MY three-year-old twins recently met up with their 10-year-old cousins, also twins, who were visiting from the UK. I was very touched by how caring the older boys were. They played with my little ones in the garden, humouring them by falling over and playing “dead” each time my kids stretched out their arms to “zap” them with pretend laser beams from their small palms. They entertained my kids while looking out for them whole time, always putting out their protective arms to shelter my twins from any potential harm. It was lovely to witness such thoughtfulness in young children. I hope that my kids will grow up well like them.
Their mother later told me that at the boys’ school in the UK, the older children are encouraged to interact with and to support their younger schoolmates. They also have a Reading Buddy programme where older children read books to their younger peers. Although interaction between different years is encouraged in smaller places like my twins’ playschool, I don’t think this is very common in our mainstream schools.
I believe being able to coach and support someone younger or less experienced than you is an important life skill. I am sure many of us can think of someone who has mentored us, and the positive impact this has had on our careers and lives.
It made me think about the type of values and skills we should impart to our kids to prepare them for a changing, uncertain future in a global environment that seems to be getting harsher by the day. There is also the big question of how we should deliver these sorely-needed lessons in school and at home.
Our mass education system was developed to meet the industry and manufacturing needs of the Industrial Revolution and still mirror the principles of industrial production. They continue to emphasise linearity, conformity and standardisation even though these are largely out of sync with real life today which is organic, fluid and diverse.
The scale and rate of change today is breathtaking. Author Sir Ken Robinson once pointed out “if you have an iPhone, it probably has more computing power than was available on Earth in 1940. Many children’s toys today have more computing power than 1960s mainframes.”
The current education system with its limited definitions of intelligence has resulted in too many people being displaced from their true talents. People with strong academic abilities will fail to discover their other abilities. Those of lower academic ability may have other powerful abilities that will lie dormant.
Many key companies today are in communications, information, entertainment, science and technology. Our established ways of thinking and doing things are outdated. It is like trying to drive a car forward by only looking at what’s in the rear-view mirror.
The 20th century education system has to be redesigned for 21st century needs. We cannot continue “teaching to the test”. This useful video by the World Economic Forum highlights “the 10 skills you will need in the workplace by 2020” namely: cognitive flexibility, negotiation, service orientation, judgment and decision-making, emotional intelligence, co-ordinating with others, people management, creativity, critical thinking, and complex problem-solving.
Not surprisingly, many of the skills mentioned involve social intelligence and the ability to work with people. You cannot succeed as a lone genius, working in isolation. To thrive, you need to be able to communicate with others and inspire communities into action. You must cultivate kindness and compassion to be able to empathise with people and their specific situations, to understand their motivations and ambitions. Only then can you come up with ideas that provide an authentic service or product to address market needs.
Yet, if we look around us, we find more and more children retreating into themselves due to unhealthy obsessions with gadgets and online gaming. Technology, a convenient babysitter, has become a barrier to children building genuine bonds with others. Sadly, daily work demands leave many parents today with little time for their children. You certainly can’t awaken a child’s sense of wonder if you have neither the time nor energy to work on your own.
Instead of being talked at all the time, children who are naturally curious need us to provide some “scaffolding” – the right level of learning support to help them take their knowledge to the next level. We can gently help them see that the world around them is a very interesting place, that gadgets are merely tools you should use to understand more about the world, and are not meant to become their entire world.
Adult intervention is important as we play a vital role in determining what children notice, how children feel about things and how they respond to a given situation. Unfortunately, many childhood experiences today are one-dimensional as they focus on academic achievements and doing things mechanically, instead of finding meaning and forging real world connections.
Academic excellence is important but certainly not at the expense of kindness, creative thinking, resourcefulness, resilience, adaptability, embracing diversity and problem-solving.
How does one start imparting these values and skills?
A friend of mine from the UK recently started an online resource site for parents called lifehacksforkids in response to this.
The site started with a great article: Eyes wide shut? Are you letting your kids sleepwalk into their future? The piece offers a peek into the future by talking about The Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030, a fantastic piece of research by The UK Commission for Employment and Skills that highlights themes and potential scenarios that may affect our children in 2030.
The article lists seven key skills you can teach your kids and suggests “hacks” on how you can use real life situations to help kids learn such skills. For example, to discover adaptability, one can ask for help, re-frame a situation or think about worst-case scenarios. Striking a “power pose” can enhance communication. To cultivate creative thinking as a family, set aside 10 minutes every day to think about 10 ideas on a random subject. For example, where to go on holiday or what to do for the weekend. Don’t forget to offer prizes for the best and worst ideas or the person with the most and the silliest ideas.
Parenting expert Jo Frost also talks about how we can “raise a generation of gracious little ones” here. This article is a good place to start, and can lead to searches for more ideas on how to reframe your child’s “education”.
As one Pinterest poster states, “Don’t raise your kids to have more than you had, raise them to be more than you were.”
Instead of working to make the world a better place for our kids, maybe we should work on raising kids who can make our world a better place: Compassionate kids who rise to the occasion when the community faces challenges; creative kids who can solve city or countrywide problems; and kids who value diversity and inclusiveness.
Li-Hsian Choo left a career in corporate communications to become a freelance writer and full-time mum to her twins. She also works on projects to curate creative experiences for children. She has co-written three children’s picture books and currently co-leads the Art Discovery Tours for Tots and Kids at the Ilham Art Gallery in KL. Her column, Mummy Moments, is about her journey as a mother. It will be updated once a month.