I live next to a primary school, and that did not mean much until recently. This is in part due to the fact that I now spend more time at home, after stopping full-time work, which meant that I actually do ‘see’ and ‘hear’ more of what the school is doing. Yes, the block of flats I live in is literally next to the school.
My favorite part of the day would be 6 pm, where I would hear the school PA system making the following announcement, “The school will be closing…” For me, that marked the end of my work day and I no longer need to feel obliged to sit at my desk, working on whatever that I was working on. However, there were moments where the announcement made me sad, knowing that even when schools close at 6 pm, the teacher’s work do not end. Most primary school teachers I know mark late into the night on a daily basis. They not only grade continuous assessment tasks, semester-end examinations, there is also always the endless class tasks that require the teacher’s attention. Unlike secondary schools and junior colleges, whose students can be count upon to check their own work, primary school students are a tad too young for that, particularly those in the lower primary levels.
As much as I respect many of the primary school teachers that I do know, who pour themselves into educating the young, there were others that often made me wonder why they remained in the profession. You see, at 10:30 am every morning, there would be this lady teacher addressing students over the PA system. From what I could gather, 10:30 marked the end of recess and this teacher was trying to get the students organized to go back to class. And each day without fail, as long as I am home at my desk, I would hear her angry and frustrated voice, shouting at the children to behave. “4Responsibility, I can still see… you are still very noisy… you are not settled down yet” and the likes. Some days I feel sorry for this teacher, who obviously was not enjoying what she was doing; other days, I feel for the children who had to endure being scolded on a daily basis. Obviously, no one was getting very much out of this business of post-recess assembly and yet no one thought to change the way that things are done.
Today, when I came home at 4:30 pm, I saw hordes of children leaving school, choking up the sheltered walkway, filled with parents, grandparents, and domestic helpers waiting to pick up their young charges. As I fought my way home, I could not help but wonder, our primary school going children started their day at 7:30 am and are only going home at 4:30 pm? What happened to childhood and after-school play? I remembered my primary school days fondly, where school ended at 1 pm and I would play with friends at the nearby playground for sometimes up to an hour before heading home to an hour of homework, followed by afternoon nap and ample TV time before dinner. I also did not remember having to carry huge backpacks to school, the way I saw children hunched over today, trying their best to bear the weight on their shoulders.
As I reflect on what I know about primary schools today, I feel somewhat caught in a bind. On one hand, I would like primary schools to be happy places of learning, where children feel safe to explore and learn, for if we want to inculcate lifelong learning in our young, surely it is of primacy that they enjoy learning? Yet on the other hand, I also see the responsibility of schools in partnering parents in instilling discipline, establishing boundaries and inculcating values. Is it possible for freedom and boundaries to co-exist? Theoretically, I think no one doubt that; in reality, I think no one has really figured out how to do that as yet, which is perhaps why primary schools are such conflicted sites. And until we do, I guess we would continue to have to cope with overburdened children and overworked teachers.