All work and no play Editorial
Stabroek News
April 17, 2004

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The 11 and 12 year olds who have just written the Secondary School Entrance Examination now have a brief respite. Not that they can all relax; some of them will remain worried until the results are available.

The majority of teenagers who are about to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams or the General Advanced Proficiency Examinations run by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) or the London-based General Certificate Examinations (GCE) O- and A-levels must keep their noses to the grindstone.

Their typical day starts with lessons at 6 am at their teacher's or private tutor's home, then they are off to school. In the afternoon there are more lessons either at school or at someone's home. There are lessons on Saturday and lessons on Sunday. And at night, there are assignments to complete and study hours to put in.

Maybe at some point in some public secondary schools these same children did well at athletics or other sports. Perhaps they excelled at piano, violin, drama or dance but in most cases these activities are put on hold when 'CXC' time comes around.

Schools officially closed for two weeks for the Easter holidays, but not for the 'CXC' students. The majority of them have been at school or lessons every single day.

But this does not only happen at exam time and there is no age limit, in general extra lessons and classes are at a high-water mark. Children as young as five and six years old are attending after-school, fee-paying lessons to learn phonics and how to read.

The teenagers, who are in a situation like the one described above, should be frazzled, frustrated and sleep-deprived. Perhaps privately, some are. But speak to them after their results are out; they make it all sound like a breeze. Many of them immediately enrol at the University of Guyana, where it is more of the same: classes five days a week and sometimes on Saturdays because that is when the lecturer is available. Then there are study groups and group assignments which inevitably make Sunday a 'school day'.

There is evidence that extra lessons and classes improve academic performance, but they also produce fewer rounded students and learning by rote is known to produce dullards. The value or gains that can be had from such means of study are lost when the sheer volume of what must be undertaken and the monotony is so oppressive that it turns children off altogether.

Yet for many teenagers and their parents, attending certain classes or lessons is a financial and academic status gauge. The same goes for the number of subjects they enter for; fewer than eight or nine places the student outside the 'brainy bracket'.

The question that arises here is when do these children and their parents spend quality time together? Or is family time also put on hold? How many times have 'Jean' and 'John' been damagingly excluded from outings and family gatherings because she or he "has exams"? And how much time is set aside to discuss the important issues like drugs and sex and for parents to listen to their children's problems?

The answers to these questions underscore many of the issues confounding us in society today. Granted, parents do not have much control over the demands of the education system but isn't it time we asked ourselves some other questions: What should we expect from our children? What do we want them to learn? How much is enough?