The educational values of school holidays

By Kennedy Buhere

Education is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which moulds and develops men. – W. E. B. Du Bois.

Last week, the Principal Secretary for Early Learning and Basic Education, Dr. Julius Jwan, advised heads of schools against subjecting learners to holiday tuition.

“Let children enjoy their holiday. Let them be with their parents so that when we open Schools, they will be ready to start a very intensive program when they open in April,” Dr. Jwan said.

The Principal Secretary was responding to reports to the effect that some school heads planned to have pupils in primary schools back for tuition during the long school holidays.

Education systems across the world provide school holidays during which schools are closed from study. For Kenya, the school calendar is divided into three terms—designated as instructional days. During school holidays, students break off to be with their parents or guardians.

The school holidays are normally not counted as instructional days. It is a time for students to rest—to relax from the inherent rigous of learning. Similarly teachers get the opportunity to rest or relax from the rigours of teaching—teaching which entails or should entail much more than going to class to deliver lessons.

In the best of all possible worlds, the government wouldn’t be constrained to remind school administrators that school holiday is not meant for institutionalized tuition.

Truth be told. School holiday creates room for parents to spend time with their children. It also creates time for the teachers to spend time with their own families. School holidays allow both students and teachers alike, to recharge so they do not burn out. The curriculum students are expected to master is intellectually demanding. Learning it requires attention, concentration and focus—and in effect energy and nerve sapping. Similarly, teachers need to adequately prepare before they get into class. Effective teaching depends on how well the teacher is prepared to teach. And this process happens outside the classroom—outside the actual official instructional hours of between 8.00am and 3.30pm each day of the week.

The breaks during the school calendar are aimed at allowing the accumulated stressful period of learning and teaching during the term to cool off. The cooling off period enables students to go back to school when schools reopen with fresh minds ready for new and comparatively more complex learning experiences. It also helps teachers to steam off and they get back to school at the beginning of the term recharged.

Holiday tuition doesn’t allow the learner to relax or cool off from the stress or fatigue associated with learning. Failure to relax implies diminished attention, concentration and focus during lessons or instructional time.

Learning happens when there is attention, concentration and focus. A teacher’s competence without learner attention, concentration and focus is an exercise in futility.

Holiday tuition and the relaxation associated with it—on the part of the learners—guarantees effective learning.

Apart from sustaining or restoring learner attention, concentration and focus, school holidays creates room for children to play, and interact with siblings at home and peers from other schools. They invariably compare the distinct educational experience they each have had in the just ended term. The interaction has inherent educational value no teacher worth his or salt can discount.

Additionally, school holidays provides children with an opportunity to learn things not taught in school.  The school or the classroom is not the only fountain of knowledge children require to live and or earn a living. Important as academics are, they are not the only component in a child’s education. Home life or life outside school, provides irreplaceable opportunities for children to interact socially. The world beyond the physical boundaries of the school has people who mentor, inspire and couch them about the vicissitudes of life as they participate in family and community life. They integrate this knowledge with what they learn at school.

School holidays enable their parents and guardians to understand them better and—in case of negative embryonic tendencies —nip them in the bud.

An educational institution is a kind of machine. Unlike a family, it is impersonal and overly regulated or structured. It doesn’t have the milk of kindness children or even adults find in families. Compassion, care for others, mercifulness or indulgence. That is the definition of a home. In most cases, the home provides wider latitude for the idiosyncrasies and indulgences of children. Of course, outrageous ones are restrained.

Children want a piece of this—during school holidays. There is also adventure. The home or life outside school provides adventurous situations with significant educational benefits. It helps children develop technical, intellectual and social skills by overcoming challenges and sharing decisions. Adventurous helps students to overcome fear, anxiety and physical stress. It means putting them in a problem fraught with risks.

I remember former Minister for Education, the late Mutula Kilonzo saying teachers should children be at home, look after cows, and climb mango trees and when they fall down, in the process of plucking mangoes, they will be learning life’s lessons.

 Are educationally beneficial experiences to children during school holidays are family visits to relatives and friends, or tours when parents or guardians can afford them. Some families receive visitors and relatives. This too is educational in nature. Children learn that that provides a deposit of insights, lessons, and perspectives that in the fullness of time, they adults fall back on to solve problems or deal with issues.

Holiday tuition ignores this aspect of life in the education of children. Education is not just about book knowledge; a blend of book knowledge with real-world knowledge turns boys and girls into men and women, men who can withstand danger and risks, men and women who can face a challenge and if they fail, cope with the inevitable disappointment without harming anybody including himself or herself. That is what life skills are all about. You cannot learn such enigmas of life in a classroom.

In fact, school holiday allows learners to see the knowledge or things they learn at school either replicated or applied in real life. The school is so structured that the students don’t have the opportunity, without pressure, to see and ponder about the flow of life around them. What with assignments and deadlines.

But home life is unhurried, unregimented and unstructured.   Hence the opportunity to see things either replicated or applied and with that, improved understanding and appreciation of the things they learn at school.

School holidays do something that holiday tuition denies children. It gives them an opportunity to read extensively. The students are able to juggle family choirs with reading not just course books but books that strengthen and broaden their understanding of the concepts and topics in the curriculum.

School holidays is a central element in educational policy, curricular and standards. To subject learners to holiday tuition is in fact to make nonsense of the educational policy, curricular and standards the government has designed for children—the next generation of leaders for the country.

School administrators have an obligation to nurture learners in ways that meets the holistic objectives of education. Those who insist on holiday tuition do so for commercial and not the educational reasons the schools were established to meet. They have no place in our system of education.

The writer is a Communications Officer at the Ministry of Education.

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