It’s a new session; if you like, spend all your time playing so that at the end of the session you would repeat again, and if you like, face your studies, all I know is that I have done my best,” was the admonition, nay, parting words, of a mother to her child at the entrance of a school in Ikeja axis of Lagos that morning.
It was a sort of remarks that shocked those who heard it. The woman’s frustration could be safely presumed, whether rightly or wrongly.
No doubt, it’s always a thing of delight for parents when their children do well in school. And so, it is entirely understandable when some go the extra mile to reward such children, not only for making them proud, although that can be enormous, especially in the midst of fellow parents, but also for justifying the huge investments in them.
But, on the other hand, it could be very disturbing and sometimes disappointing for parents when their children perform woefully or below expectation in their studies.
However, being the start of a new session, a renowned educationalist and a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof. Peter Okebukola, says there are things parents can do to help their children to do better in school. Some of these include:
Steer their reading efforts in the subjects they are weak at: Okebukola, who is a professor of Science Education, said parents who are desirous of helping their children to do better in the new academic session should take a look at the result of the child at the end of last session, take note of the subjects where the scores were relatively low and then make conscious efforts to steer their reading efforts in such courses. He said, “In many cases, mathematics will be one of them. Have a chat with your child to find out where the challenge is. In many cases, they will ascribe the fault to the teacher. While this is highly likely to be true because most of our mathematics teachers (indeed teachers in most of the subjects) have very weak content knowledge, it should be appreciated by parents that from studies of my research group at the Lagos State University, over the last 25 years, poor performance cannot be ascribed to school factors alone but also to genetic factors in terms of low natural talent for the subject.”
He said this was hinged on the theory of multiple intelligences, and that having identified the subjects the child has difficulty in, they should ensure that a greater proportion of the reading time of the child is allocated to the subjects. He added, “This factor does not mean that other subjects will be neglected; the idea is to focus more on the weak areas so that the child can be an all-rounder,” he added.
Hire a good home tutor or enrol them in coaching classes: According to Okebukola, this factor has two benefits. Apart from preparing them ahead of time before tests or exams come, the students or pupils tend to learn more through such avenues. He said, “Now that your child is (expectedly) in a higher class with greater academic demands, you should not wait till when the end-of-term examination is knocking at the door to prepare your child for success.”
Speaking on how to maximise this option without overburdening such a child with work, Okebukola said, “If the child is a day student, let the child take a nap after lunch then receive coaching from a good home tutor. With the pervading poverty level, many parents may not be able to afford the services of a personalised home tutor, so the idea of a coaching class with other children in the neighbourhood would appear more attractive and cheaper.” The revered scholar stressed that he deliberately qualified home tutor with “good”, saying many of those who parade themselves in Nigeria as home tutors even know far less than some of the children they are teaching.
“Please shine your eyes while engaging such teachers, by doing due diligence on their competence,” he added.
Let them read one book per month to boost their reading habit: At any level, reading has been identified as an ingredient for success, and it is particularly recommended for children so they could imbibe the habit as they grow up. Okebukola said instead of buying them toys, parents could help their children by buying them books and encouraging them to read new books every month. He said, “While in the primary school, my father used to buy me a book a month that I must summarise at the end of the month. This significantly bolstered my reading habit and it rubbed off positively on my performance in all school subjects. I recommend this approach to parents. Buy your child a book a month that is pitched at his/her reading level and request for written summary of the book.”
He added that such children should be told to note the big words in the book and check their meanings, so they could also learn new words. He added, “Rather than a toy for the birthday or something that will not endure, buy your child a book for his/her birthday. In my house, I have a collection of such books that my dad bought for me. These have endured. If he bought me toys, they would have long gone out of remembrance.”
Limit the time they spend in social media and in watching TV: If most children have their ways, they would not mind spending most of their time watching cartoon. But, according to Okebukola, parents should cut down, not stop, the time their children spend on the television and in the social media, which he said had constituted huge distraction for them. He said, “More time on academic tasks will guarantee your child better performance this session. Our recent studies have shown that social media constitute huge distractions to students. This body of research also shows that if all the variables in the performance equation are held constant, cutting the time spent in social media by half will increase academic performance by 20 per cent. It is impracticable and an exercise in self-deceit to enforce a policy asking your child to stop making posts on Facebook or other social media or to stop watching music channels and soap operas on TV. What can be enforced is limiting the time they spend on such academic diversions.” Speaking on helping them to stay safe on the internet, Okebukola said, “Do not allow a child below primary three to get a social media account and be sucked into the dark world of cyberbullying and pornography. From primary three onwards, strict monitoring of social media use is a must for Nigerian parents. I said ‘Nigerian’ because elsewhere, if you do, the child, quoting child’s rights, can call the police for child abuse. This new session, cut the time allowed for social media, texting and TV by 75 per cent and you and your child will smile when the school report card is turned in at the end of the session.”
Pay attention to their nutrition: It would seem that not all parents know that there is a nexus between nutrition and concentration in school. Meanwhile, Okebukola said parents should always make sure their children do not go to school hungry and that what they would eat while in school is equally taken care of. He said, “Ensure that your child does not go hungry to and in school. There is a common Yoruba saying which translates as ‘when hunger enters the stomach, nothing else can enter the body (including the brain).’ Give your child good food before going to school and make enough provisions for school feeding.” He said they would have better concentration if they are not hungry.
Pay attention to their health: No doubt, being in good health helps people to function maximally, and that is more important for children. Thus, the don advised that parents should pay serious attention to the health of their children. He stated, “Healthy children are better disposed to doing well in school, a sound mind being in a sound body. If you want your child to succeed in school this session, you have to pay great attention to his or her health status. At least once every month (except when illness comes knocking), conduct health check-up for your child to locate any abnormality so that corrective action is taken before illness prevents your child from attending classes.”
Monitor their activities all the time: In addition to the factors mentioned above, parents are advised to keep their children on the radar all the time. He said, “Many parents allow their children to roam and forage good and bad pasture during the session. It becomes concerning when the children are into bad habits which will depress their performance at school. Such bad habits include smoking, alcoholism, partying, pornography and sexual immorality. While attention should turn on academic performance of your child, equal attention should be paid to their development of good character.”
Pray for them: Okebukola also said a key ingredient for success is prayers, adding that praying for and praying with their children and asking God to open their understanding at school and protect them from bad boys and girls would help. “There are needs you can cover but God covers all needs of your children, even yours,” he added.
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