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.