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Offbeat – 27 January 2012

At its root, teaching is not about certification and qualification. It is about giving kids the ability to think. If a kid is not taught to think well, he or she becomes an adult who can’t think well.

Swimming, reading, playing with toys, watching television, wandering around in the backyard. There is so much to do in any afternoon, that I can sympathise with my daughter’s irritation with homework. I can flash back to my very own irritation with the homework of yore, just watching her. Homework was a nightmare, doom postponed until it caught up.
We didn’t have television to distract us, but I remember the frustration of missing afternoon shows on English radio, or worse yet, of missing an episode of Jet Jungle, “high in energy and protein”. If I stopped for one show, I had to miss another show.
What does it feel like to be faced with homework? There is the itching of the lower spine, the tightening of chest muscles and all of that. Not bothering to do a piece of homework led to a case of cold sweat, accompanied by nausea, the following morning. The teachers were vicious.
I find myself in the homework routine again, as my daughter brings hers home from school. She doesn’t like my help very much. Apparently I don’t explain things well. It’s a bit of a misery. Now I offer help by proxy through her mother, who knows the art of explaining. I also now remember what an isosceles triangle is. Google helped me with that one. I even had difficulty trying to spell it.
One thing troubles me, and that is the response to homework on the part of some teachers. It seems as if they hate homework just as much as my daughter and I. On a number of occasions, the homework books have revealed a signature and nothing more: no ticks, no crosses and what appears to be no care.
I mentioned this on Facebook and got a response from someone who was as irate as I. I asked her which school her kids attend? She said that she was a tertiary student. The situation obviously goes way beyond the phenomenon of a disinterested primary school teacher.
My mother was a teacher, so I have a good idea of what a teacher should be. In the afternoons, she would do her marking, creating battlefields of blood red crosses and ticks, and was able to give help where help was needed. She didn’t have to rely on systems that were purchased: she made her own material.
I know that she was a good teacher: I meet some of the people who were taught by her, and they can speak, read and write English, the language which she taught.
Speaking to other people in my age group, from across the wide spectrum of Namibia, I know that teachers shaped them, whether in classrooms or under trees. Those teachers are remembered with respect. I also understand that the teachers, through the results of their efforts, earned the respect of their community. Many went on to earn leadership roles.
Perhaps this position of leadership is why so many wanted to become teachers. But a position of leadership is not granted by a title: it is earned by actions and results.
Namibian schools are dismal. In spite of the exceptions, many teachers don’t take the profession seriously. Education is often little more than giving a brief explanation, a bit of work prescribed by the syllabus and ensuring that the work is done, with limited concern for whether the knowledge is understood or not. The results prove my point.
At its root, teaching is not about certification and qualification. It is about giving kids the ability to think. If a kid is not taught to think well, he or she becomes an adult who can’t think well. Poor teaching impairs the future of the child and those around him or her.
Yet it is not so easy to blame the teachers. There seems to be more interest in management of education and its formalities, than ensuring that the teacher can and does do his or her job. It develops a self-important culture of management, rather than teaching.
Part of the answer lies in parents going back to schools with their children and doing the homework. Without their awareness and help, children cannot be expected to know and learn.
It’s back to school for me, and if you want your kids to do well, it’s also back to school for you.

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