I drop my girls at school at 7am and collect them 10 and a half hours later. Our travel from home to school never lasts less than half an hour and our return in the evening takes at least one hour as the traffic is heavier then. The time between departure in the morning and home-coming in the evening comprises altogether 12 hours as a minimum. The other half of the day is for morning and evening bathing, breakfast, supper, family, sleep and homework.
Pre-adolescent children need a minimum of nine hours’ sleep; this leaves my girls with three hours for the other activities. It is not healthy to eat in a hurry, two meals should be allotted at least one hour plus and we remain with less than two hours for bathing, family and homework.
This time-schedule is obviously too tight, and the element that suffers is almost invariably the most important one, namely sleep. Children grow and develop while they sleep, that goes for brain as well as for body and other organs.
As I have observed Ugandan schools, and over the years to some extent been a participant as a parent and a guardian, I have noticed a certain contempt for sleep as a “waste of time”. Nothing could be a greater misconception. Sleep deprivation is a well-known method of torture; it leaves no marks and breaks down a person very fast. In a learning situation, however, the brain needs to be awake and receptive, meaning the learner must have had a necessary amount of rest.
It is true that it takes hard work to perform well, but with inadequate sleep, any work becomes difficult and the performance remains wanting and disappointing. Allowing sufficient time for sleep is a condition for the brain to perform in accordance with capacity and potential. A tired brain under-performs in terms of absorbing knowledge and skills – in putting them to proper use. Forty dozing children provide no fertile ground for sowing wisdom; I assume this is a common teacher experience in many schools.
To add to the available time for homework, my girls try to do it while we drive home; there is an under-utilised hour there. The problem is that in most cases, they are too exhausted and fall asleep while books and pens fall to the floor. Only a fraction, if anything, of the homework is done when we reach home.
Then we have a conflict; supper is taken in a hurry, thereafter the homework should be finished and checked as bedtime approaches very fast and almost invariably passes before the bathing procedure has even begun. This frequently becomes a time of weeping and gnashing of teeth before the day can be concluded with evening prayer and the far too short night can begin.
When I wake them up the following morning, they have rarely had as much as seven hours of sleep.
There is a famous French delicacy called pâté foie gras, “fat liver pâté”, made from goose liver produced by force feeding ganders three times a day for almost four months. A funnel and tube is forced down the beak and throat of the bird and food pumped in. The liver grows to an abnormal size with an increased proportion of fat and is considered a great treat.
It seems to me that a majority of Ugandan school managers (including a number of parents) think it is possible to force feed the brain in a similar way by “working hard” at the expense of sleep. I doubt the efficiency of that; I know the brain is no goose liver.
Mr Lund is a visiting senior lecturer, Department of Architecture and Physical Planning- Makerere University. firstname.lastname@example.org