You have big dreams for the light of your life, your little toddler. Are you asking around about selecting a good nursery and preschool for your child? Perhaps you are already slightly worried that the idle days of pure fun (and exhaustion) are nearly over and you have to start worrying about schooling, teaching, and the FUTURE.
Having seen the highs and lows of life, I have some insights that are not readily apparent to parents of small kids. I saw the highs of life where I had everything from high academic achievement to a very promising career, and the lows of life where I lost everything to illness, disability and a very unstable life situation. And then I went on to rebuild my life the best I could with what I had. I think there are five crucial things we must consider when we think about giving children an education that will help them become adults who wake up looking forward to the day, lead a healthy life and deal with challenges with resilience.
No one really knows what a child needs to learn
Human brain is far more complex than even the most complex computer algorithms that exist today. While IT experts are struggling to understand how AI systems learn from all the data that is made available to them, human education experts purport to know everything about how humans learn. And although the concepts of learning are changing all the time, still for thousands of years, these experts have always thought they know how best to teach children. The society has always been changing, but the pace has never been as rapid as now. We cannot imagine the world a decade from now, so how can we know what is the best thing to teach our children and how to best teach them?
Why are children depressed and suicidal?
In an academically competitive society like India, because of the existing culture, children are deprived of their childhood, parents are deprived of their money and sleep, young adults are deprived of their zest and optimism, and learning is equated with sheer hard and boring work for most students. We fret over things our little kids can do and cannot, egged on by the preschool education related industries, experts and businesses. As depression, suicides and unhappiness rises in children, we are morally obliged to ask, what is wrong with us that we are failing our children this way? No matter how the outer world is, we have to question, what is their home world like?
With these thoughts in mind, these are my 5 mantras for parents of small children.
1. Make learning fun
Make a foundation for learning as an enjoyable activity. It does not have to feel like a punishment to learn and face challenges. Many changes are required in the education system as well, but at a fundamental level, changes are required in the attitude of parents towards learning, knowledge, and in their definitions of academic and social success. When you learn to make a new dish or to use a computer program or to play an instrument or a new language from a YouTube video, you are learning with joy. Learning usually should give us joy. Then, ask yourself, why is it that learning is a joyless thing for children? The problem is not the child. The problem is the teaching system.
Since we cannot change the system overnight or get rid of it, try to develop ways you can complement the system to keep your child from losing the fun of learning.
2. Every child is unique
Each person has a unique situation that determines their life's trajectory. Do not compare yourself or your child to anyone else in another situation. Compare yourself to what you were before. Similarly, compare your child's progress to what he could do before today or before this year. We must try to be better with our old selves as reference points. The system will judge us in comparison to others, but if we judge our children in comparison to other children, we are mostly setting ourselves and our children up for unhappiness and discontent.
3. Knowledge is more than scores
Knowledge is being able to apply what we learn to real-life applications to get desired results like solve a problem, help someone, get a good job, become an entrepreneur, find happiness and balance in life, earn a lot of money, whatever... It is ultimately not the ability to memorize something and satisfy the examiner, but the ability to learn something well enough to make our lives or the world better. In today's world, when all formulae and definition and textbook content are available at one click, the real competition is about who can apply all this free knowledge to achieve results.
4. Room for everyone
We should stop focusing on trying to "make" our kids Doctors, Engineers, IITians, Data Scientists, IT Professionals, IAS officers, MBAs and so on. Now even primary schools advertise that they offer special preparatory classes for IIT entrance. If we are brutally honest, how many of the aspirants really get into these "coveted lines"? The sad thing is that many of the students who fail and some who succeed actually do not want to be doing that at all. They would rather do something else, but not really this. Why not be honest about our children's aptitude, capacity, tenacity, physical health, mental endurance, personality traits, and then expand their range of dreams and extend our support to realizing those dreams in a realistic and practical (so that they may make a living as well) way? If they are going to be unhappy, unstable and mediocre in IT, why not let them become successful and happier business people, paramedics, agriculturists, or school teachers? It simply does not cut it in today's world to say that we only want the best for them, and these lines can ensure they have good lives. We all know that is not true. Let us cherish our children for who they are, than trying to make them into what we would like to boast about them.
5. What really counts in life
There is enough going on around us for everyone to understand that money and social success if not enough to bring happiness and certainly not enough to keep us even want to be alive. A person's mental illness that happens due to life situations, or a suicide is NOT the person's failing, rather, it is the society's failure and shame. Enough modern studies and ancient wisdom exists in the world telling us that after a certain level of financial well-being is attained, what really matters for a joyful existence and a good quality life comprises family, good health, meaningful work, purposeful living, and community ties. Poverty is certainly a deterrent to happiness and health. But riches cannot ensure happiness. Let your child build those foundations for good physical and mental health, for financial common sense, compassion and respect for others, lasting and genuine friendships, beautiful family memories, and authenticity.
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