Rise at 4am, sleep at 11pm: Learning or torture of kids?

We romanticise suffering in the name of working hard to pass exams

In Summary

• Primary and high school students are burdened with unending academic pressure

• Work life comes with its own demands, so we should allow them time to enjoy youth 

Children study in the wee hours
Children study in the wee hours

I recently visited my former high school, and I must say, I was disappointed in some of the policies the administration had adopted to improve the school’s performance.

The students have evening preps from 6:30 to 9.30pm. Afterwards, they are required to have group discussions until around 11pm. The next morning, they are required to be up at 4am for morning preps. Which means they only get roughly five hours of sleep. This is below the minimum seven hours recommended by health experts.

Behind this directive is an ill-informed notion that the more time the students spend on their books, the higher their grades will be. I say erroneous because during my time there, it was not compulsory for one to be up at 4am, yet the school performed better then in national examinations than it does now.

I know there are many factors that go into the performance of a school besides what time students wake up, but if indeed that strategy was a silver bullet, I think we should have seen some progress since its inception. Unfortunately, the performance has been on a downward spiral.

This culture exists in many schools in Kenya. We romanticise suffering in the name of working hard to pass exams. How many Standard 8 candidates do we hear telling us that the reason they did well in their exams was because they woke up at 4am to study? Why would a 13-year-old suffer that much just so as to make it to a ‘good school’?

Then there is this pervasive idea that missing breaks and games is a sign that one is serious. From my experience over the years and that of others, I can assure you the struggle never ends. In primary school, it’s a struggle to make it to high school. In high school, it’s a struggle to get high grades to meet the requisite cluster points for your course of choice.

If you’re able to make it that far, the new pressure becomes that of doing well to get high grades that make one a top pick in the job market. I’m sure in the job market, there must be some pressure to work extra hard to get promoted. The rat race never ends.

So, why don’t we extend some grace to children at these two levels of education? Give them favourable studying hours that allow them enough time to play and rest. Then within those working hours, maximise the output. Let it be a thing of quality over quantity.

If I had to wake up at 4am when I went to sleep at 11pm the previous evening, I’m sure I’d doze off through most of the classes. This then defeats the purpose of extra reading as one misses the core reading that is taught during class time.

It’s never that serious. Students still pass exams when allowed adequate rest. Let’s give them some grace.