Summer school within the context of this essay refers to academic or semi-academic sessions which most private schools in Nigeria organise for crèche, primary school pupils and secondary school students during the long vacation. Outside its contextual reference are the JAMB preparatory schools or institutes organised for special topics during the long holidays between July and September every year when the new session starts. My query is on the abuse of the concept by some school proprietors to the detriment of the health of kids, the overall well-being of teachers and the abdication of parental responsibilities. There is a great deal of economic exploitation, ignorance, vanity and outright irresponsibility. It further promotes the poor bonding between parents and their kids in their growing up years. As a parent I have never sent any of my kids to the so-called summer coaching. And by God’s providence they have all gone through university!
The regular school system is designed in such a manner that after a long session of academic work, both teacher and pupil/student need some time off regular work. It is time to relax, travel, spend time with family and do ordinary things which people are not able to do during the session. As a boy I always looked forward to the long holidays. It gave us the opportunity to just sleep and wake up as we liked. We read all the western novels that existed – James Hadley Chase, Sidney Sheldon, Nick Carter, Agatha Christie, and many more. We played football. We played hide-and-seek. Sometimes I like some other classmates did vacation jobs where we were paid some money. When we got to Primary Five, extra lessons were organised to help us pass the Common Entrance examinations to secondary school.
Later the culture of summer school crept in to keep the students busy academically through the holiday period. Good policy, good idea, poor conception and poor implementation. In Nigeria the summer school idea has become an elaborate fraud and another means of exploitation. These days, schools organise summer coaching for kids as young as three-years. The only difference is that school starts at 9am and ends at 2pm or 3pm or on special arrangement with parents school could close at 4pm. The teachers are compelled to participate after being graciously granted a one-week holiday in some schools. These are often graduate teachers who are on a monthly salary of twenty-five thousand naira! ‘You must work for your salary during the holiday,’ the proprietors of these institutions often say. The teachers are not paid anything extra. The school owners see it as a means of fund generation. Some even travel abroad to enjoy the European summer season while summer school is on and allow meagerly-paid teachers to slug it out with much grumbling and dissatisfaction.
I once administered a questionnaire on sandwich students, most of whom were teachers in schools across Lagos State. The average salary of these teachers was twenty-thousand naira per month. No pension scheme. No retirement scheme. They were all compelled to take part in the summer programme with a threat that those who did not participate would lose their jobs. Summer jobs should be optional both to staff and students. Some parents want their kids to start going to school (pre-school) from Age 1! ‘My two-year old son can read the newspaper! Isn’t that brilliant? Nobody should harangue those kids into a school regime that they would have to spend all their teenage life battling with! Let the kids play sometimes, or do different things. Of course there are some schools that organize trips or tours for their pupils. Excellent. Keep them busy in different ways. Let it be fun. Don’t deny kids their childhood by forcing them into adulthood before their time!
The concept of summer education is noble. In the university system outside our shores students could spend more time or retake courses which they had failed. They could spend time on other courses of interest and gain credits. In some cases special institutes are organized for willing participants. I benefited from this even as a middle level academic. One of my kids traveled out of the country as summer experience. Great. But to keep them in classrooms going through the syllabus of the next class in my view is not healthy for the child. For some when school reopens, particularly in the big cities, the kid is woken up with the adults at 5am or earlier, dressed up and shipped off to school buy 6.30 a.m. The child dozes of in the car. School starts by 8 a.m. and closes by 1pm or 2 p.m. They start lessons, extra coaching and close by 5 or 6 p.m. By the time the driver comes for them, it is 6 p.m. and they get home by 8 p.m. barely able to eat dinner and crash into bed. The next morning it is the same routine. On Saturday the lesson teacher comes to the house to engage the same kid from 10 a.m. through 5 p.m.
Some parents are both victims and culprits of this frivolity. Victims because they see it as a sign of success or belonging to drop their kids off at summer schools. By doing his they deny the kids the opportunity to play at home. Parents are also culprits because they cannot afford to keep their kids at home during the holidays and do real parenting. The summer school is expected to do this for them. Parents should be told: playing is part of education. Such parents have turned the schools into a dumping ground or caretaker community. ‘Please school should reopen so that these kids can go back to school. Their wahala is too much! This is a refrain from some parents. Dear parent reading this: the kids should be allowed to do nothing but play; just play sometimes. Didn’t you as a child enjoy playing? During the holiday, let them play more and do some extracurricular work as an aside, not the routine.
The Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and all other regulatory bodies such as the Ministry of Education have a role to play. They should step in. Parents need to be educated. Parenting is a responsibility for the parent, not the school. It is one of the reasons some parents never ever get to truly know and understand their kids. A child who did not play while growing up would miss childhood and never would be able to let their children play too. Adults need to play sometime much less children. My dear parent, please let that kid just enjoy the holiday playing and may be learning a few things by the side. A holiday should be a holiday!