Let’s give credit to our children for what’s in their head
I grew up in Mumbai, India. In the eighties and nineties, when I was in high school and college, I experienced the education process to be fiercely competitive. It was often portrayed to us as our only ticket to success. Even though my family was more priviledged and yet, conservative at the same time (girls weren’t really expected to excel at anything too academic!), the system did put a lot of pressure on me and my peers to perform and demonstrate our knowledge through exams and scores.
20 years later, this highly structured system still exists in our country. The central idea of this education system is that knowledge comes in a box. Each child gets the same box and the box is complete in its contents; nothing is from missing from it. If you make yourself familiar with every little item that’s in the box, you become knowledgeable. If you are able to demonstrate to others that you know what’s in the box, that makes you a scholar; assures you high scores; a decent placement at work and a life suitable for a successful person.
I see this as a content-based approach to education. This approach first developed with the industrial revolution in the 18th century and spread all over the world, as the world needed factory workers at that stage.
The world needed people who would understand, follow and replicate specific instructions without asking too many questions. The world needed people who could handle authority without being challenged and who were willing to keep their heads down in servitude in the name of prosperity for the nation.
Those sentiments had their place and weren’t wrong. But 200 years later today, the world is a different place. We don’t have the same needs for industrialisation as we did then. We have machines to replace people on the factory line today.
Today, we need thinkers. We need youth who can think outside the box and ask life’s big questions and then have the dedication and willingness to find the answers.
These thoughts were foremost on my mind as I had to make the difficult decision of choosing the right school for my two children. As a mother, I would not want to put them through the pressures we went through, and yet, the new options with schools were not exactly ‘tried and tested’ even though they had the ‘International’ stamp on them!
It’s been 5 years since my children enrolled into a new-age school with an international curriculum and many of my earlier doubts now lay rested.
I realise that in India, even though the sentiments of some urban elite has changed, the insititutional thinking hasn’t. Our traditional education system and state and central government study curiculums are still geared towards content-driven learning. We still expect our children to ‘perform at exams’ and we are convinced that ‘healthy’ competition will make them strong enough to deal with life’s challenges.
I believe we are wrong. I believe the wave of reforms in education are just brimming on the surface. International curriculums like the International Bacalaureate (IB) are going to create a storm in education and the sooner we jump onto this bandwagon, the faster our country will prosper.
My children are lucky enough to be a part of this revolution. Their school gives them “freedom to think, empower to be” – that’s their school motto and they live by it. They are taught to be enquirers in school. Education is a simple 3 step process: First – their curiosity is aroused about life’s big and small questions. Second – they are directed to the relevant sources of knowledge where they can discover the answers they seek. Third – they are encouraged and assisted in presenting their big understandings to the world through relevant and modern tools and resources that encourage lateral thinking.
That’s it. Whether they are in the primary years or about to graduate, the thinking process is the same. Learning is driven by the child and supported by the institution. Parents form the missing link by driving the same, consistent messages home. Together, this triangle works in unison to deliver the most supportive, encouraging and positive learning enviroment for the child.
Not all learning is fun and games in this system. Often children need to be serious. Often they have deadlines and a healthy dose of performance anxiety. The importance of preparing them to face the ‘real world’ is not forgotten in all this pampering. There are expectations from them and they need to deliver or face the consequences. But it is done without crumbling their self-esteem or trampling all over their dreams and ambitions. No question is stupid; no dream is too big and no idea is weird.
What I love the most about this curriculum is that children are given credit for what’s in their head. They are respected for their ideas and encouraged to put faith in them. Just because something has been done before does not make it right or best suited for everyone.
When my eight-year old daughter asks me whether Pluto is a planet or an asteroid, I can direct her enquiry to sources of information that will satisfy her, irrespective of whether it’s part of her 3rd grade curriculum or not.
When my son wants to know whether he has to study his least-favorite subject Math in order to get into sports college, I can assure him that he needs to know enough to make him capable and independent and no more, if it’s not relevant to his future interests.
If this freedom of thought is encouraged, this generation is going to take our world and our planet to high places. No plan will be unrealistic and no profession out of bounds. Money will cease to be important – satisfaction from work will bring economic security. Respect and tolerance will thrive and the EQ and IQ of the generations to come will be superior. Happy children make happy adults.
Fundamental truths of happiness will not be forgotten in the hurry of a rat race. People will take time out for themselves. They will search for deeper meanings of life and existence. They will come full cycle in respecting nature and our limited resources. They will innovate with finding newer resources for sustenance. Mother Earth will be grateful to the coming generations.
This is my belief and faith and I am counting on my children and their future generations to deliver it.