Since I have come in touch with several expensive private schools recently, and the parents thereof, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the nature of schooling — I really cannot call it education — our children are being subjected to. Many St Kayumba schools we know. Schools are overpopulated and under-resourced. Many of the teachers are also under-trained and overwhelmed. How does one cope with a class of more than 60 or even 100 children and adolescents? Particularly when there are few books and even fewer training materials. I have nothing but the utmost admiration for our teachers who can be found in even the remotest village attending school and attempting to teach. (Of course, I have less admiration for some of their other activities such as overseeing elections).
I think this is particularly the case in secondary schools. I have not studied psychology sufficiently to be able to make proper diagnoses, but I ask myself what is the impact on adolescents when they have to sit in a classroom all day, often without a teacher and without books. They know what happened to their predecessors who all walked out of school after four years of a similar life with the big ‘0’ stamped on their foreheads so they have little confidence or motivation to study anyway. What’s the point? And the stresses and frustrations show in their behaviour. In such situations, I am not surprised that a teacher resorts to caning as a temporary control measure.
No, I am not talking about these schools, though I know the majority of our children attend such schools. Today, however, I want to talk about the minority who attend private schools. I thought they were English medium and most of them are but they are also caning medium. At first, when I became aware of the phenomenon, I could not believe it. The classes are small in number and there are books! Yes, books! and other teaching materials! Why on earth do they think they have to use caning all the time? And they do. And if any nosy parent starts inquiring and questioning, the teachers threaten the kids that, if they tell their troublesome parents who object, they will face more of the caning.
Respect requires thinking
But then, when I came to think about it more, I realised that, of course, caning is the instrument to achieve what these schools want:
Cramming and vomiting.
In silence, you don’t learn communication, you don’t learn relationships. Of course, some silence is important but there is a certain noise that accompanies real learning, a buzz, hum or children interacting, sharing, working together on different subjects. How often do we hear that in our schools these days? How often are children encouraged to sit in groups and discuss among themselves?
Obedience is also a virtue but respect is an even greater one because respect requires thinking, feeling, deciding while obedience is purely mechanical and our children are often forced to obey the most nonsensical things, or even misbehaviour such as a teacher or an elder wanting the young girl (or boy these days) to give in to him/her. Such obedience is reinforced by caning. It is the obedience of fear not the respect of a thinking human being and it can have disastrous consequences.
Cramming and vomiting. You cram the notes of your teacher and return them to him or her verbatim. No thinking, no questioning, no looking for alternatives. If you do, you are likely to face the caning again, especially if it leads you to show up your teacher.
Teachers are not gods
Teachers are not gods, they are not omniscient. They make mistakes but even if a student sees a mistake, he or she is not allowed to corrects the teacher. And it is not as if memorisation is a valuable skill any more. What we need are children and adults who know how to access knowledge, how to evaluate it, triangulate it with other sources and form their own opinions and act on them. The teacher is then a guide and someone who challenges them always to think beyond the obvious.
Even worse these days, you cannot correct the curriculum either. You know what you see. You know what your parents talk about but then you have to write essays on how democratic Tanzania is and the wonderful way the elections are conducted. I heard one teacher telling a student:
“We all know the elections were not free and fair … but don’t put that in the exam.”
So we are teaching hypocrisy too. And caning if you fail to be a hypocrite!
We are also destroying the love of learning. If you read by caning, you will definitely stop reading once the caning is no longer there. Then we complain about the lack of a reading culture. But that is a topic for another article. History is a good example. History is interpretation, often based on insufficient information. And our interpretations are influenced by our class, our position in society and our upbringing. But in history too, we have to accept the ‘official’ version.
I cannot finish this article without a mention of the baleful effect of exams. Starting from around the age of 10, basically, our children do exams every two years. And our exams are predicated on cramming. So every second year (or third in the case of Standard Seven) our children do not learn, they do not read about new things, they do not expand their minds, they do not develop critical thinking skills, they just do exam question after exam question after exam question. And schools measure themselves purely and only by exam results.
And the rot actually starts from nursery schools. I could not believe it when a small child came home with homework and exam results. At the age of four? I wanted him to tell me who he had played with that day, what games they played, who was his best friend, who won the football but all I got was Wani, Too, Thirii, Foo, Faivu, Siksi, Seveni …. I don’t regard that as anything to celebrate.
Leaders who can’t think for themselves
So what is the underlying curriculum of these schools? We are turning out a middle and upper class, leaders in different fields in society, who cannot think for themselves, who obey authority fearfully and unthinkingly and who keep silent however unjust the situation is.
Is that really the formula for developing a democratic and entrepreneurial society where the views of all come together to develop policies and actions for the better good of our nation? No way, we follow our leaders and hope against hope they are taking us in the right direction as we won’t cry out even if we see we are heading for the ditch.
Better the ditch than to invite an adult ‘caning.’
However, lately, I have come to realise that the schools are not entirely to blame. They are providing what the parents want … well-exammicated kids and, my God, caning is the best way to get there.
Richard Mabala is an educator, a poet, and a recognized writer of two popular books, Mabala the Farmer and Hawa the Bus Driver. He can be reached through his e-mail address which is email@example.com or on Twitter at @MabalaMakengeza. These are the writer’s own opinions and they do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative.