Welcome to the new school year – the period of transitions. Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, at the start of the Form One selection on April 11, noted that there were 1.2 million learners expected to transition from Class Eight to Form One. All these learners will need some form of adjustment in the transition.
Who cannot remember their day one is school? I still remember my entry into Class One like it happened yesterday. All transitions in life are difficult, requiring some knowledge, skills and attitude to adjust.
Think about any transition you have had in life – moving houses, jobs, or even getting married. Eric Hoffer rightfully remarked that “every adjustment is a crisis in self-esteem”.
Moving to high school is a major transition. For some, this transition is easy, while many others, whose experiences are not pleasant, learn to hate school. It is therefore important that all education stakeholders prepare and handle learners transitions through school well.
School success depends on how well learners have adjusted to school, and the emotional well-being of learners.
Previous learning environments contexts vary depending on such aspects as resources in private or public schools, school culture and leadership, teacher-dispensations and the psychological environment. Some learners are joining boarding school for the first time, while others are meeting students from other communities from for the first time.
For learners admitted to national schools, for example, their encounters could be as rewarding as they would bewildering. It is worse for learners who transition to schools where bullying, by all its forms, still exists.
To appreciate the value of adjustment, consider the following true incidences: a girl ate Colgate after evening studies to quell her hunger; another girl walked barefoot to the ablution block to take a bath while carrying slippers in her hands because the slippers were too precious; the boy who found the school chores too demanding and wanted a transfer to an “upper-class” school without menial work; the rural boy who could not operate a water tap; and the boy from the affluent family who couldn’t cope with the school diet and kept skipping breakfast.
Therefore, invisible from the transition data by the Education CS, are the demands from learners, teachers and parents that are required to support successful school transition.
I will reflect on the changes among learners joining Form One along four perspectives: developmental, social, cultural and academic.
American psychologist G. Stanley Hall called it a period of “storm and stress”. It is a period of storm and stress due to the physiological changes linked to social, emotional, cognitive and physical changes in the adolescent body. There are developmental changes happening in the bodies of the adolescents that call for a deeper understanding and management, from menstruation for girls to the breaking of the voice for the boys and sweating leading to body odour for both.
These physiological changes should be understood and supported by parents and teachers. If mishandled, these changes could dent a learner’s self-esteem.
On the social dimension, all human beings seek to associate with others. Friends for learners in late childhood (9–11-year-olds) coincide with those in Class Six to Eight and early adolescence (period from 12 to 14 years), coinciding with Form One and Two). These are the friendships that learners encounter in high school as they temporarily disconnect with earlier friends due to change of school.
Learners should be supported to socialise freely and to build friendships. Parents should also create opportunities for their children to form meaningful friendships.
The third adjustment point is the school culture. It is important for schools to orient the learners to their school culture by explicitly mentioning what their values and beliefs are, to support learners to appreciate the school’s hidden curriculum. The culture of silence about certain school rules, such as reserved pavements for certain classes, does not support learners to adjust to school as these become points of frustration.
Finally, the learners’ academic needs should be considered and supported in the transition. Expectations for learners to perform and sustain high grades is as important as supporting them to adjust to the new subjects they encounter. Teachers of these subjects have a higher calling to demystify them so that learners gain confidence.
It is imperative for all to understand the developmental needs of learners going through transition, and to support them to adjust quickly, as a critical component of school success. Adjustment is important for all learners, but especially for learners living on the margins of society, such as the poor, because education for them is critical for their success in life.
Dr Ruto-Korir is Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and Director, Institute of Open and Distance Learning at Moi University