TODAY -

Child-focused education
- Part 1 -

Tuisem A Shishak *



"Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward" (Ps. 127:3, New American Standard Version).

Today the interest of parents (rich and poor alike) in their children's education has exploded. I have seen many parents foregoing even the little comforts of life for their children's education. But sadly, in our land the quality of education is far below the normal standard, even almost non-existent in most government schools, as well as in many private schools. And most children from poor families end up going to such free-tuition and non-quality schools because good private schools, which provide much better education, are too expensive for them.

What is the future for this overwhelming number of children who for no fault of theirs are academically rotting, mostly in government schools?

If we dream of ever having an educated society, then the government, the church, and the civil society had better be dead serious about children's education. Not just the experts, but we who have had enough experience in education know that children who receive good education in primary, elementary and high school are more or less guaranteed success in higher education and in life. Hence the necessity of child-focussed education anywhere Judeo-Christian doctrine defines man as created in the image of God, consisting of body, mind/spirit and soul.

Whether education is formal, informal, or non-formal, the central focus has to be on the development of the whole child: the physical-social, the mental-intellectual, and the moral-spiritual aspects.

Formal education begins at age six in the USA, five in the UK, and seven in Finland. In India formal education begins as early as age four, though a four-year-old child enrolled in Classes A and B, is more or less a pre-schooler. So a child is normally six years old when he or she is enrolled in Class One. In the developed countries most children of school age will have already been provided with pre-school/nursery school education, whereas in a country like India most children begin formal education without any prior preparation in pre-school or nursery program. Classes A and B take the place of pre-school education. Laborers' and farmers' children are at a big disadvantage when they are in the same class/grade as those of the teachers and more well-to-do parents.

Experts tell us that a baby starts learning even while in the mother's womb. What the pregnant mother eats and drinks as well as her bodily movement affects the baby's emotional, mental and physical health. Experts also tell us that whatever a child experiences during the first 3-5 years largely determines who he or she will turn out to be in life. If this is true, we cannot afford to mess up a child's early education; indeed, we have no right to mess up the process of education at any stage.

Parents are the first teachers the child has, although the mother has a greater and more effective impact upon the child since her role goes back to pre-natal care until formal education begins at age 5 or so. Parents often think real education or learning takes place in school, meaning formal education. Nothing can be further from the truth. Human society, no matter how low down the scale of civilization, has always had education of one kind or another without formal schooling.

In tribal society education was always informal and non-formal. Oralogy or verbal story-telling around the family fireplace or morung (long in Tangkhul), meaning Bachelors' Dormitory has always existed in Naga society as an educational institution .

Story-telling and singing build up one's memory power to retain and remember what has been told or heard. Traditional education, for the most part, was learning by doing through observing and imitating parents and elders. Education was through trial and error. Montessori methods of teaching come closest to traditional tribal teaching. I find tribal children are good with concretes whereas Western children are good with abstracts.

This is an essential part of education which must be implemented in the early stages of the child's life. Today we call it empirical education or pragmatism. Since a baby begins learning in the mother's womb, we can safely say education is for life: from cradle to grave. Experts tell us that the body does not continue to grow after the first 18 or 20 years of life. But mental, moral, and spiritual growth can go on for a lifetime. Learning never reaches a terminal point. I am learning more at age 84 than ever.

In the words of Mortimer J Adler, "There are no unteachable children. There are only schools and teachers and parents who fail to teach them" (The Paideia Proposal, p.8). Apart from a few suffering from irremediable brain damage, every child is educable up to his/her capacity.

1. NURSERY/PRE-SCHOOL EDUCATION

Parents and family members have the major role to play in the education of pre-school age children. In the village little children have enough time to socialize with other children through playing and doing things together. "A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interaction with other peopleónot screens" (American Academy of Pediatrics website).

The home is a private institution. At home parents teach children by words (in the mother tongue) and by example how to behave, talk, act and participate in household chores and other family activities. Literate parents should start the three R's: reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic at home in their own tongue before their children enroll in a formal school. A nursery school in every village can be part of the church's ministry. Parents of pre-school children could organize a program for an hour every evening or on weekends. Ultimately, whatever even illiterate parents are able to do with their children informally will go a long away in preparing them for formal schooling. Remember, pre-school deprivation is the cause of backwardness or failure in school.

2. FORMAL EDUCATION/SCHOOLING

Education is a lifelong process, and basic schooling of twelve years (Classes 1-12) is only a small but necessary part. Once enrolled in school, teachers and school administrators assume a major role in the child's education. For commuting students (day scholars), however, parents have an even greater role in the child's education. I don't remember my father, who had two years of schooling, ever teaching me writing and reading, let alone a little arithmetic. My mother couldn't even write her name. But they made sure I prepared my daily lesson.

I went to Sunday church services with them and to Sunday School. In the same way, my parents dealt with my four brothers and one sister. Their commitment to their children's moral, spiritual, and intellectual development produced six college and university graduates.

For those who stay in dormitories (hostels), wardens/guardians have the opportunity to mould the children's social, moral and spiritual life through bonding and counseling. Wardens have to maintain strict observance of morning and evening hours for studying daily lessons and assigned homework. In the hostel, Wardens are to be parents to all the children. In the classroom the teacher must maintain discipline or no fruitful teaching-learning can take place. What and how the teacher teaches goes a long way in helping pupils grow academically and in other ways.

To be continued...


* Tuisem A Shishak [Ph D] wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is founder-Principal Emeritus, Patkai Christian College (Autonomous)
This article was posted on February 08, 2016.


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