Our generation had it good. I think we had it great. Good schools, playgrounds, open air and school trips. In fact, I think I went to great schools, kindergarten and all. In Kindergarten, around this festive time of year, we would be asked to bring all sorts of things, feathers, old greeting cards, pieces of cloth and with that, we would make those colourful crackers filled with yummy sweets, greeting cards and we would learn to decorate the classroom or the Christmas tree. I played with plasticine and legos at school. Maybe these crafts are not authentically Kenyan, but they do instill some powerful gifts. Most important is the gift of using your own hands to create something.
Fast forward to this era, more than a decade after the new millennium. Schools, private schools are springing all over the place and Early Childhood Education course are mushrooming. But I am amazed at the new generation of people that is being produced. Have you every worked with an adult who cannot manipulate a pair of scissors? It always shocks me. These adults born in the 90s are totally incapable of using their hands to create anything. Lucky for most of them, especially females, they will have to peel a potato or two in their lifetime or make chapatis from scratch. This makes their hands a little more flexible.
I recently worked with one of those young ones. When we needed to cut some paper for wrapping gifts at work, she couldn’t cut in a straight line. Not even after we drew a line in pencil using a ruler. She simply couldn’t follow it and we watched in amazement because it was like discovering that she had a disability. So a colleague (old school) suggested that she cut the paper using a ruler. And she look severely perplexed. Hesitated like she was entirely lost. Then she proceeded, while several of us watched, to hold the ruler like a knife in order to “cut” the paper. At this moment, several of us burst out laughing and another few laughed nervously because they didn’t understand how ruler cuts paper.
There are other skills that are totally lacking. The ability to draw a line (straight-ish), or draw a geometric shape like a circle or triangle in order to explain a point. Of course, that means that the person in question can not roughly draw you simple map to locate a certain landmark. And when it comes to folding papers? Like a handwritten letter which must go into an envelope? Totally pathetic. I won’t even talk of spelling skills. They didn’t learn to use scissors so they can spend more time reading and spelling. They still can’t spell “scissor”. And it’s a not just a couple of people its a whole generation.
I don’t know why it matters, but I feel saddened to see my tiny, pint-sized relatives who are barely 7 years old doing “homework” at the end of the day. The homework usually consists of written work, arithmetic, handwriting or reading. At that age, we used to have half-day classes and those who stayed in the afternoons would draw, paint, be out on the swings and sculpt using plasticine or silly putty. Now the tiny tots do not own crayons. How do you go about life without ever having owned a crayon or coloured pencil?
It’s not so much that our parents knew better. They knew nothing. The schools then knew better. The coloured pencils, scissors, blank drawing books and brown wrapping paper for books, all used to be part of the school start-of-year list. And when it was time to cut shapes or colour, it was expected that every child had the materials to participate in those activities. If not, the parents would be asked to bring the necessary stuff or take their kid home. Even then, our parents didn’t really want us home. They would buy all the crayons necessary to keep you away.
Today, as a nation, we put too much emphasis on “classroom” education, the kind that leads to exams, to the detriment of other skills, including life skills, sports, hobbies and crafts. Rather than study from 8 to 4 pm, primary school children are now in classrooms from 7 am to 7 pm. Part of it is formal education, the rest is “extra” coaching, designed by schools to bring more income. And when schools close for 3 weeks, schools send them home for a week and then back to school for more “extra” coaching. We have seen pictures of kids in the newspapers, carrying 8kg bags at 11 years. Bags with more and more books.
The parents are not innocent. They have no idea what to do with their kids during holidays. Since mum and dad both work, unsupervised kids will only lead to trouble. It is better to keep them in school longer until one parent is ready to receive them at home.
And at home, there is only TV, video games and food to distract them. There is no craft, no painting, no plasticine or legos at home. For the parents do not know any better.