As schools continue to turn into breeding grounds for risky behavior among children, several people are concerned about what teachers are doing with children given the fact that they spend more time with them. Several learners have been exposed to other vices such as drug and substance abuse, alcoholism, homosexuality, and violence at school.
Isaac Kasujja, a parent, says that partly the blame should be on parents who have failed to carry out their parenting roles. He, however, wonders what role schools and teachers can play given the fact that children spend more time in what is presumed to be a controlled and safe environment.
Much of the bad behavior among children currently is rooted in schools. They spend very limited time at home. “For our children in day schools, they spend nearly the entire day at school and very little time with parents,” the father of two states.
It turns out that Kasujja’s worry has previously been a hot topic of discussion among several other parents, teachers, and specialists as they try to determine what the teachers are doing with the learners.
Educationist Fagil Mandy notes that he recently conducted calculations that indicated that Ugandan children spend approximately three-quarters of their time at school. According to Fagil, even if teachers and schools are not the learners’ primary caregivers, their effect and role in fostering the modern-day situation cannot be disregarded.
Just as Fagil points out, the education system is formally and offhandedly placing children at school more than any other area. For instance, each year, school-going children spend a minimum of 9 months at school.
This time is increased as some schools, mostly private, also encroach on holidays. For day scholars, learners nowadays leave home as early as 6:00 a.m. and return at or after 6:00 pm. This leaves parents with a limited window of about 2 to 3 hours with their children, who are at times loaded with homework or other assignments.
For about fifteen years, learners are in the hands of teachers right from nursery until they reach senior six. However, Fagil, who has been conducting sessions on “Good Parenting Skills” for parents and teachers, says that while schools and teachers are having learners for the better of their early and adolescent times, they are not shaping the lives of the learners under their care.
The educationist says that in many schools, teachers focus on getting students to cram classwork while ignoring the social and physiological requirements of students, who are then drawn into risky behavior.
“Go to schools and see. All the teachers’ focus is on what they call academics.” At times, the teacher-pupil interaction is limited to where is your book? What is the answer to this question? and such. “There is no time to look at, conduct or guide these learners to navigate issues that come with growth and development or even impart values, life skills, and ethics,” he adds.
Hassan Gombe, the headteacher of Mulago high school, also agrees that since learners spend more time at school, this has turned schools, and teachers in particular, into second parents who must shape learners’ minds and help them to recognize their talents and goals. According to Gombe, in the past, schools had systems to help learners overcome their growth and development challenges, which at times pushed them into risky behavior. The systems would also help the schools to closely monitor learners’ activities at school.
He adds that senior teachers could be identified but that other teachers also shared the responsibility of caring for learners. He, however, states that many schools no longer have such teachers, and where they do exist, they are no longer carrying out their obligations as required.
As part of their training, a teacher is taught how to handle and nurture learners at an individual level. But Francis Ojulong, a veteran teacher, says this function is no longer fulfilled. He points out that currently there are several factors which are making it difficult for teachers to execute this mandate.
Ojulong cites the basic example, which points to the fact that teachers might fail to pay attention to each learner’s social and psychological needs given the high teacher-pupil ratio in many schools, both private and public. Giving the example of St. Martins primary school, Kampala, which has 1,355 learners and 20 teachers, Ojulong says that it might not be easy for teachers to care for each learner.
Adrine Kabananukye, the deputy headteacher in charge of discipline at Kololo SS, agrees that under the current situation, schools might not provide special attention to the social and psychological needs of the learners.
“Truth be told, teachers are focused on teaching and academics and you might not blame them.” Although learners spend more time at schools, the fact is individual teachers might have limited time to interact with learners, and this might be during the minutes they spend in class, she notes. Adding that “even when counselling sessions are arranged, they are limited since it might be one or two in the whole term, yet it also doesn’t focus on individual needs of learners.”
According to Kabananukye, although learners spend more time at school, their parents’ influence is critical even when they get to school. “Teachers can help to parent and nurture learners, but this cannot be done without the parents and even the community.” “Parents must play their primary roles and if this is done, teachers will not find a hard time advising and guiding learners while they are at school,” she said.
Kabananukye also adds that in some cases, teachers have such a huge teaching load and other demands that they might fail to take the parenting roles while at school to the fullest. She, therefore, advises that as parenting is becoming critical in schools, there is a need to either decrease the teacher’s load or employ experts in parenting and guide and counsel.
In the same vein, Fagil says there is a need to reinforce parenting in formal schools, and if necessary, learning areas or topics on behaviour, life skills, and values should be introduced on the school timetable.
The educationist also points out that many teachers being passed out from training institutions are not equipped with parenting skills, yet they are expected to play such roles after being deployed in schools. There is a need to review the teaching curriculum to ensure that such aspects are well captured.
However, he notes this cannot occur in a vacuum, saying there is a need for the parents and the community to be equipped on how to nurture, care and look for the children’s social and physiological needs in order to produce an all-around child in the end.