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Academic Overload, Burden Of Little Children

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CECILIA OGEZI and TERNGU UGESE in this report write on the effects of academic overload on children

Chinedu is only four years old, he woke up this Monday morning crying and telling his mother that he did not want to go to school. The mother, an employee of one of the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies in Lagos, was not prepared for any delays as she was rushing to go to work. So she paid no attention to the little boy.

The insistence of the young lad who is in nursery one that he was not going to school that morning was not only irritating, but was pushing the mother to the point of forcing him to take his bath and get set for school.

Of course the mother thought it was the weekend hangover, the child as she thought has become used to staying at home and playing and wanted it to continue. At the end she succeeded in forcing the child to school. But on Tuesday, it was the same struggle. The woman just couldn’t understand what was happening to her child who before now was always enthusiastic about going to school.

She forced the young man to go to school that Tuesday morning. At the school, she asked the teacher, if she usually flogged the boy, she said no. Did he fight with someone, she said no, so what could be the problem? As she left the school for her office, the mother couldn’t take her mind off thinking what could have gone wrong. Even while in the office, she couldn’t concentrate and her condition became visible to the point that a colleague of hers noticed it and asked what was wrong.

She seemed to be waiting for that question, she needed someone to give her a clue as to what might be happening to her child. She wasted no time in telling her friend how her child has been dogging going to school lately.

That is the lot of many parents who because of work or business, keep their children busy throughout the day in school. In fact most parents leave their children in school till 6pm when they return from work. The school in turn keep the children busy with extra lessons after official school hour has closed around 2pm. The parents are ready to pay as long as the children are not disturbing their work or business.

Sometimes it is the quest to assist the children to cover school syllabus and parents and schools decide to engage them for additional hours after school. Parents employ services of lesson teachers while schools organize lessons after school hours all in the bid to see them perform excellently.

Pupils are forced to spend most of the day, moving from one lesson to another, having little or no time for themselves to play.

Besides the 30 minutes’ break students spend for break time, they are all shut up in classrooms in order to finish the syllabus of about 13 to 20 subjects depending on the school program.

At the end of the day, the children are over loaded with academic work that they begin to develop some phobia for school.

It is either they are refusing to go to school or they refuse to do their homework.

Early childhood education refers to the period of education between birth and the first eight years of life. According to UNICEF, play and stimulation in these years can and has contributed to “breaking the cycle of poverty.

It also offers an entry point and platform for improving social equity and inclusion.

These early years, UNICEF says, are a period of exponential brain development; especially in the first three years.

In Nigeria, however, only 35.6 percent of children attend organised early childhood education programmes. And a lot of these organised programmes engage in overly formal pedagogical rather than the play based methodology. This makes small children associate stress with learning and perhaps, develop a dislike for learning.

Mrs Patience Sunday, a psychologist explained that the basic things that they are supposed to learn at their early stages are not learned. She added that children have to be taught over and over again what they were taught at a certain time in life because the overload did not create space for them to assimilate what was taught earlier.

The psychologist who noted that every human being has stages of development, disclosed that every child has a maximum capacity for storage of information.

According to her, when an under-aged is overloaded with information, it results in redundancy because such child is receiving information that is beyond the capacity that his brain can process.

She continued, “The brain development of a child cannot work properly without play. Children are gradually being denied their childhood and this has an adverse effect on the mental, psychological and emotional health of the child.

“Given the fact that children have to wake up as early as 5am and in some cases earlier than that time and learn between 8am and 4pm, it is no wonder why many of them have learning difficulties today.

“Our findings further revealed that in a quest for better life, most parents take up careers that do not give them time for their children. They engage the children with extra academic works for long hours to enable them concentrate at work.”

Mrs Gbemi (real name withheld) who has two children both under the age of one and three in a preparatory school in Abuja, explained that as a career woman she chose a school that can feed her children.

She said that the meals are such that they help their brain development. “They are fed more than twice between 8am and 3pm when they are in school and the school has extra curricula activities to balance learning process” she said.

Experts say the need for the establishment of culturally relevant, play-based, age-appropriate curriculum guidelines for educating the very young, including safe, indigenous and low-cost resources for play can be stimulation for optimal brain growth and development.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend, an educationist who pleaded anonymity said: “The basic purpose of education is to effect relatively permanent change in life of an individual. Education is a process of development of human capacity and value such that leads to improvement and development of the nation.

“Education should be structured to empower an individual to enable him or her realise and develop the inherent potential for the good of man and the society generally through acquisition of the right knowledge, skills, values and attitudes critical for sustainability.’’

He stated further, ‘’The transmission of knowledge and ideas to the learner by the teacher should take a gradual process in accordance with the acceptable conditions. Lesson presentation must be orderly and in stages to avoid giving the learner more than necessary within a given lesson period.”

He counseled that teachers at all levels of education should understand that the ultimate goal of education lies in understanding and internalization of the substance of every learning experience by the learners.

He said that teachers and parents should avoid overloading their wards academically. According to him, “Teachers should note that the way and manner lessons are presented has tremendous effect on the learner. Academic overload is inimical and counter- productive. This is like giving the child more than he or she can chew.”

He called on school management to endeavour to monitor teachers during lesson hours through quality assurance committee to ensure the laid down procedure is complied with.

“Books and take home assignment are equally other areas of concern. Evidence has shown that most recommended text materials and take-home work are beyond the mental and the chronological age of the pupils and this is mostly common in nursery and primary institutions,” he said.

“In view of this, I appeal to both the government, specifically the Federal Ministry of Education and school authorities to put in their best in ensuring good and quality delivery services are given the learners.

“Teachers should as well understand and appreciate that the standard and quality of the nation’s education depend on them as no education can rise above the standard of the teacher.

“Concerted effort should be made to ensure lessons are delivered orderly, step-by-step and in stages leading to avoidance of overloading the children with irrelevant ideas.’’

Agaba Wilson CEO Dreamheight Global Consult LTD who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend lamented that overloading children with academic work, which is a common practice in Nigeria, has grave consequences in the long run.

‘’Academic overload is very common in Nigeria today especially in nursery and primary schools,” Wilson said. “Two major factors, are responsible for this, over commercialization of schools and the lackadaisical attitude of government at all levels towards education.

In trying to liberalize the educational system to pave way for private individual to invest in the provision of educational services, the government failed to put in place, proper checks to ensure that only qualified individuals participate in the design and implementation of school curricula.

“This has turned the education sector into a “free-for-all”, market for everybody who has some spare monies, a small space and time to come in and exploit. Because most of these school owners are only interested in making profits, they provide what they think the parents want.

“Unfortunately, most parents either believe that children gain more with information overload or they just do not care what happens, as long as the child is kept busy and away from distracting them.

“Therefore, schools try to undo one another in this area (without considering the long term impact on the children) just to entice parents.

“On the other hand, the government has not given education the priority it deserves. As we speak, our government has not reviewed our national curriculum to reflect the needs of a 21st century society. It does not even look like we have a clear pathway to follow, let alone proper monitoring and evaluation. So, schools are left groping in the dark.

“Everyone doing what they think is best – whether or not they have the expertise to do so. School operators believe that by incorporating so much in their curricula, they would be able to capture the interests of a wide range of clients.”

Speaking further, Mr Agaba said: ‘’According to child developmental psychology, academic overload on children can result in redundancy. Redundancy occurs when children are overloaded with information that is beyond the capacity that their brain can process.

“The sensory organ will not be able to manage the information due to the child’s age, which will lead to poor academic performance, in most cases and loss of confidence in academic activities by the child.

“Another effect is the physical and physiological development of the child. Little children need a lot of sleep to grow and develop properly. Academic overload cuts into their siesta and night sleep thereby depriving them of the rest their body so much needs.

“Again, in most cases, children are being taught a lot of things that they don’t need at that age. And in doing so, only very little of what they really need are being taught to them. This is tantamount to laying false educational foundation for the child.”

Experts also say academic overload also promote rote learning in children as they are not given enough time to digest new information and apply it to their immediate environment. They end up learning in abstract.

“Academic overload only prepares the child to answer examination questions but not life’s questions,” Patience Sunday said, adding that this defeats the part of Nigeria’s philosophy of education which states that education should prepare the child to be self-reliant and to contribute positively to the society in which he lives.

Speak about possible solutions, Agba said the government needs to redefine its educational goals and review the national curriculum accordingly. “The goals should be derived from the direction Nigeria wants to go as a nation. Do we want to conquer space, food industry, energy, health, etc?

“Secondly, government must rework the educational system and make it more effective. Finally, monitoring and evaluation should be taken more seriously. The government must, as a matter of urgency, harness the potential of information technology to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its monitoring and evaluation mechanism. It is through proper monitoring and evaluation that the government can identify areas that school operators have challenges and map out strategies to assist them.”

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