It is that season of the year where literally all schools are on vacation, except for one of the tracks of the double track system. The period between June and mid-September is often considered the long vacation where students and pupils of various schools, from pre-school to high school, get to rest, reenergize and prepare for the next academic year – and learn new skills.

Although these students and pupils are supposed to be on vacation, it is not uncommon to see school children having their backpacks or knapsack bags behind their backs heading to their respective schools during this season. Then this makes you wonder whether these schools are truly on vacation or it’s that time on the academic calendar where students are allowed to wear mufti as opposed to uniforms to school. While this practice may not be new in the country, a couple of decades ago, this practice was only common among Senior High, Technical School students. Presently, it has expanded to include pupils at the very base of the academic ladder such as pre-school kids and primary pupils in some private schools – and even some government basic schools.

I was surprised to hear that my cousin who is yet to step foot in class one was denied that chance of going to spend vacation with our granny because he was attending vacation classes. I asked, “After all the daily extra classes during the normal school period – even including Saturdays?”

Truth be told, the average Ghanaian pupil or student is presently heavily loaded with a lot of extra classes during the term – especially the so-called private basic schools. In some schools, students are required to be present at school by 6:00am to kick-start the day with morning extra classes. Meanwhile, there is probably another extra class after the normal contact hours that keep students in school until 4:00pm or 6:00pm in some circumstances. Effectively, children are kept in school for about an average period of 10 to 11 hours on a daily basis. The situation is worse for children who would need to spend many hours in traffic to get home. Children get home very fatigued and too exhausted to accumulate enough energy to do private learning before going to bed, and waking up at about 4:00am the following day to prepare for the usual daily cycle. On the weekends where one would expect that, these children would be allowed some time to do private studies, they are often expected to attend another extra class called “Saturday class”. Since the vacations, which one would expect that these children would use to figure out concepts for themselves, are  also equally heavily occupied with classes, the trend makes you wonder, “So when at all will these children have their own time to study and figure things out for themselves?”

These incessant extra classes are organized not necessarily because they are needful – after all there are some people who went through the entire education system without attending a single extra or vacation class yet they were academically excellent and in whatever chosen profession they find themselves they are competent and deliver on their responsibilities efficiently. These classes, I dare say, are simply means of exploiting unsuspecting parents who buy into the illusion that loading your child with a lot of classes means you’re giving the best of education to your child. Interestingly, some parents consider loading their kids with a lot of unnecessary classes as prestigious, so they talk about it with pride and bravado before parents whose “unfortunate” kids don’t go for these classes (especially those parents who live in the villages where these classes are not common).

Before I am misconstrued, let me make myself very clear. I am not against private classes per se. No! Not at all….far from it. It is the exploitation of parents by some teachers through inordinate extra and vacation classes that I am against.  If a child genuinely has a problem in a certain subject, it makes absolute sense to contract teachers to help with extra classes. It becomes exploitative when teachers of the school design these classes to be compulsory with charges, and occupy children heavily with these classes just to make money.

These unnecessary extra and vacation classes have the potential to inhibit the children from learning any new skills which may complement the accumulated classroom knowledge, and in effect, increasing their employability after school. Very often than not, vacations used to be periods where students at all levels learn new skills. For students whose parents are shop owners or traders, they learn very useful skills such as accounting, management and customer relations skills. When left alone at home while parents are at work, children have the opportunity to learn problem-solving and home management skills trying to deal with problems in the absence of their parents. Culinary skills are learned while children help their parents in the kitchen. For business-minded children, they take this time during the vacation to acquire some entrepreneurship skills by trying out some business ideas. Sadly, these days all of the time is taken by extra and vacation classes and children hardly have the time to help parents in these activities to learn any new skills part from the classroom acknowledge.

The saddest part is that, vast majority of people who are vulnerable to this exploitation is the poor, who projects themselves as middle class people, who happen to be blessed to have their child in a certain so-called private school. To the contrary, some of the very reputable international schools in the country don’t organize vacation classes for their students because they encourage their students to undertake internship and apprenticeship to enable them acquire new skills that complement their academic knowledge and increase their employability.

The net effect is that, these students, who are heavily loaded with so much extra and vacation classes, would go through school without having the time to acquire any new skills, so they go through school, and finish with literally no other skill except academic knowledge – which alone doesn’t make one employable. Many try to undo this “harm” at the tertiary level by undertaking internships but those internships are limited in time and may not be enough to learn all the essential skills that make one employable.

While a mélange of factors may be responsible for the increasing disconnect between academia and industry, this phenomenon of excessive classes from pre-school through senior high school is certainly one of those factors.

By Bismark Elorm Addo