending on my child’s education is a given. I do worry about her over-sized bag, and routinely remind her to lighten it. And it amuses me that she prefers to leave the house earlier than everyone else because she wants to be the first person to get to class. I think it’s good practice for the days when early classes will be mandatory. It also gives us a chance to bond during our early-morning walk to school, especially since she’s generally asleep when I get home from work.
I suppose it all comes down to your own upbringing. Growing up, education was so pivotal that we remained in a private school even when our living space was not quite in line with that lifestyle. So in my world, it makes sense to spend twice as much on fees as I do on rent. As for the heavy school bags and ungodly hours, it seems like a justifiable sacrifice to exchange for a secure future.
It’s true that the private school environment is quite competitive. My baby attends the same school that her uncles and I attended. Her grandad was once on the board. The teachers who taught me now teach her, and they have documented evidence of ‘Your mother used to do this, your uncles used to do that.’ I constantly remind them – and her – not to focus on her position in class.
The teachers rush to tell me me, ‘She was number xyz‘ and I explain that I’d rather see her marks, not her number. Why? Because her uncles and I were overachievers, and I don’t want those expectations to break my baby. I saw the expression on her face yesterday when a relative randomly made that very speech, and it took me a while to get her smiling again. No kid needs that kind of pressure.
The school does push pretty hard as far as books are concerned, but I’m grateful that it also exposes her to music, art, dance, theatre, sport, and lots of other things she can excel in beyond academics. It also gives her a lot more scope than her previous school, and the difference is painfully obvious.
Granted, there are lots of kids who attended City Council schools and turned out just fine. You could argue that at primary school age, kids don’t really know what education is. Several people I know claim they didn’t learn anything until they were in Standard 5 or 6. I can barely remember any lower primary lessons beyond germinating beans and Mr. Shape. It makes sense to save on primary education and keep the money for high school and campus. But I suppose for me, I’d like her to have the same opportunities that I had.
My compromise is to make sure she actually does go out to play, have fun, and engage with other kids outside of class. I want her to enjoy every bit of her childhood, even as the world rushes her to grow up. At 9 years old, she’s already analysing her body parts and wanting to try out make up and high heels. The boys are hovering, and the girls are already talking about who’s pretty, and more frighteningly, who isn’t. They have crushes and opinions and ideas formed from friends, family, (DS)TV, and Facebook. There are a lot more threats to this generation’s childhood than tuition and homework.
So the issue isn’t really what school your child goes to, how much fees you pay, how many assignments they get, what method they use to get to school, what time they get up, or even what education system they use. The issue is to be a parent, do the best you can, and let your child be a child. It could be as simple as helping them with homework when you can (and Googling it when you can’t), or having a day out after exams so they can relax. It’s up to us to keep our kids from hanging themselves. That’s the one thing we shouldn’t omba serikali to do on our behalf.