Feeding children’s brains

Parents also need to ensure that their home is a conducive environment for their children to do their homework PIC: PHATSIMO KWAPENG
Parents also need to ensure that their home is a conducive environment for their children to do their homework PIC: PHATSIMO KWAPENG

Children who are well guided and brought up at home are more likely to grow up to become responsible citizens in the future, writes Mmegi Correspondent GRAHAME MCLEOD

TONOTA: But, unfortunately, we see in many households a different scenario, especially in those headed by a single parent, usually the mother. Such a parent may be burdened with so many responsibilities - working full time, guiding the children, cleaning the house, washing clothes, cooking... In order to lighten her load, when the children return home from school they may be given chores to do, such as sweeping the yard, washing clothes, cooking... So, by the time that they have finished these, they may be too tired to concentrate on their studies! At least, in those homes where both parents are present, these responsibilities can be shared between them and so more time can be spent in better raising the children.

However, lack of parental guidance may also be due to other reasons. At present, education in Botswana is free, or at minimal cost, for those on low incomes or are unemployed. This may lead to some parents not showing an active interest in their children’s education at school. And if their children fail at school, no problem! Since they have not contributed to the cost of their education, then they have not lost, or wasted, any money.

However, if they are made to pay something towards their school fees, say P500 per term, then they may take more interest in what their children learn. After all, if their children now fail, then this will come at a cost to them! It’s like if you pay for a TV, then you own it. And you will be extra careful to look after it. Giving out freebies is not always a good idea! In the past, government has tried to assist our farmers to increase food production and produce higher yields, but many of these schemes have met with little success since government alone paid for ploughing, seeds, fertilisers, livestock feed...

And in the rural areas, many Batswana still follow the traditional three-site system way of life. This means that parents may divide their time between village, lands and cattlepost. For example, they may spend the cool season in the village, most of the summer at the lands, and anytime of the year at the cattlepost. When caregivers are on the move from one place to another, it makes it difficult for children to have stable homes. Although children may visit their parents at weekends, during the week they may stay alone, or with their siblings, in the village. Hence, many families in villages may be child-headed. This means that there will be no parental guidance and no one to encourage or assist them in their schoolwork.

Therefore, this might so easily result in the development of bad habits in their children, which, in turn, may result in a decline in their performance at school. For example, many young girls might get pregnant and drop out of school. And in most villages there are very few beneficial and character-building recreational activities such as sports and those offered in youth centres.

Regardless of whether school fees are paid or not, or where they live, parents should, nevertheless, take an interest in their children’s education. They should not neglect this! And especially if they live in marginalised rural areas where children may have less access to formal education.

Looking after a child means more than just putting a roof over his head and feeding his stomach - it’s also about feeding his brain! For example, parents could take an interest in the homework that their children bring home. If they are writing an English or Setswana composition, they could, perhaps, check on the grammar and spelling. And if you are a businessman, you could guide him in his Business Studies homework. Also, a parent who is a farmer could teach his child a thing or two about Agriculture. In Form 3, the Agriculture JCE syllabus requires pupils to grow different types of vegetables as part of their assessed practical work. Such a parent might then visit his child’s plots and assist him in laying out his plot or adding fertiliser to the soil. And if the child is involved in raising broilers, then he might observe him how he fills the feeders with chicken feed. But we do not have to be able to solve a quadratic equation, or understand the chemical concepts of atomic mass or valency, to help our children in their homework. This is because children will not criticise you if you cannot do such things; to them, what is important is that you show an interest in what they do at school. And as you assist them, you may also learn some things that you never knew! We never stop learning in life!

And parents should also teach their children about sexuality - their anatomy, reproductive parts, menstruation, safe sex, use of condoms, and to understand what is acceptable or not... However, for many parents, sexuality is often still considered a taboo subject for discussion. But if parents do not teach their children about this important topic, then their children might learn about it from their peers, and also the media, who may give them misleading information. So, sex education should be an integral part of bringing up a child in the home and should also include HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, defilement, rape, and gender-based violence (GBV). If children know about these things, then they are more likely not to become victims! But children who do not, may fall prey to these problems and are then likely to drop out of school and may not even complete their education. Or, if they do, they may underperform and fail to achieve good grades in their final examinations.

And parents also need to keep an eye on which family members their children come into contact with, especially when they leave the home and leave them in their care. This is because male family members such as uncles and stepfathers so often defile girls. At school, pupils study a number of different subjects. Although many of these might be compulsory and are ‘core’ subjects, such as Mathematics, Science, English and Setswana, others may be optional. For example, such subjects might include Art, Computer Studies, Food and Nutrition, Geography, Development Studies, Additional Mathematics... Parents should be aware of what these subjects are all about so that they can, in turn, assist their children to make the right choices. In so doing, parents should be aware of their children interests. For example, if they like spending hours on their laptops, then perhaps you could advise them to pursue Computer Studies at school. And if they enjoy cooking at home, then doing Food and Nutrition would be an obvious choice.

When my own son entered senior secondary school as a Form 4 pupil, he also had to make choices between a long list of optional subjects. One thing that I noticed about him in junior secondary school was that he often did not perform very well in those subjects that would be considered ‘easy.’ He was the kind of pupil who needed a challenge. So, I advised him to do Additional Mathematics in Form 4, a subject considered very difficult by most pupils! And certainly, one that most parents might not advise their children to follow! But he did very well in the subject and got a B grade in the BGCSE exams. And with this knowledge, he studied at UB for a BSc degree in Finance, which included several mathematics modules. In these, he regularly scored over 90%. So, my advice paid off!

But it’s not enough for children to be able to list the member states of SADC, understand what photosynthesis is, or solve a quadratic equation! Such knowledge is taught in our school curricula, which shows that the government considers western education, and nothing else, to be education! But to be fair, western education is very important because if one cannot read or write, then the chances of getting worthwhile employment are very limited.

However, government overlooks the importance of indigenous knowledge. For this reason, parents at home should deal with this aspect of education. Children should be taught, for example, the basic Setswana greetings, which always refer to the person being greeted: Dumela Mama/Rra/Malome... But some children think that there is nothing amiss by greeting an older person with hey or simply saying that person’s surname. I have been greeted so often by younger people who greet me by just saying my surname: McLeod. That really irritates and I ask them why, as a foreigner, I should have to teach them the Setswana greetings? And it’s not only greetings where young people fail to respect their culture. In Setswana culture, it is considered very rude for a young person to say akere to an elder.

While there is much concern over the present high level of youth unemployment, very little importance is attached to the number of young people who lack important indigenous knowledge that the workplace may require. And a lack of such knowledge can easily be seen when a young person attends an interview for a job. At an interview, those responsible for recruiting people will be older people who know and expect compliance with basic indigenous etiquette and manners. For this reason, a young person may have graduated from university with excellent qualifications but may fail to secure a job at the interview simply because he has displayed rude behaviour and shown no respect for the local culture. And some jobs require frequent contact with the public or potential clients; for example, a hotel receptionist or waiter, or a sales manager... If I was interviewing a young person who did not greet me properly, I would certainly not recommend him for a job!

Indigenous education in the home also involves parents cultivating a strong work ethic into their children. This can be done by assigning chores to children such as cooking, sweeping the yard, fetching water from the well, sweeping the house... Some children are used to waking up before dawn to do household chores and washing the pots after supper in the dark. So, working hard and getting to work on time will be second nature to them and so will help them later in life to remain in employment.

Parents also need to ensure that their home is a conducive environment for their children to do their homework. They should have a quiet room with desks and chairs and which is also free of distractions such as TV or loud music. And they should also be allowed sufficient time to complete their homework without being asked to do household chores! So, it is perhaps unfortunate that these days housework is now done by maids.

At the end of every term, schools issue reports, which show how pupils are doing at school. Parents should seriously read these! If their children are doing well, then they should complement or congratulate them - this will boost their self-esteem and inspire them to do even better next time! And if their children are not doing so well, then they should take action. For example, if the report states that the child does not have a good attitude to schoolwork, then the parent could put in place some strategies to ensure that the child has a more positive attitude in future. For example, the parent could supervise more closely how the child does his homework. And if the English teacher says that the child should read more, then the parent could possibly borrow some books from the local library for him to read.

Most schools face a serious shortage of textbooks. In class, one may observe four or five pupils sharing one textbook and in these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, pupils are not allowed to share books at all because of the need to enforce social distancing. Now reading textbooks complements, and builds upon, what teachers teach in the classroom. To solve this problem, parents could buy some textbooks, if they can afford to do so. And not forgetting pens, pencils and mathematical instrument sets! Nowadays, our world is dominated by TV, the Internet, social media... Although such media often receive negative publicity, they are, nevertheless, valuable sources of information. On the TV, children can learn much from news bulletins and documentaries. And on the Internet, there is Google and Wikipedia. So, parents who have access to TV or a computer, should encourage their children to use them constructively. However, they need to supervise their children lest they use them for less desirable purposes!

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