Let The School Child Breath, By Dorcas Sanni Ojelabi


The teacher of Amanda in K.G one at barely two (years of age) is already convincing the parents to allow her be taken in extra lesson till 4pm. 


Many Nigerian Parents, caught up in the relentless hustle of life often referred to as the “rat race” (popularised by Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad Poor Dad), see early schooling as a way to free up time constraints and a competitive social climate. Also with vivid cases of children who through sound education brought their families out of poverty, a discerning struggling or average Nigerian parent would want their children to follow suit.
Education they say is the key to success so many of such families pursue this education as they see it as an escape route away from poverty. Little wonder we see even the child of a peasant in the best of private schools. For such parents it doesn’t matter if they have to starve or sell their belongings to ensure their children attain this height. The rationale behind such deprivation is that one day the child will pay back bountifully thus an average or a struggling family starts what a senior colleague of mine has termed the rat race.

A struggling family puts resources together and at a tender age of two tenders their children for the schooling process. Catching them young is the belief and there ‘ain’t’ anything wrong in it you may say but at what cost? So in a bid to catch them young, parents who do not have the understanding that one year baby Ebuka that can now sing so many rhymes and recite all the alphabets is only in school/crèche because his parents belongs to the working class and thus cannot be available to cater for him at home; wanting to measure up with this group of Ebuka’s parents others follows same lane.

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It doesn’t matter that Ebuka reciting the alphabets is a way the private school justifies the fees they are been paid and at age two Amanda’s parent takes her to school. At that tender age Amanda is already in K.G one and it’s only a matter of time before the teacher convince the parents to allow her be taken in extra lesson till 4pm.

In the words of Architect Tunde Aboaba an Executive Director at Interstate Architects, “long working hours create a double burden, particularly for families in urban areas. Available childcare options often prioritise academics heavily, neglecting the social and emotional benefits of learning through age-appropriate activities.

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So for two year old Amanda learning at her age comes heavily with loads of homework from her school teacher and more assignment from her private home teacher. By the time her home teacher closes for the day Amanda battles between both assignments but most important and desirable for Amanda is the television station showing her favourite cartoon. Having gone through uninterrupted long hours of learning her body, spirit and soul would only desire cartoon that she can watched in a relaxed manner. That is even when there is power supply; she may be forced to do all homework in a state of fatigue. She goes through primary education Monday through Saturdays and January through December. Yes Saturdays because the private teacher is likely to show up, that is if she is not attending Arabic School or attending choir practice in church. Whichever she attends, learning still takes place. I mentioned January through December because holiday lesson has come to replace what we use to know as the school holidays or school break; a period where there should be no serious process of learning but a time for the brain to relax. Many private schools have an explanation for this ‘so that they will not forget what they have been taught, holiday lesson must happen’; but schools were closed for a whole term during the Covid 19 pandemic and rather than brain relapsing many got automatic promotion to the next class.
Secondary school education will seem worse for a child if this pattern of education continues. We can all imagine what academics is like for private school students in J.S.S 3 or S.S.S 3 as if coming to school with heaps of textbook is not enough. Many of this students prepare for their exams as if preparing a win or die court case!

This write up is not out against the private schools because I witnessed the Proprietress of an approved Montessori school arriving unexpectedly in the school only to discover the teacher taking an infant class in deep calculation. When she asked the rationale behind the lecture for a suppose kindergarten class, the teacher had replied that many mothers complains that children of their friends in other private school are doing much better, writing and solving calculations meant for senior classes. Ending her explanation she mentioned a mother who withdrew her child two weeks ago for same reason. Where parents now dictate the tune why will the fault be on private schools? It is only normal for all private owned schools to do what they can to survive and keep flying among many competitors. However whatever they are doing in the name of survival should not be at the detriment of our children, we should know where to draw the lines!

Mostly on my way to evening service I observed a mother picking her suppose four year old son from school while he sleep walks. With an infant strapped to her back, she drags the boy along till her attention is called to the boy sleep walking, then she tries to carry him to any distance her strength can take her. Most appalling for me was to see same boy being under the tutelage of his home teacher; not resting nor relaxing from his daily academic struggles! According to Aboaba such parents often don’t realise their contribution to the problems that manifest in their children later in life.

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I know another child whose mother is a teacher, one who ensured she bought her son all necessary textbooks and even a private teacher only to discover he was never interested in digesting the contents of the textbooks but producing the replicate of the textbooks via drawing. Not until her son gave her a drawn picture portrait of herself as a birthday gift did she realise it was time to take him to a technical school and today he is doing brilliantly well in graphic design. Who says it must be all ‘book book’? Personally I have lost count in the number of times I visit a cobbler to mend my son’s shoe, lost count of times I have to re-buy a new television remote because the moment a goal is scored the remote can be flung up the ceiling in excitement. Though not a dull student, he eats and sleeps football; no matter my displeasure in that sport if that will be his choice then I will have to allow him.

I remember anchoring an engagement ceremony only to discover that the bride sister who was to read the proposal letter had fallen deeply asleep. At the end of the ceremony she came to offer me an apology that she had been stressed out during the week because her J.S.S 3 examination is approaching. She told me she had to leave her coaching centre for the engagement venue an hour before I announced her name and when asked if she was having difficulty with any of the subjects taught on that day, she replied she couldn’t even make any sense out of all the subject she was taught that week. To think her father had to cough his last penny to ensure she attended that particular coaching class made me ask myself who was to blame; the school, the parents or the girl?

The likes of Wole Soyinka and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie were perhaps book worms but at what point in their history were they forced into learning? Like the private schools this epistle is not against parents ensuring they do all it takes to get their children educated but that we re-examine the plight of the child in all these and stop making them run faster than their shadows!

Yes we have heard cases of young graduates at ten or sixteen and we probably want same if not more for our wards but at what cost? Last time I checked a girl who graduated at age sixteen was probably denied University admission here in Nigeria but was granted in India but those whose fathers are in heaven sure do not go to hell so her father (who probably could not stand the injustice) used all the resources that you and I may not afford for now to make her admission possible in India. Who says hope is completely lost if a struggling Nigerian father finds his child in same situation? Recently a U.S teenager earned her doctoral degree at age 17. Reading through her story i discovered Dorothy Tillman was homeschooled during her early years and only began college at age ten. It is possible that Tillman’s parent may have hired her private teacher but she did not go to school at a tender age or forced into extra lessons. I believe for her learning was voluntary.

Education for Tillman did not come with the unending rigorous learning process that many have subjected their children to. It wasn’t at her detriment and without being schooled till ten years she made it to the success ladder.
The emphasis here is early enrolment and the pressure to accelerate but “learning through age-appropriate activities isn’t frivolous, it is fundamental! Through activities such as exploration, creative expression and social interaction, children develop essential skills at their own pace. Exploration helps children learn about the world around them, fostering curiosity and problem solving skill. Creative expression allows children develop their imagination, communication skills and emotional well-being while social interaction helps children build friendship, resolve conflicts and develop communication skills. These skills are all crucial for success throughout life. Skipping (any) of this vital stage can lead to various challenges in adulthood such as depression, addiction and social difficulties (Aboaba).
This excessive attendant evil in the guise of learning (what many have termed as the brain drain) is the reason this children on getting to tertiary institutions starts detesting lectures because all their lives they have been chained to the box of knowledge; so when mummy and Daddy are no longer in sight, they flee!

Today is children’s day, a day we celebrate the right of the children, through this platform let’s reflect on what we have subjected children to. Let’s break the cycle of pressuring children and not forgetting that every child develops at their own pace. Don’t rush them through academics- prioritise exploration and play for a brighter future. Even our colonial masters don’t start serious academics till children are five.
Let us come to terms that a child at a tender age only needs childcare thus if child care is needed, seek options that value both play and age-appropriate academics. Consider options like play-based pre-schools or childcare centres that incorporate social interaction and creative activities alongside educational elements.

Most guilty in the rat race are those of us who carried them in the womb, let’s mother and not murder them in bit. Enough of the excessive tutorials! Enough of the unnecessary acceleration at the child’s detriment! If they must learn let’s know where to draw the lines, study to know when they are stressed and when they need to relax. LET THE SCHOOL CHILD BREATH!


Dorcas Sanni Ojelabi (Alagatosoji MC DSO) currently the Secretary to the Elegboro of Egboro kingdom, Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State.

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