Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Children self-educate if we let them!

In the late 1990s, Sugata Mitra initiated a series of ‘experiments’ on children to assess their ability to self educate. He placed a computer in a wall of a slum in New Dehli, turned the computer on and placed a video camera close by to watch what happened. He was astonished that children came and taught themselves, and others, how to work it and within days were surfing the web, downloading music and playing with programmes like Microsoft Paint. Because of this he added many more computers in the streets and the result was the same – every time children of all ages arrived and taught themselves, and other children, anything that a teacher might have wanted to teach about the computer! (For more information about Sugata Mitra’s research, see the TED Talk Kids can teach themselves, for which he won a TED prize!)

He concluded that children innately have curiosity, playfulness and sociability, all essential items for self-education!
This drew the children to turn the computer on, to play with the controls and to find out more and more.
As the children ‘played’ with the programmes they became more and more skilled until they went straight into Microsoft Paint, for instance, to ‘play’ every day. As they played they created more curiosity and the cycle continued.  Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.”
As individual children played and learnt, they passed the learning on to others. Their learning became everybody’s learning because they excited each other and the learning spread.

So why is this important for schools? Well, my question is ‘Why don’t school lessons spread like ‘wildfire’ like these ones did? Schools need to allow children to self educate as much as possible, because then they will be excited to learn at their own pace. Here are some ideas….
·      Children are seldom given the opportunites at school to follow their own chosen interest – they are told what they are going to learn about and then told all the teacher wants them to know about the topic.
·      At school children are usually expected to perform tasks in only one way or use only one method for calculating Maths problems. The excitement of puzzling out new ways is very seldom encouraged. At most schools children are divided into classes by age and often aren’t even allowed to play with children of other ages at break times. Opportunities for multi age learning creates many more opportunities for leaning and teaching, and when younger children teach older children in particular, the excitement of teaching and learning is so much greater. Much of what happens at schools today revolves around evaluating children and their work. This creates an emphasis on the product and pleasing the teacher, rather than on the investigating and excitement of the learning.

As parents you can encourage self-education by asking the right questions in your homes. Give your children opportunities to find the answer themselves if possible rather than just telling them an answer. This process is longer but much more sustainable and once children realise they can teach themselves and catch the excitement of learning, that will be forever!  

Friday, 20 April 2018

Who teaches ethics in our unethical society?

In a country where many of our senior leaders flout the law every day, it is difficult to teach children to be law-abiding and to perform their civic duty. Many parents are absent from their children’s lives, either because one parent is really absent or because one or both parents outsource the parenting to others; grandparents, au pairs or other family members, to work full time. This means that schools are increasingly becoming the sole educators of good citizenship.
We regularly discuss the attributes of good citizenship in assemblies and newsletters, predominantly to encourage parents to teach their children how to negotiate an often negative world. Here are a few tips to use at home: 
·       Have a conversation with your children about when it is a good time to ‘tell tales’. Re-enforce for them that they are not ‘squealing’ – they have the right to be ‘righteously indignant’ if other children offend them by the way they behave, by the words they use, etc. Discuss the kind of things that are wiser for adults to know about – that by ‘looking the other way’ they can be hurt or implicated in the act. If all children played ‘policeman’, many others would be protected from so much.
·       Have a discussion with your children about the need to be honest with their peers and with the adults who care for them. Often when dealing with issues in which children put themselves at risk, schools find that the children’s friends knew what was going on but didn’t tell anybody. Sometimes this can result in serious consequences, like death.
·      Protect your children from the ‘laissez-faire’ attitude within society today as you don’t want your family to be affected by the culture of not caring. Insist 
-       on sending a note and phoning if your child is ill;
-       that your child be involved in the extramural programme and remains committed for the term;
-       that your child leaves home in the full, correct school uniform, 
-       on homework/projects being completed by the due date;
-       that work done at home, is neatly presented and written;  
-       that all loose papers are filed in the correct place;
-       that all books are covered and treated ‘gently’.
·      The newspapers are filled with articles about parents and children “at war” with opposing teams in school sports’ matches. Continue 
       to insist on good sportsmanship behaviour like:
-       enjoying the game and not winning at all costs;
-       having a good attitude, not retaliating 
     when other teams swear or get physical;
-       applauding all goals, whether your own or 
     the opposing team’s;
-       congratulating and thanking the other 
     team at the end;
-       playing the game wholeheartedly, right
     until the end.
·      When driving in traffic, remember that your attitude to other drivers and your adherence to traffic rules is continually watched by your children. Set an example of good citizenry by:
-       obeying traffic signs and speeds;
-       wearing your seat belts every time you drive;
-       stop at stop streets and in time at red traffic lights;
-       never park on pedestrian crossings or in restricted areas.

·      Beware of what your children are watching or seeing. Obviously 
     things are far more explicit
     in the world out there so keep checking:
-       the programmes, shows and movies your 
      children watch on television;
-       the sites your children visit on their cellphones, tablets and computers, and whatthe sites are, as some innocuous sounding 
      ones show the most terrible things;
-       that your “Parental Guidance” is still active on your computer with the necessary passwords to prevent children from accessing unsuitable sites.

If all partners in the schooling system play their parts in moulding children, despite the reality of the world we live in, then our children are going to be positive role models in society themselves, and hopefully, they will continue the process with their children in the future. The world we live in is too important for us to give up on …. join the good-citizen crusade!