The PLE paradox: Why your child's future isn't on the scorecard

The PLE paradox: Why your child's future isn't on the scorecard

By Henry Mutebe

Dear fellow parents,

First and foremost, I want to express my gratitude to each of you for being exemplary guardians who deeply care about the well-being of your children. In a world where some individuals abandon their own despite having the means not to, your commitment is truly commendable.

It's entirely reasonable that we harbor high expectations for our children, their schools, and teachers – such aspirations set a standard of excellence. However, in light of the recently released PLE results, I encourage us to pause and reflect more deeply on the significance of these outcomes. Drawing from our own life experiences, many of us didn't necessarily score 8s or 9s; some attended rural schools with limited resources and less-than-ideal teaching environments. Yet, through sheer determination, we navigated life's challenges and found ourselves here, managing to provide quality education for our children in prestigious institutions.

From my perspective, the key lies in offering our children more than what the teachers provide. What made us successful? Was it patience, discipline, hard work, humility, obutesasira, or simply okumanya jetuva? (okumanya enakuyo). What do you think, made you? There are certain things, beyond the grades, that made us. There are certain things we learned from our parents, that made us. These are the attributes that molded us, and they hold the answers to how we can guide our children. 

Are our children adequately prepared to face life? What additional life lessons can we impart to them about humanity, work, business, discipline, trust, patience, creativity, zeal, grit, will, and forgiveness? These are the crucial elements that deserve our attention.

While schools deliver information, the motivation, attitude, and tenacity to absorb, utilize, and apply that knowledge often stem from our influence. Although I hold teachers to high standards, I acknowledge an even higher responsibility on our part as parents. We play a very big role in shaping our children's educational journey. As a father, it's essential to ask yourself how often you engage with your child's schoolwork, take a walk to have meaningful conversations, and discuss life without resorting to shouting or threats.

Teachers can impart knowledge, but there are intangible qualities, akin to software, that only we as parents can install in our children. These qualities empower them to develop the zeal and will to confront life, embracing challenges with the determination it demands.

PLE exams are inherently arbitrary. Out of seven years of learning, a few hours determine a child's worth through grading, branding them either bright or lacking- which is so wrong in any case. While these grades are crucial for securing spots in good secondary schools, we must not become ensnared by their significance.

In all likelihood, teachers did their utmost, and your child exerted themselves given the circumstances. Whatever grade they have posted, that was effort and they need to be given a pat on the back. Sometimes, as observed in our own lives, things don't unfold as planned. This doesn't diminish the effort put forth. It doesn’t mean we didn’t do enough or work hard. I want to encourage us to instead, take a moment to pat your child on the back and celebrate their achievements.

I know in the days to come, we are going to be scrambling to look for top schools where our children can go and get the best shot at O level. For those now navigating secondary school options, consider this perspective:

1. Some schools admit top-performing students, relying on their innate abilities to maintain excellence. These students often thrive independently. These schools don’t do much. They simply have to maintain or keep these kids at their normal operating capacity. 
2. Other schools accept students with 'average' grades, and actively invest in their development to elevate them to top-tier performance. These schools literally pull students toward excellence. These schools are many and they would be a good option for your child. Don’t get stressed because your child has not got a spot at the most popular school in Uganda. 

I strongly recommend exploring schools that focus on holistic education, recognizing that grades, while important, do not define a child's entirety. Never evaluate your child solely based on their grades. Your child possesses immeasurable skills and potential; it is your role to unlock and nurture it. So, whatever they have, celebrate them, believe in them, and adopt a long-term perspective about them.

Reflect on what made you successful. Some of us were fortunate to learn invaluable lessons from our parents that instilled resilience. However, as we attain financial success, we may inadvertently shield our children from these formative experiences. Delegating responsibilities to nannies and maids, allowing excessive television time for kids, and giving them a sickening sense of entitlement. We are, sadly, using our money to cripple their resilience.

In many homes, children are kings and monarchs. They literally govern their parents. They determine which car their father should come to pick them up. They will not eat bread if it does not come from a certain bakery or supermarket. Children will throw tantrums if Daddy or Mummy do not meet a certain standard or deliver something they routinely have. Some parents are literally slaves and held at ransom by children. Recently a child abused the mother for telling them to polish their father’s shoes. 

We have left everything to nannies/maids. The children only eat, watch TV, and dream of what next they want us to buy them. Children don’t even know how to interact with others because, for the most part, they are on their tablets or games. If a visitor walks into a house, they literally don’t even know or have the desire to say hello or greet. This is where money or wealth has taken us. Sadly, most parents don’t know or even recognize that this is very crippling for their children.  

Some children think their mother or father’s reputation, job, or business is theirs. They somehow can't even do the least of things because they think all has been figured out for them. Few children can cook, be happy to polish their father's shoes, clean their room, help out with a family project, or engage in any activity that engages their time, hands, and minds. They believe they are children of rich parents and there are enough workers to fix everything at home. This is very dangerous. 

Let our children develop the resilience to face life with or without us. Let our children know that sometimes, we will not have, that sometimes, life is tough, and that sometimes the things we take for granted are not guaranteed. Some of your parents are very hardworking, very resilient, utterly determined, and focused. But you sit on your bed, in the middle of the night, think about your children and a tear drops them. 

We have become buried in the quest to give our children what we never had. In the end, we have ended up crippling them from being resilient. We must exercise caution. Our children are missing the hardening and values that shaped our characters. Regardless of the schools we choose, it's our guidance and values that will ultimately shape our children's destinies. Let us work closely with teachers, set high standards for both, but above all, instill discipline and values like we got in our own upbringing.

Remember, schools assess only a fraction of your child's capabilities. They don't assign marks for discipline, intuition, or other vital attributes crucial for life beyond academia. Try to understand your child- as an individual. Familiarize yourself with your child's strengths, study them closely, and work out ways of helping them maximize their potential. Expose them to diverse experiences, and they will undoubtedly find their path.

Uganda's school performance is notoriously inconsistent. One year, a school may produce 80 students with top grades or 4s, prompting a rush of new enrollments. The next year, the number may drop to 10 or less, leading to panic among parents. Instead of fixating solely on PLE performance, which is consistently inconsistent for most schools, let us scrutinize a school's culture, values, and commitment to holistic child development. 

Without a doubt, your child will benefit from those values more than the grades they post. Life, as we found and learnt the hard way is more than grades. If it were just grades alone, many of us would not be on this platform. There were many better students with better grades. But life has its ways…somehow certain values and disciplines and resilience start to sieve us and some make it to the other end while others somehow fail, even with their good grades. This is not in any way to downplay the importance of grades but we know from lived experience that life is more than that and life is long haul. 

Exam grades, determined in a one-hour session, are fleeting. A child might miss a top grade by one mark, but the values and discipline instilled by parents can empower them to rebound, overcome setbacks, and find their bearings anew. Celebrate your child; they possess the resilience to navigate life successfully. Just as you succeeded with your 11 or second division, imagine the potential of your child with their 8 or 9. Have confidence; it will be well. Delve deeper into your child's life, appreciate them more, and witness their revival and flourishing.