Friday, August 26, 2016

Are we educating successful children?

Wow, it's already Week 9! How many of you out there are finally done with processing results? It's been such a term I can't believe that the September break is nearly upon us.

I happened to chance upon this article in my Facebook feed and I thought it would be interesting to share. In a nutshell, the article profiles 9 families who raised highly successful children and what it took for them to get there. Success here has not been defined as earning a 6-figure salary, but as professional success. Examples include scientists, entrepreneurs but also painters, rappers and writers.

You can read the article here so that you know what I'm talking about: Secrets of Super Siblings

Reading the article did give me some interesting ideas, especially since in Singapore, success as an adult seems joined at the limbs to educational success. If that is the case, then what can these 9 families tell us about what we are doing right and what we need to change?

1. 8 of the 9 families had educators in the family
It was written that these families had at least one member who was a teacher in some way. This does not mean that you should necessarily rush to join teaching to ensure your child's future success. However, it did mean that the families understood the importance of education for their children and also that they gave their children a stimulating childhood. These children later entered school already knowing the fundamentals of reading, writing and 'rithmetic.

I do believe that the majority of Singaporean parents recognize the importance of education, so for us, the first step has already been reached. Judging by the number of pre-primary enrichment classes doing a roaring business, I would also say that many of our middle-class children are also getting a better headstart in school. (Although the prevalence of enrichment classes does also arouse certain concerns in me, but that's a topic for another blog entry)

Other than the enrichment classes, though, we also have to make sure our children receive as much stimulation as they can in their daily lives. My view as an educator is that a weekly library trip is a basic requirement, to build up their literacy and comprehension skills. I also believe children should also be raised in an environment where reading and thinking is encouraged. That means that bringing your child to the library and sitting in a corner playing Candy Crush is not enough to encourage these skills in your child.

I also speak partly from personal experience. My father is an avid reader and I remember weekly library trips where he left me in the children's section while he went to the non-fiction books. Also, we went quite regularly, not just whenever the books happened to be due! I also remember going to book sales and being allowed to fill my basket. So growing up, I never had to study for an English exam to pass with decent grades.

Thus, it's not just that you have to become a teacher to raise successful kids. Rather, you should understand the importance of education and actively encourage this in your children by engaging them in stimulating activities and setting yourself as a role model.

2. Freedom in Childhood
Many of the children in the article were also free from helicopter parenting. They were pretty much left to their own devices to take care of themselves and explore their own interests. One of those interviewed described cycling to the store a mile away with her younger sister when she was 5!

At first read, this seemed a dangerous thing to do, but later it started to make sense. Firstly, understand that the children were all raised with expectations of good grades and behaviour. Secondly, that they were raised in stimulating environments and encouraged to be active thinkers. When you combine these with a staggering amount of freedom, the children learned to be more  independent on their own and also to pursue their curiosity as far as it would take them.

This makes me think. Are we necessarily doing our children a favour by protecting them in the way we do? If I was an American parent raising my child in a neighbourhood where guns were carried and drugs were sold on the corner, of course the answer is clear. If I was in comparatively safe Singapore, though, and I lived a block away from the school, why can't my child walk back home on his own? Or even take the bus to go home if I live a couple of bus stops away?

I thought of this because of the increasing rise of the 'strawberry generation'. You may know the usual complaints: They cannot take hardship, they want things to go their way all the time, they want a lot but are not willing to put in the hard work.

Well, maybe this 'strawberry generation' starts with our own parenting. Take a common thing like fetching them from school. We protect them along that route but do we also transmit the message that they cannot be trusted on their own and they cannot handle themselves without another adult present? I may agree that the younger lower primary should be supervised but I raise my eyebrows whenever I see a burly primary 6 student being accompanied by his grandmother, who is carrying his schoolbag for him!

Of course, there will be people who will disagree with me on this. I'm sure given enough time and sharing of this article, there will be people who will point out and even punch out their own holes in my views. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion after all, but at the very least, I do hope that the Time article makes one really think about our children and create some active discussion (ie, no unproductive trolling) about how we should raise our kids, who will be our future leaders, entrepreneurs, writers and parents themselves.