Tag Archives: creativity

Run…I am Talking About Education

22 Feb

It is personal, very personal, not only because I am an insider in the game but because my kids will soon be venturing into the world of formal education. I am not qualified to comment on its steady state of decline in most countries of the world but I can most certainly express my individual viewpoint of how I am utterly disappointed from the little of it I have seen.

My memories of my school days are very pleasant. I have no qualms or complaints about it; but then again nothing about it stands out as exceptional. The reason I am tracing back to my roots is because things have not changed much. I have had the opportunity to work with children in whom I have seen great degrees of diversity. It made me a strong believer in the uniqueness that exists in every child. This puts parents and educators in a significant position to tap this uniqueness. But who has the time for potential? Education today is all about teaching to the test. The year begins with grand new curriculums, new technology on how to teach it; teaching methods to bring out the best in every child to ensure that every child who walks through those school doors walks out feeling successful at the end of the day. Then how come everyone feels so unmotivated and stressed out about school as the year slowly trickles by?

Kids today are taught like lambs, the idea of standing out in a crowd is not necessarily considered a positive. I shudder to think of how this would affect my kids when they make their way into this system. As parents we marvel and cherish every act that our children do, and every word they say everyday and hope that their teacher might notice at least a percentage of their uniqueness. I know this might sound like a mind-boggling task for the educator but logistically speaking it isn’t. A typical classroom consists of 20-25 students, if a teacher were to spend 2 minutes with every child that adds up to 50 minutes of her precious day. Trust me those 2 measly minutes will be cherished by that child everyday.

In my experience I have seen that children thrive when you set high expectations for them. Children want to impress their teacher, get noticed and closely tied to this is the need to succeed. Teaching to the test kills this to a large extent. Teachers today do not have the time to know their students individually, because they walk into their classroom with an agenda to finish what they need they to cover for that day.

A true story I read many years back in a newspaper often comes to mind when I think of children and schools. A teacher once gave her class a theme to draw a picture of their pet for art class. Most of the children drew pictures of dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and other common household pets. One little girl drew a dinosaur as her pet and when the teacher laid her eyes on her drawing she mocked and ridiculed the little girl in front of the entire classroom for her unrealistic picture. Imagine the plight of the little girl and more importantly imagine how it would have trampled her sense of creativity.

I have been listening to Sir Ken Robinson on TED. He talks very passionately about how education kills creativity. He explains how we are taught to be almost robotic, like workers and not encouraged to think out of the box. He says, “Creativity should be given as much importance as literacy.” I agree with him completely, we are so determined as parents and teachers to follow the rulebook on everything we do for our children.

There are nights I spend in bed thinking about why I need a book to tell me how to feed my kids, how to educate them, how to control every possible action that comes from them and redirect it to follow the rule book. Why are my motherly instincts not enough?

I am now making a conscious effort to let them breathe, be themselves. I might be dreaming the impossible because I know they have to ultimately be mainstreamed and follow rules that their formal educational system might demand of them; but for now I plan to celebrate their uniqueness.

We as parents have a huge responsibility towards our children. Brain development in human beings happens most rapidly during early childhood. Children are like little sponges, they soak up everything you offer them. It takes a lot of conscious efforts from our side to let their uniqueness grow. I think this quote from Sir Ken Robinson sums it all up for me,

“What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now, that we use this gift wisely and that we avert some of the scenarios that we’ve talked about. And the only ways we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. By the way—we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.”

Reference: Schools Kill Creativity: TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

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Renuka Venkataraman is a contributing author at Multicultural Mothering.

“I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I lived in Dallas, Texas for almost 15 years and worked as teacher for special needs kids for 10 of those years. I moved to Chengdu in September 2011 with my husband, two kids and our miniature dachshund Zen. I’m looking at motherhood under a very different light here in Chengdu. It has brought a sense of positivity and purpose to my life in many ways I can’t wait to experience and share with all you other Multicultural Moms.”

Two Articles on Bilingualism

12 Jan

We flew from Beirut to Abu Dhabi (“adi badi” as Rahul calls it) on Etihad Airways, the United Arab Emirates carrier, a couple of days ago. It was the first of 3 flights that would take us back to Chengdu.
A pretty, blond flight attendant with bright red lipstick guided Leila up a step and onto the plane. “Oh, they are so small,” she said, to no one in particular.

“They’re two,” I responded, not entirely sure what she based her judgment on.

A few minutes later, she walked by, offering us newspapers. For the first time since I’ve flown on a plane with my children, I bothered (dared) to take one. 4 out of 6 newspapers were in Arabic. I randomly picked The National, an English language UAE paper.

Well into the flight, Rahul fell asleep in Maher’s arms. Leila and I were hanging out. She was flipping through one of her books, so I pulled out the newspaper. The title action photo shot of a leopard pulling off a man’s scalp in Assam, India, was bewildering. The caption mentioned that they caught the leopard.

Overleaf was a picture of a baby, and an article about bilingual brain development. In the UAE people speak both Arabic and English, some also speak Hindi and Tegalog among other languages, because of the Indian, Filipino, and many other communities living and working in the UAE.

Universal translators, by Manal Ismail talks about the possible effects of bilingualism on babies brains. It discusses how cognitive performance in children up to five years old might be less developed in a bilingual child than in a monolingual one; but that by age five there would be a likely catching-up and overtaking phase. The article ends with the hypothesis that exposure to a second language “early enough” (that could range from up to 12 years old to up to 16 years old depending on the research) stimulates the right brain; the side that governs creativity. So the research is on by a professor at the American University of Sharjah to see if indeed bilingual children can be more creative than monolingual ones.

It took me all three hours of the flight to get through this, and the follow-up article about how that professor plans to implement a bilingual policy at a school in Berlin, and then try the same at a school either in Dubai or in Abu Dhabi.

My first interjection came from Ivana, the talkative Romanian flight attendant with bright red lipstick. She delivered us a tray of food, and attracted by baby on my newspaper, she peeked in. She asked what the article was about, and we plunged into a fifteen minute conversation about parenting. She is studying bilingualism and other topics in Child Psychology and Development at a University in South Africa, by correspondence, and claimed that babies can easily manage 5 languages. She lives in Abu Dhabi with her South African husband, for his work.

Rahul was asleep and Leila was still entertaining herself. Ivana and I went back and forth. That I was able to have such a conversation astonished me, and made me realise how things are evolving for us.

Ivana wants to have children. She can’t fly if she’s pregnant, so she’ll quit her job soon. The main reason to leave her work though are the long haul flights – 14, 16 hours to Sydney, Toronto, Chicago; they’re too tiring. She sometimes stays up 24, even 48 hours.

“I think I’ll be able to handle the nights as a new mum, after my job here.”

She inquired about IVF, and then went on to share parenting tips from her studies, observations, and from her magazine purchases in the UK! They were mainly along the lines of allowing children to be who they are; embracing their personalities and understanding that not everything our children do is reflects our parenting. I confirmed. My 2 same age children react to situations differently, even though I do almost the same things with them. They eat, sleep, fly, talk, play, and think differently.

She’s been watching the children on her flights for the last 2 years. Some sleep all the way, some are hyper-active, others read or watch movies, some eat, others don’t…

She said the Australian, British, and US kids often aren’t potty-trained until two, even three, whereas where she comes from, children are put on the pot from 6 months on.

I was amazed by all the “research” she’s doing. I didn’t know a thing about babies before I had my own.

It was obvious that Ivana really wants to be a mum, and I bet she’ll be a good one. She’s confident, excited about it, and full of energy. Already a solid start. Her main point, which I agree with fully, is to do it your own way; to take the tips, and then to adapt them to your own personality.

I was happy for the pleasant conversation, and momentary bonding.

When another, slightly irritated flight attendant called Ivana away, I returned to my food.

I changed Leila’s diaper. She fell asleep.

Rahul woke up.

Ivana had a short conversation with Maher and Rahul in French about their meal, and then an upbeat one about fashionable purses and shoes with 3 sisters in black outfits and hijabs (head coverings worn by some muslim women) across the aisle from us.

In the mean time I managed to read my articles.

The professor plans to have classes in both English and Arabic. So if they teach math in Arabic one day, the next day it will be English. Did you go to a bilingual school, or do your children go to one? Is this how it works at other bilingual schools?

Related article- Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language

Related site- http://www.multilingualliving.com/

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Natasha lives in Chengdu, China with her husband and twin toddlers. They just returned after spending 3 weeks in Lebanon for Christmas and New Year with the children’s great-grandfather, grandparents, and uncles from their Lebanese side. They spent their time in a 200 year-old stone house, playing with dogs and eating way too much delicious food. Catch more of Natasha’s stories at Our Little Yogis, http://natashadevalia.com