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Happy to homeschool:Mother of four guiding her children to great achievements

Published:Sunday | August 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The Ra children (from left) Ruwenzori, Kuti, Ausar and Tchakamau.
Kamau Mahakoe (centre) with her daughters, Ruwenzori (left) and Tchakamau.
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Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

Kamau Mahakoe never went to teachers' college, nor does she have a university degree, but she can list among her achievements homeschooling of her four children - a task for which she is reaping great success.

Mahakoe's two eldest have a combined total of 33 CSEC subjects, with her third child not far behind with three subjects of her own at only 12 years old.

"I see myself as the propeller; they have their ambition and it is my job to give them the opportunity and to push them as far as they want to go. There is no limit and I am going to do everything in my power to push them, to propel them," Mahakoe says of her children's accomplishments.

"I started teaching them from birth, and really and truly before birth, because I started reading to them from when they were in the womb and spoke to them. From birth I started reading and talking with them, and as they got older we started discussing and explaining, and as they grew I stepped it up a notch and made it more advanced," she explained.

"I also read and worked on my own development and brushed up on stuff that I would have not picked up for years and made sure I was abreast of it. It never seemed like a challenge."

History and culture

The decision to homeschool was not a tough one for Mahakoe, whose only prior experience had come in the form of teaching a single term at a Corporate Area prep school. She said her desire was further fuelled by a need to expose her children to their own heritage, familiarising them with the accomplishments of those who came before.

"It was also crucial to instil in them their history, culture and the great achievement of their people. That was what was going to stimulate them and affirm in them that they can achieve it, knowing what their ancestors achieved. That was not being taught in the schools."

The 39-year-old said what she saw being taught in the formal school system was tantamount to a culture of fear which she did not want for her children.

"The teachers themselves have a fear of maths and science and they pass it on to the students and I didn't want to expose my children to that.

"Teaching my children, it is all about approach, so I make them know this is the bar that they have to jump over and they don't fear it and say we can't do that; they are not exposed to that kind of thinking at all."

All subjects are related

She is of the view that all subjects are related so the more you attempt, the easier it becomes to master them. A crucial part of the equation is to get as many resources as possible and incorporate learning into everyday life, Mahakoe shared with The Sunday Gleaner.

"I think it is important to get as much material as possible, so for one subject I might buy 10-11 books and we go through them thoroughly, as well as other resources. There is the Internet and there are DVDs, so you make use of all the resources that are available.

"Don't be afraid to invest in textbooks, cassettes, DVDs. While you are checking your email, you are listening to something on YouTube, while you are on Facebook you are listening to some French, so you use your time wisely."

Balance, she said, is always key when teaching your children at home.

"There are times that you are flexible and there are times that you just have to be firm and override. It boils down to knowing each child, as each of them approach things differently. So you have to know your child and respond accordingly.

"We had schedules where we were waking 4-5 o'clock in the morning and they did it. They had to do that, especially during CXC. When I come in, I wake them up and it is not debatable, they wake up. There are other things that are debatable, because you want them to be independent. Some things are debatable and some things are not."

And her children were not put off by that system, as attested to by her eldest, Tchakamau Ra. The 18-year-old did 10 CSEC subjects at Immaculate Conception High and six at home, getting 15 ones and one two.

"It was a good experience, it was certainly more convenient, and I think it provided a good background for the rest of my education. My parents are the main influence and they are very confident in what they do and they have a philosophy to push boundaries. And because it was homeschool they were able to provide education in other matters, for example, black history," said Tchakamau, who has hopes of one day becoming an astronaut.

Supported by father

Mahakoe was supported in homeschooling her children by their father, Omari Ra, who is an artist and a senior lecturer at the Edna Manley School of the Visual Arts.

Tchakamau had the distinction of being accepted into 11 universities in the United States, with offers of scholarships from nine, but she chose to attend the University of Chicago, where she will be majoring in physics and biology, beginning next month.

Her younger brother, 15-year-old Kuti, passed six CSEC subjects at age 12 and was promoted straight to third form at Jamaica College. After the most recent sitting of CSEC, he now has 17 subjects.

Ruwenzori, the 12-year-old who is the latest to leave the homeschool to attend Ardenne High, said she will miss the one-on-one interaction that she had with her mother as teacher.

"It was nice having her as my teacher. It was better to have her teaching me at home than to be in the public school. Here you get a lot more time and attention for the subjects. I think it would have been better if I could still do the private lessons."

Mahakoe believes it was part of her mandate as a mother to take a hands-on approach to educating her children.

"I saw it as my duty to teach them and not to depend on someone else to teach them the educational foundation, as I wanted to make sure that it was done properly.

"I was teaching them up to A Levels and I am qualified up to CSEC, so I am more than qualified to teach them up to the level I wanted to take them up to. Although I am not a trained teacher, I have never been to teachers' college."

Tutoring services

Mahakoe, however, plans to read for a degree one day, perhaps when her youngest has moved on to the public-school system, or even sooner.

In the interim, she offers tutoring services to other children outside her family. She has been selected to receive the Marcus Garvey Centennial Award for Educaion this year during a ceremony today on the grounds of Devon House.

"Right now, I teach four CXC subjects as a private tutor and I am so pleased. Everybody has called me and everybody has passed maths and everybody has passed English. My approach to maths is to really break it down and show them this is nothing, and they really get that.

She also teaches social studies and human and social biology.

She has also found time to pursue her other love, which is writing - penning six books to date. Two of the books - I Love All My Wives and Barefooted and Clean - are available on Amazon.com with the other four - The Student's Master Plan, Yellow and Me, There is Something you Should Know about Leroy and I Choose my Men the Same Way I Choose my Jewelry - set to be published at the end of the month.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com