Mama, I Don’t Want to Go to School!

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By Surihe Gaomas and Berio Mbala WINDHOEK “Mama, I don’t want to go to school,” said the shy little girl still clutching onto her mother’s dress. “No, no darling. Don’t worry. You’ll be okay. Teacher Clara will look after you. Look you even have new friends to play with, honey,” said the young mother reassuringly. For eight-year-old Ketty Muyunda, this was her first day at school, far away from home at Versteende Woud Primary in Khorixas. She is originally from Katima Mulilo, but the only placement her mother, Rinnia Mwala, could find was in Khorixas where her girl could stay with her grandmother. Like Ketty, other Grade One learners also experienced this tear-jerking and overwhelming scenario at schools throughout the country. Here in Windhoek, specifically at Elim Primary School in Khomasdal, a lot of effort and time are taken to make sure that such learners feel at home on their very first day in class. Already, a day before the Big Day, most of the Grade 1 learners at this school are taken through a kind of orientation programme called “Welcome to the Grade Ones!” On the 16th of this month, the learners, parents and teachers were invited to this special occasion in order to “break the ice,” familiarize themselves with their new school environment and get to know one another. Principal of Elim Primary School, Ursula Damens, says the aim of the orientation is to prepare learners about their new school environment and teachers before the official opening of school. “It is a new welcome for the Grade Ones and they get to see who is who, know their teachers, and for parents to also know the teachers. While we are busy with the parents, we get them to do a lot of oral games, like rhymes, singing and colouring in pictures. We even give them each a lollipop,” Damens explained with a smile. Usually, the first day can be a headache, not only for the learners but also for teachers and parents as they struggle to get everything in place. With all the crying and “tug of war between parents and children as they pull each other to the door,” can be cumbersome. While some would sit by themselves in a corner feeling lonely, others would practically run around without any control whatsoever, and it sometimes turns out that bullying and teasing can also come into the play. At the start of the First Day at school, the orientation programme should make it possible for these little ones to be in the classroom – behind their names neatly written on their desks. After entering Grade 1A, little Ronaldo and Diella were sitting upright, eagerly waiting to hear what Teacher Ewaldine Kenaruzo had for them. “Today, you will learn about the alphabet,” said Kenaruzo who has been teaching Grade Ones for the past two years. With 44 children in this class alone, it is not to be easy for her. Kenaruzo says that in order to make each child feel comfortable, she treats them like her own kids, show a friendly face and keeps a constant smile. But, how does she deal with common issues such as bullying and teasing amongst learners. “Well, in that case, it is not good to ask a child right away who beat him or her. You first call him or her and ask what happened, and then you tell them we should all be friends. And then you talk to both of them and persuade them to be friends,” added Kenaruzo, saying that it’s not wise to punish the culprit in this case as it can deter them from coming back to school the next day. Parents of Grade A learners also have to play their part in supporting their children’s education. Not only should they know the teachers who teach their children, but they’re encouraged to contribute towards school activities, like Fun Days, Cultural Festivals and other fund-raising programmes. Rinnia Mwala is ready to play her part. “I told her (child) she must go to school, and when she passes I’ll buy her clothes and shoes. In her lunchbox I packed her a sandwich, an apple, a packet of chips and a cooldrink – all her favourite goodies,” said the mother. Interactive oral work is the aim with which teachers keep their children on rather short attention span – up until they go home around midday. Looking around the classroom one can see pictures and charts of the months of the year, the alphabet, rhymes and ‘My Family’ pictures. “Those kids who have never been in kindergarten, I place them in front in order to give them special attention. Like if the kids speak Afrikaans and I’m teaching in English, that learner won’t understand unless I translate for her,” explained Kenaruzo, pointing in the direction of the first row of learners in her class – who were all sitting together.