For most of us in the teaching profession, August is a moment of great relief. After we have ploughed through the marking of mountains of “mock” and other examinations and written the reports, we send our charges home and look forward to a few weeks of quiet sanity.
It is, however, not quite as rosy as it sounds, especially these days. We know, for example, that the dear parents to whom we release the students will also have their few weeks of challenge, containing and occupying the holidaymakers. Part of the irony is that many of us teachers are also parents, with our own holidaymakers to cope with.
Add this to the demands of our increasingly necessary school-based university programmes, you will find that our “holiday” plates are much more than half-full.
But let us start with the really important matter of football. You probably remember the coach who told his players that football was not a matter of life and death but something far more important.
Was it Sir Alex Ferguson who came up with that? Anyway, we may all have to make up our minds about that, quite soon.
STARTED EARLY THIS WEEK
It all started early this week when some medical gurus came up with the advice that female footballers (or “soccer” players) would do well to refrain from heading the ball during their matches. It was not good for the health of their brains, the savants opined. Obviously, the first question among those of us raised on gender-conscious nuances was: why single out women? Is what is bad for the goose not bad for the gander?
As if in answer to our murmurings, a Nigerian “encephalopathy” (brain disorder) expert dropped the answer almost literally on our pitch.
Dr Bennet Omalu affirmed that heading the ball, as footballers do, is bad for the brain, and it should be minimised or avoided by all players, especially underage ones. That is still discriminatory (“ageism”), but it throws some light on the matter, at least as far as health is concerned.
But where does it leave our beloved football? To head or not to head, that is the question. Will “headball” be banned and become a punishable offence, like handball? Shall we never witness again those brilliant headers that have thrilled us down the decades, like Maradona’s “hand-of-God” goal that propelled Argentina to World Cup glory back in the (pre-VAR) 1980s?
We all have to think fast, even if we are not coaches or sports teachers, because neither football nor scientific medical evidence is likely to go away any time soon. What shall we do? We can ban headers, we can ignore the medics and just carry on as we have always done, or maybe we can introduce some form of protective headgear for soccer players.
KIND OF PRACTICAL
Indeed, it is this kind of practical, critical and creative thinking that I wanted to recommend to my fellow educationists, now that there is a relative pause in our classroom activities. I suppose the code for it is “thinking outside the box”. Could it also be “thinking outside the circle”?
Anyway, we urgently need this kind of thinking, especially in our educational system, in the light of the spate of sad and destructive events, indeed patterns, that we have witnessed in our schools recently.
I suggested in one of my recent comments that one of the root causes of the hullabaloo among our school-going young people is the age-old insistence on written examinations as determiners of ability and achievement.
Those A, B or C- grades, accumulated from gruelling ordeals endured over a number of days to sum up an eight-year or four-year process of growing up, are, at best, a mockery of the realities of life.
These grades should certainly not be used as the final deciding criteria of who goes where, or who goes nowhere. After all, anything, ranging from illness through fatigue, bereavement or domestic disruption, can happen to a “candidate” during the days of the examinations.
Even more worryingly, a great deal of what is examined and, therefore, taught (meaning crammed) in the classroom, does not seem to have any direct relevance to the learners’ lives.
Yet, despite the endless reviews and revisions of our systems, few people have come forward with decisive and effective suggestions for minimising or even abolishing examinations and their attendant “grades”. Continuous assessment, a cumulative process of following a person’s aptitude, character and performance, is often mentioned.
But it usually ends up as “CATs”, continuous assessment tests, which are just another form of examinations.
Well-trained teachers understand that continuous assessment means the regular, systematic and personalised observation, guidance and mentoring of each of the young people under their care.
But they also honestly admit that such a process is practically impossible under the current under-facilitated circumstances of most of our schools. How can we at least approximate the ideal non-examination dependent situation?
This is a task not only for us teachers but for the whole society, ranging from leaders to policy-makers and implementers to us classroom operators. We all know and admit the primacy of education, but we all fall far short of expectations when it comes to funding, supervising and evaluating what happens in our schools, including the welfare of the teachers.
Looking at our students, we must realise that they are a severely challenged generation. Their main problem lies in the invasion or inundation of their lives by deluges of information which they do not have the time or capacity to digest or process.
The so-called ICT revolution, with its barrage of information gadgets and channels, is a terrifyingly mixed blessing and double-edged sword. Improperly and imprudently handled, it can as easily inform as inflame.
The main role of the educator, then, becomes not so much teaching, peddling information, as guiding, leading the student critically through the glut of information, and misinformation, surrounding us.
As for the soccer headers, maybe we should not butt too strongly into them before we analyse all the data around them.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]