The Distorted Learning Curve

Today I noticed a lady at my workplace looking really tired and worn out. As general courtesy I asked her if she was all right.

“I am fine,” she replied, “just that I didn’t get to sleep much last night. I had to work on my daughter’s school project; these kids have so much to do. And I had completely forgotten that she had to submit it today..”

“You mean you made your daughter’s project report?” I asked surprised.

“Yes, these children are given a lot of project work these days; I don’t know why they give the little children such difficult work. It is such a headache for parents!” she said disapprovingly.

“But isn’t the project meant for the children. Don’t you think you should just let her work on it?” I tried to reason with her.

“But she is so little. How will she know what to do?” She asked perplexed, as if that was an answer that was understood.

“No what I meant was, let her use her head, let her try something on her own. You can help her but let her do the work. Let her work on the project at her level of understanding. It doesn’t have to be the best, but she will learn something isn’t it?” I tried again.

“Yeah, I know got what you are saying, but all other children make such wonderful projects then the teacher will give her low grades.”

“You mean their parents make wonderful projects.” I smiled and said. She smiled back. “That’s how it is dear; there is so much competition at such a young age!”

I just smiled and said nothing. I realized there was no point reasoning. The whole thing was wrong at so many levels.

What was the child learning by watching her mother complete her project for her and taking credit for it in school? The project in my opinion was well meant. It would have pushed the child to think; maybe she would have spent some time struggling over it. May be she would have come up with useless ideas or pestered her mother with lots of questions. May be this particular project would not have turned out fancy but she would certainly have used her brain a lot. Don’t these parents know that a child’s brain is still developing a lot till the age of 7. If she uses the creative part of her brain at this point, she will certainly be very creative when she grows up.

But here, all she really learnt was how to copy the best stuff off the internet and stick them together on paper, take credit and be appreciated. In fact she was not even doing that. She was just watching her mother do all the work. How would this child grow up to feel capable? She would always grope for someone to help her out when faced with a tough problem in life. She would never be able to think that she should sit and brainstorm for possible solutions, because since her childhood she has been taught that she should ask someone else to do her work when she can’t do it on her own.

But is the mother wrong. I think she is, but let us try to understand the situation from her point of view. She didn’t want her child to take a bad project report to school. Why not? May be because she didn’t want her child to feel left out when all others were submitting fancy projects. Valid. But wouldn’t the child learn from what she saw and come back and think of better ideas for her next project. Isn’t that the process of learning? Isn’t it more important that you help your child back on her feet when she falls instead of not letting her walk on her own for fear that she may fall? But the mother can still argue that the school teacher would compare and give the child low marks. Then the child would get used to getting low marks and will never strive hard to be the best. But isn’t this the root of all evil in education system? Striving for marks and not learning!!! Why should there be marks at all at this age?

And competition? While I am personally against the spirit of competition at any level, others may not agree with me, which is fine. But competition at this age? When children should be focusing on learning, understanding, improving, thinking creatively and not limiting their thought process to getting good marks?

Sadly that has become the state of child development today. Instead of helping our children become capable and confident, we teach them to live superficially. We teach them to give value to marks that are a representative of their intelligence as against learning the hard way that may fetch them low marks but will make them much more intelligent.

I think the education system must work on spontaneity. Don’t ask the children to get the work done from home. Ask them to spend more time in school and give them on the spot assignments. Let them roam freely in school and come up with ideas. Let them experiment with their color pencils and crayons and make clumsy drawings. Let them fiddle with paper, scissors and glue and try to make anything they want. Let the older students look through books in the library and search for their answers. Let them get curious, let them come to you asking for answers and wanting to learn ways of doing something. When you teach them now they will remember the lesson for life. That’s the way anyone would learn. Let the parents not worry about the child’s marks and position in the competitive world at least till the age of 11 or 12. Let the child develop his intelligence and not his stature. Once you have taken care of the intelligence I can assure anyone that the child will take care of his future. Because this child would be trained to tackle problems not by knowing all the solutions in the world, but by his ability, and more importantly, confidence of being able to find a solution when he needs it.

I wish parents and teachers understood this. I wish I could do something that would show people how important this is.

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3 thoughts on “The Distorted Learning Curve

  1. Great post! I agree wholeheartedly. We ought to be allowing [our] children to establish autonomy, and how to solve problems as an individual. After all, the way they may tackle a project will be different to how their parent or teacher would, and thus, they must be allowed to, or encouraged to do so. I commend you on questioning this mother’s logic.

    • Thank you so much. It is something that I feel deeply about. Instead of focusing on grades and medals we need to start focusing on the personal development of the child. We need to let the child make mistakes and learn while we are still around to help them out. But for some reason we give in to the tendency to run behind a representative of intelligence, instead of intelligence itself.

      • It is something I am passionate about as well! My mother is a child care worker and works incredibly hard with each individual child, setting up tasks that tackle their individual strengths and weaknesses (of course group work is involved, but never forced).

        Sadly, once they go to school they are grouped together and expected to learn at an equal rate and achieve high results, when in reality, no child takes in information at the same rate and everyone responds to work differently. Teaching styles play a huge role in this I feel. But I hear so often that teachers don’t get paid enough to work with individuals or the curriculum doesn’t call for it… Excuses by people who perhaps have lost the passion that drove them to teaching in the first place!

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