Ebola or No Ebola, the Music Plays On

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Even primary school pupils are made to attend summer classes

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Notwithstanding the threat of Ebola virus, holiday lessons remain open to primary and secondary school students to prepare them for the next classes and keep them away from trouble

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Aug. 25, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

MARYLYN Okwumbu was all smiles on Saturday, July 26,as she mounted the podium to receive her prize as the best graduating student in a private school at the Federal Housing Estate, Nyanya, an outskirt of Abuja. Okwumbu was one of the over 30 students in the school who had just completed their primary school education and are eager to move on to the next stage of their educational pursuits.

Two weeks later, the nine-year-old Okwumbu and her friends, who recently sat for entrance examinations into various secondary schools, were enrolled by their parents at a tutorial centre where they are now preparing for life in a secondary school. Okwumbu’s case is similar to that of Chidi Okoye, son of a civil servant in Abuja, who barely had time to rest after his school’s prize-giving day and end-of-session celebration in July. Barely a week after the event, he was also enrolled by his parents at a tutorial centre near his home in order to keep him busy during the holidays and also prepare him for the new session.

Although Okwumbu and Okoye reside in Abuja, they share a similar fate with students in various parts of the country in the sense that they are deprived of the opportunity to enjoy their vacation period.

This is happening in spite of the federal government directive that all  schools should remain shut until the outbreak of Ebola virus is curtailed.  In many Nigerian cities, pupils are still seen gathering in large numbers for holiday lessons not minding the threat of the incurable disease.

Unlike what obtained  in times past when school children had an opportunity to rest, take their minds off school work and were able to play with their friends, relatives and also visit fun places, it is no longer so for students of this age. Most parents tend to forget the axiom that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and prefer that their wards should be kept busy during the vacation with  holiday coaching rather than be left to themselves.

Olayinka Oladunjoye (Commissioner for Education) Lagos State
Olayinka Oladunjoye (Commissioner for Education) Lagos State

Most schools in the country have adopted the holiday coaching programme specially designed to keep students busy during holidays  and also help the schools raise funds. They encourage parents to enrol their children on the pretext that the classes would be used to prepare them for the next session and keep them away from trouble.

Other than the fact that the students don’t wear their uniforms, the holiday coaching programme is not different from normal school days for many students in various parts of the country. They are made to attend classes and battle with the rigours of academic work. Left to themselves, many of the students would prefer to spend the holiday periods on something else, but they have no choice other than attending the holiday coaching lessons because many parents see it as the best way to keep them busy.

Grace Ajayi, an Abuja based civil servant, said she prefers to enrol her children in the holiday programme to having them playing around throughout the period. “My husband and I are fully employed and we have to go to work every day. It is a tough challenge because the children are supposed to be relaxing during the period of their holidays. But because there is no one to stay at home with them, we have to enrol them in holiday classes just to keep them busy,” Ajayi said.

It is a similar situation for Chinyere Abiagom whose two children also attend holiday classes in a school close to their home. Like other parents, she believes that her children should not be allowed to play too much during the holiday period. “I want them to enjoy the holidays but I am also conscious of the fact that they need to prepare for the next session. I enrolled them at the coaching centre and when they close in the afternoon, they join me in the shop. I think that is enough for them,” Abiagom said.

Stephen Rishiwa, an Abuja-based civil servant, is another parent who shares the notion that the children need to attend extra lessons during holidays. According to him, such coaching sessions should not be very strenuous, but it is important that children are engaged in a positive way.

“One thing is that if you don’t monitor children, they are not likely to read on their own. There are very few of them who can read on their own. You have to put them under guidance for them to be able to do what you want them to do, especially now that we have so many distractions around. If you don’t have the time to properly manage the situation, chances are that if you ask them to do something and you turn your back, before you know it, they are already doing something else. But, if you have an organised setting where they will do certain things you want them to do, it will go a long way in making a positive impact on them,” he said.

It is not just parents who are eager to keep their children busy, governments in various parts of the country are also developing special programmes for students during holiday periods. In Lagos State, for instance, Olayinka Oladunjoye, the state’s commissioner for education, announced recently that the government had designated about 127 centres in various parts of the state for holiday lessons.

The Delta State government also plans for something similar. At a recent educational summit, Hope Eghagha, commissioner for education, had  announced that the state government was planning to develop a special holiday programmes for students in the state.

Grace Ajayi
Ajayi

Regardless of the desires of many parents and government to keep the children engaged during  holiday periods, Valerie Okoye, a child psychologist, believes that the holidays should be a period of less work for children. “It is wrong to encumber students with academic work during the holiday period. As a matter of fact, it is a period meant for students to relax, go on an adventure and develop other skills that they cannot learn in school. But in this part of the world, students are made to attend schools all throughout the year and that is very wrong,” Okoye.

Also commenting on the issue, Kola Ajibade, a newspaper columnist, argued that bombarding students with academic work during holiday periods is unhealthy. “In the boarding schools those days, we looked forward to long vacations purely as a time to relax, rest and indulge in extra-curricular activities after  sessions of serious academic work,” he wrote, adding: “Holidays should be a time for children to enjoy the company of their parents, enjoy better meals and other activities they have missed for sometimes. It is also a time to read novels, watch movies and do various domestic chores that further prepare them for the future. In those days, children in the villages used the period to assist their parents in farmwork, some whose parents engaged in trading would either be in the house to do the chores or help their parents in the market.

“But times are changing. To catch up, students have to go through summer coaching and other academic programmes that will not keep them too far away from their school work. But whether this is healthy for the wellbeing and general development of the children, is another matter entirely.”

For the school owners and teachers, the holiday classes are, perhaps, the surest way of making extra money during the period. According to Hilda Idealokpea, a teacher in a private school in Abuja, many private schools will not be able to pay their teachers during the holiday months if they do not organise the classes. “It is the only way they make money because the students don’t pay school fees during holidays. Even as a teacher, if you decide to opt out, the owners of the schools will make it clear to you that you will not be paid for the period of the holiday,” Idealokpea said.

 But whether the threat of Ebola virus is going to discourage parents from enrolling their children for holiday coaching is yet to be seen. As at now, it is business as usual for holiday coaching operators who are smiling to the banks.

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