Extra lessons are not all bad

Op3Monica Chru-Mpambawashe
The blanket ban on extra and holiday lessons by Government is an ill-advised move which will disadvantage some of the very people that it is meant to protect — learners.
I acknowledge that many schools and individual teachers have abused the need for remedial and extra lessons to exhort money out of hapless parents. A situation where extra and holiday lessons are mandatory for all students, especially those sitting for public exams, is an outright scam, more so when viewed in the light of dismal pass rates where only about 20 percent of learners managed to attain a minimum of five O Level passes in 2013.

But I believe that there should be a way of ensuring that the best interests of each child are served according to their needs. In spite of the less than ideal conditions, there are still many devoted teachers whose primary motivation is to see their students pass.

A lot of people argue that there were no extra lessons in the past and students still passed with flying colours and proceeded to tertiary institutions.

That is not a true assertion. Remedial lessons have always been there. I am sure that many still remember the Athol Desmond Study Centre at the corner of Harare Street and Samora Machel Avenue.

It made good money out of helping privileged students in their weak areas after school hours and during holidays.

It eventually went out of business when feeder schools started offering their own extra lessons at a much lower cost. In some cases teachers in the poorer communities voluntarily decided to give their pupils extra lessons to get higher pass rates. Although they never demanded extra payment, it is a fact that many grateful parents gifted them with items like free range chickens and field produce.

The difference between then and now is that in the past there was a distinction between students. Not every learner needed extra help.

I recall that those of my Queen Elizabeth High School mates who had to go to Athol Desmond Centre were denigrated by peers for needing ‘panel beating’ or relying on ‘revised editions’.

But now it looks like every child must have extra lessons, even the brightest sparks.

Either there is something totally off with the whole education system or the needs of the individual children just do not matter anymore.
There has to be a middle ground somewhere. I think to deal with the problem, we need to explore the causes fully and not rely on emotional positions.

I believe the education system 30 years ago and the one obtaining today are two totally different creatures. In the past we had rote learning which was content based.
A learner was mostly expected to cram and then regurgitate the memorised information.

Child rights activists will want to eat me alive for saying this, but in the past corporal punishment played a great role in ensuring that learners got through their assignments expeditiously and to the satisfaction of the teacher.

Now we have skill-based learning which relies on discovery methods and whose demands on the learner are of a different nature.

One just has to find a copy of the Day by Day English textbooks that were used in primary schools four decades ago and compare it to today’s books, the difference becomes apparent.

The Ministry introduced early childhood development classes, popularly referred to as Grade Zero, a few years back because they had realised that many pupils were failing to cope.

The beneficiaries of this policy are just starting to make it to public examinations for the country to determine the efficacy of the move.

Another point is that in the past, the life of the local learner was strictly contained within a limited curriculum and extra-curriculum fence in which there were only academic subjects with sports and clubs like debate coming in as a secondary inclusion.

The telephone was so exorbitant that few families could afford to own one.  So there was little opportunity for learners to spend hours chatting away. TV and even radio times were very limited as many families did not own entertainment sets, so most children relied on reading for entertainment.

School library books were compiled with a view to directly enhancing learning.

Self-actualisation was viewed as something that could come later through book education, and talents in sport, music and other fields were not encouraged if they came at the expense of academic pursuit.

With the bottleneck system premised on high academic achievement and prohibitive fee schedules in the colonial era, children well-understood the need for maximum concentration once they got a chance to go to school.

This culture permeated through to the early post-independence era. But now we have learners who are blessed with so much choice. There has been a strong cultural shift with greater emphasis on extra-curriculum activities like sport and even the junior cabinet, which all eat into academic learning time.

In addition, the learners have other distractions like social networking platforms, access to multiple TV channels and the internet platforms like Youtube, Instagram as well as phone-based applications like WhatsApp and Viber.

Even more disturbing is the ready availability of mind-altering substances.

Many of the learners who are still in the system today were affected by declared and undeclared teacher industrial actions and staff shortages over the past years.
In some cases whole terms of learning were lost.

Yet conversely the world of education has become super-competitive and no one today wants to accept average and mediocre academic results.

Bottle necking still exists in the sense that those with superlative results get to choose the best schools and benefit from helping hands like Econet’s Joshua Nkomo programme.

So every parent wants their child to top the class.

And of course one cannot ignore the fact that from being comfortable middle class earners, teachers have been reduced to basic earners who must find other sources of income to supplement their salaries.

Their skill is teaching and they were bound to come up with ways to capitalise on that.

We must also accept the active role of parents in promoting the culture of extra lessons as some members of this constituency consistently defy school directives and secretly approach the teacher to negotiate for special attention for their children.

Others would say that these parents are psychological pawns of greedy teachers who make them feel that not putting their children up for extra lessons is tantamount to child abuse. But it is up to a parent or guardian to assess the reports of their child and determine if there is need for extra lessons.

The Ministry should ensure that standard remediation is carried out in all schools.

Schools should also offer extra lessons as an optional private arrangement, not as a compulsory activity for all learners within their jurisdiction.
Personally, if my child needed extra lessons, I would have no qualms about paying a teacher for that extra load.

But I would certainly not send my child to someone who has been dragging their feet during the allotted school time.
In that case I would opt for a completely different tutor.

The writer is a former teacher and a parent with three school-going children.

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  • Mimi

    No, extra lessons have never been bad. I detest Dokora for making experiments with our children by banning holiday extra lessons. But he will be shamed because parents, teachers and students will find a way to have lessons anyway disregarding his orders.

  • jbabe

    very good analysis. i think the move by government to cut all types of remedial and extra lesson is one of the gravest mistakes. this decision should have been discussed by the major stakeholders who are school authorities, parents and the students themselves. one should just not make autocratic decisions. I am a product of extra lessons. in fact i just had to work harder than others, is it so wrong if the student feels a need to do extra work

  • toropito

    even if u ban anngoitwa chete kuseri kwedzimba….besides z t wrong for one who feels he needs an xtra push in his academics coz some are slow learners

  • Kunta Kinte Dread

    Point of correction Monica- extra lessons have never been mandatory in any of the schools that I know. Students were simply informed and chose either to attend or stay away. And of course you wouldn’t expect the teacher to offer his time and services for free, would you? We are living in trying times where everyone is fighting tooth and nail for survival, teachers included, and they cannot be expected to operate as charities. The teacher’s status has been dragged to the lowest rungs of society with even their employer claiming that anyone with an “O” level certificate can teach. If so why do we have teachers training colleges?
    It seems every Tom, Jack and Harry has found someone on whom to vent their frustrations-the poor teacher!
    I hope the minister and his team set their heads straight and start addressing educational issues objectively and fairly.

  • luis

    I disagree with you. I began my grade in 1981 thru to A-level in 1993 and never did i ever attended any holiday lessons during my school time. I did 10 subjects at O-level had 5As, 4Bs n 1C and did MPC at A-level had 9points but never on any school holiday did i do extra lessons. Remedial lessons were for those who were in what was called “tutorial class” or for those whom the tr felt needed extra help and were usually done in the afternoon for an hr. All i did was draw up a study timetable on my own and all that i struggled with i asked the more brighter friends i had or wld take my trs to task with them at the start of the next term! So what’s new with the school curriculum that warrants extra lessons? are they not being paid, as was the case arnd 2008? Some schools are even pvtly paying incentives that the govt abolished. Headmasters asked during a meeting with revelant ministry acknowledged that if trs pull their weight, there is no need for extra lessons. Those crying foul like Majongwe had become accustomed to extra cash from parents that was uncalled for in the first place. You trs have strummed up laziness amongst the kids to fully utilize their skills by encouraging these extra lessons

  • Parent

    The extra lessons were being abused with teachers now forcing students to excuse and discriminating against those who do no participate, syllabus components covered during extra lessons not repeated during normal teaching time. After all have all our students gone so dum and dull such that they need extra academic lessons and no time to rest from books and enjoy childhood. A ban was long overdue! (Also ban paid for extra lessons done at primary schools during the term.(

  • Mimi

    @luis stop being a nuisance. People are different and the more reason why some pass and some fail. It is immature to compare and boast about your single achievements. What would people like President Mugabe say with all those Degrees that he managed to get whilst incarcerated. Waitodzidza zvako freely then you should applaud the War Veterans for sacrificing the way they did for people like you. Each parent/child/teacher knows what educational weaknesses that their school children have and if they opt to have extra holiday lessons then no one should just ban them without consultation. After all it is not easy for a parent to pay an extra dollar nowadays when it’s not warranted. Be human.