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Why should my child repeat!

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As school directors, my wife and I have had to have this conversation with parents of children who are under-performing at their school work a number of times. Some of the parents get quite emotional about the possibility that their children will have to stay back in their class. Interestingly, considering that it is ‘private education’, you will think the parents will be most concerned about the ‘economics’ of the decision – having to pay school fees all over again, but they are not – they are more concerned about ‘how it will look’. My final response to them on this is a question: how will it look to whom? Do people really care about “how many years it took to get an education” or about “how well educated you are and how you have applied your education to adding value to yourself and society?”

The truth as I know it is that nobody ever goes for an interview for a job or for a business loan to expand his business and is asked “how long did you spend in primary school?” While the world may be concerned about the quality of your grades, people seldom care about how quickly you achieved those grades or if you had to stay back for a year, especially when you do have really good grades eventually, and you are not more than 2-3 years behind your “age-mates”.

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Looking back at my days at Kings College (secondary school in Lagos), I recall that we had a few classmates and seniors whose parents actually requested that their children repeat a class even where the children’s academic performance qualified them to be promoted to the next class. I know those boys from then (including those who were asked to repeat by the school) who have grown up to be excellent men with flourishing careers in Medicine, Business, the Military and Public Service, and having the special benefit of having classmates from two different school sets and being on two separate KCOBA (Old Boys Association) social media groups – effectively doubling their networks and growing their influence by exponents in a world where “networking” is everything, just because of a decision their parents took 25 years ago which may have seemed tough at the time, but has paid off massively with the benefit of hind-sight. It makes me wonder – what has happened to parents of today?

For example, in these days, parents are reluctant to have their emotionally immature children complete Primary Six – not because the children have such fantastic academic abilities that warrants a well-deserved transition from Primary Five to secondary school, but just because they want to ‘fast-track’ their children through life – consistent with the biggest ills of our society today: fast-foods; instant coffee; micro-wave dinners; over-night success; half-baked professionals and leaders. Worse still, for some parents, it is not even about fast-track, it is just about following the ‘Joneses’. The possibility of parent-motivated repeating is almost zero, and the chances of parent-acquiescence to school-directed repeating without a fight or a threat of withdrawal is similarly low in these days of ‘instant everything’.

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Children that have to stay back a class may suffer some emotional challenges, but with good counselling, love and support from the parents and the school, these children can learn to fail forward, and achieve even more success in future. (as my experience and probably yours has shown). Remember, if learning is about identifying gaps (not there yet) and working hard to fill the gaps (get there), then staying back in a class gives pupils the opportunity for more deliberate practice that is required for sustainable success. Think about real life leaders who have had to repeat several times to achieve success. Barack Obama, Muhammadu Buhari and Abraham Lincoln needed to repeat a few times to get what they wanted. Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Albert Einstein and Mark Zuckerberg had to do so too. The difference is that these people learned to ‘fail forward’. Their stories are told today, with the many failures that trailed them, and still we are applauding. Success is not about how fast, but how well. So if your child has been asked to stay back a class at the end of this year, don’t fight it, embrace it – as an opportunity for your child to get more practice, become better, and prepare for the countless other ‘hiccups’, ‘failures’ and ‘repeats’ that are a certitude in adult life.

Barrow is a Director of the Abuja-based Creative Learning International School


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