Educating The Modern Child
Is your Child 2068 Ready?
This is a subject that most parents have very strong opinions about. And rightly so. Educating a child is probably the biggest responsibility that a parent has. It’s the single largest investment that we make in our children’s future. It is probably the most important contribution we make to our children’s lives, besides giving birth to them.
All of us know that education begins at home. As parents, we try to impart good values and manners to our children. But modern-day parents are busy. Careers, commuting, household tasks, social responsibilities don’t allow us as much time as we would like with our children. With upward economic and social mobility our ambitions for our children have risen, but the time available to us to help them realise these ambitions has shrunk.
Moreover the world has become more challenging. Even if we as parents have the time, we don’t always have the skills to prepare our children for the future. A child who is five years old today will retire in 2068.
Who the hell knows what the world will be like then?
That is why we rely even more heavily on schools. We hope that a good school will be able to step in and bridge the gap.
A “Good School”! The elusive place that besides giving our children relevant knowledge, will also equip them with necessary life skills, good moral values, confident personality and a positive outlook in life. A place that will recognise the hidden talent in our child, chisel it and bring it forth. The institution that will take in our shrieky, not fully toilet trained three-year old and in fifteen years time spew out a gentleman or a super-girl, ready to conquer the world!
Thus from the day our children are born (and in some cases from the day they are conceived!!! :)) the hunt for “A good School” begins. By the time the child turns three or four, the hunt takes on mammoth proportions.
Every city, big and small has a list of “Good schools”. This unwritten list is never printed. You will never see it in newspapers or on hoardings. When you move to a new city, it won’t be a part of the “Know your city” guide. And yet before you even unpack and settle into the strange city, the list would have mysteriously entered your subconscious. It seeps in through the pride that your new neighbour takes when she says, “My daughter is studying in x school” .
She tells this even before she has told you she has a daughter! Or the almost apologetic way in which your colleague answers the question “So you haven’t told me where your children are studying?”. “They are going to school y, you know we were transferred mid-session…” A few more such interactions, and now you have your own mental list of “good schools”. Mostly this list is based on others perceptions. Sadly it often depends on which school markets itself better, charges heftier fee, has plusher infrastructure, smarter uniforms, better dressed teachers and snootier children.
How exactly are these perceptions made? What makes a school good? Are all ‘good’ schools actually good? What are the philosophies behind learning and education? What is the difference between the various kinds of boards?
Honestly speaking, no one really knows what is the best method of educating a child. New theories come out every year, philosophies change, perceptions vary, what is considered right in one culture is thought of as disastrous in another. What was regarded as the best method of teaching a child a decade ago is now thought of as being debilitating. The overall result is utter chaos. The world of selecting a school is a maze. Parents come armed into it with little knowledge, a lot of unsought advice, endless rhetoric and ill-formed perceptions.
Most of us who are parents today have been educated in the traditional way. In our times rote learning was acceptable and even desirable. It was not uncommon for our generation to be made to rattle off long English poems or tables of 18 and 19 to every guest who came home, while our parents beamed at us proudly. “Rattafication” was emphasized upon.
Teachers still gave punishments and homework wasn’t confined to weekends. Sports were something you did for fun, not for overall development. Science was the only option for boys , commerce was acceptable if you were really struggling with academics and allowing one’s son to opt for arts meant acknowledging he was a ‘lost case’.
By the time we grew up and stepped into parenthood the whole educational philosophy had turned inside out. Suddenly, ‘Education’ became a tool for encouraging creativity, increasing curiosity and experiential learning (At least on paper and in principal’s opening addresses!).
No wonder we feel lost in this new rhetorical maze. When I went to collect my daughter’s first report card, I discovered it is no longer fashionable to ask what your child ‘ranks’ in the class. I was foxed by the O’s, A’s, B’s on the colorful greeting card like thing the teacher handed out to me.
After five-minute conversation, about how neatly my child ate, how quiet she was, how she was the star of the class and other such niceties, when the teacher still didn’t say anything about my daughter’s academic performance. I asked her, “But how has she done?” “She has done well”, I was informed. “What does well mean?” I asked. I had observed another parent, before me, being reprimanded for asking his son’s rank in class. So I refrained from using the word. Instead I said “How has she done in relation to other children?” “She has done well”, was the prompt reply.
I gave up and made my way out, feeling shortchanged. Turned out I wasn’t the only one. Outside the classroom, I was accosted by a group of mothers. With report cards in hands, they were trying to figure out their children’s ranks! They had worked out a system by which every grade was assigned certain points. Not only were different grades assigned different points but the number of points one got for a certain grade was also determined by the subject in which the grade was given.
Thus an A in music got lesser importance than an A in English which ‘of course’ was inferior to an A in Math. The ingenious system satisfied parent’s curiosity, even though it completely sabotaged the philosophy behind the school’s system of non-competitive grading.
Even though I was curious to measure my daughter’s performance, against a yardstick. I found this intricate system a bit extreme. I rendered a polite excuse to take leave from the ‘measuring moms’. But not before I had glanced at all the other mark sheets and determined that almost all the children had done as well as my daughter.
The fact that my child was the star of the class was somewhat mitigated by the fact that almost every child was a star. They seemed to have a whole galaxy of stars in this school and that my child was only one among these hundreds somehow lessened the gleam!
I am not saying in the least that the new teaching methodologies are not good. I am all for hands on learning, enjoying the school experience and doing away with competitions and exams! When my children’s school principal lectured us about fun learning and stress free school environment, like other parents in the hall I was impressed.
Impressed but not completely convinced. While we want to believe that the new system is good for our children, the fact is that evidence from our life experiences proves otherwise. Almost every family boasts of at least one success story. The uncle/aunt or cousin who has done enormously well, earned huge accolades, name and money for themselves. If the traditional system has worked for them shouldn’t it work for us?
The litmus test for the traditional system is often the success that it’s products register when they go abroad. Indians shine in American and European universities. Often topping their classes. Our confused minds wonder, maybe the ‘traditional’ method with all its flaws, isn’t better than the confused laissez-faire attitude of the new philosophy propagated by the West.
What if fifteen years down the line, educationists realise that rote learning wasn’t so bad really? That it is good to introduce children to competitions from the beginning. That ranking a child actually gives them concrete goals and helps them be practical. As it lets them know exactly where they stand. Sort of grounding them in the real world as opposed to living in a fantasy world where everyone is a winner.
It is easy for educationists and psychologists to change their theories. They can conveniently attribute the change to new research. But by then wouldn’t we have already spoiled our children’s chances? So what do we do? Parents like me, who want nothing but the best for our children.
We compensate! We stack our eggs in both baskets. While the children indulge their passion for drawing, dance and music at school. We ensure they ace at academics by appointing tutors at home. While they play ball and do yoga in school hours they learn their twelve times table ‘by rote method’ under our watchful eye at home. If in the process they end up being more stressed than any generation before, who cares?
I do not wish to criticise any system of schooling. I believe that children can do well in any system just like they can do badly in any system. No system guarantees success and no system is a forewarn-er of doom.
Ultimately education is about giving children a dream and the skills to achieve that dream. As a traditional parent you can enforce this dream by using guilt and punishment as tools. As a modern parent too, I believe, the dream is largely yours. But you pass it on to the child in such a way that the dream appears to the child, as his/hers. Whether this is good thing or bad, I leave to your judgment.
After-all I am a modern parent. And modern parents do not judge! Now please excuse me I have to get my daughter off the phone, she has been talking to that ‘no gooder’ friend of hers since the last ten minutes. What a waste of time!!!! Now when will she construct those angles from her older cousin’s fifth grade book!
See you next time. Till then I would love to know your views about new educational philosophies? How is your children’s school different from your own? Do you ever feel unsure about the new methods? What do you really think? Go ahead, speak up! This is a forum for us. And I would love to know what you think? 🙂
A mom of two, Sapna is a business woman, an avid book lover, a stand in decorator for her restaurants, a movie buff, a social worker by training and a “change maker” by choice. A dreamer, like her name suggests, she says she is dangerously sentimental and an idealist at heart. Married to her childhood sweetheart she lives in a small city in Rajasthan with her kids Maya 8 yrs. and Kabir 7 yrs. She started blogging a year back and uses her blog justanotherwakeupcall to make new friends and connect with people.