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Why schools must adhere to official class hours

Last term, Education Cabinet secretary Amina Mohamed stressed the need for schools adhere to prescribed class hours within which actual instruction of learners in primary and secondary schools.

Section 84 of Basic Education Regulations, 2015, on Official School Hours provides for class hours where actual teaching and learning in class takes place as between 8 am to 3.20pm.

The implication of this is that as far as possible, there should be no teaching whatsoever before 8am and after 3.20pm.

The directive to adhere to the class hours — when teachers actually get into class to provide instruction to learners — is not peculiar to Kenya.

The hours that the Education policy and standards has allocated to teaching  are roughly about six hours from Monday to Friday. This is the case in educational systems such as in US, England and Finland.

In Education policy, the terms education covers not only formal, but also informal methods of gaining knowledge. Formal aspect of education is always systematic, pre-scheduled and well administered by authorities. However, gaining knowledge and other skills is not restricted to a class and with it, the brooding presence of a teacher.

Implied in the restriction of class hours are number presumptions.

The first presumption is that children cannot learn all day long. That is why lessons have been restricted to between 30 and 45 minutes per lesson. Any lesson of the same subject that goes beyond 30 minutes for learners in primary and 45 minutes for learners in secondary education loses its educational value, unless it is a double lesson, done with lot of caution.

Effective learning needs attentiveness and freshness of mind. Any school programme that ignores this principle of learning is after other goals which are not educational.

The second presumption is that teachers, the basic principle of teaching, is that nothing can be taught. The teacher is not the only source from which the learners gain knowledge and skills and values. Rather he is a kind of prompter or facilitator. One who guides and assists students in learning for themselves — picking apart ideas, forming their own thoughts about them, and owning material through self-exploration and dialogue.

Any learning worth its salt is a process of discovery on the part of the learner. The knowledge gained through instruction and active discovery should, in quality management of the curriculum, lead the learner to discover more things on his own initiative.

Available to the learner in a good school are textbooks that the educational authorities have provided and, crucially other books as reference materials for him to broaden and deepen his understanding of things.

Restricting learning to textbooks is killing the intellectual curiosity of the young learner.

Excessive presence of the teacher in the classroom far beyond the prescribed class hours actually interferes with the education of the learners. For the classroom where the child sits every day is the place where, apart from the library, he can prosecute his own self-directed learning process.

Regular presence of the teacher in the classroom before 8.00am and well after 5pm robs the learner valuable time he can interact with the textbooks the government has spent millions on and also on other books and learning materials such as atlases, charts, dictionaries, the Bible, the Koran and story books. The learners may not even have the time to visit the school library.

The school library is indispensable for student-centered teaching and learning. It is, in schools with an appropriate vision of education, the hub and centre of all the intellectual activity in the literary life of students in a school worth its salt.

—The writer is the communications officer, Ministry of Education