The Over-Scheduled Child

A child, just like the rest of us, has 168 hours in a week. They typically spend about 56 of those hours asleep. Most spend around 30 hours a week in school with a further 8 hours getting ready for and travelling to and from school, with about 7 hours of homework thrown in for good measure. Those are hours when the child is under instructions, following a clear agenda set by others, under the control of strict discipline regimes.

Recent survey evidence has suggested that the average child is spending 60 hours a week engaged with screens; gaming, watching TV or using social networking. By my reckoning all of the above leaves them a paltry 7 hours for ‘growing up’, for the unstructured time to think, be themselves and develop their unique human consciousness. And that’s all assuming that they’re not among the rare children who still sit down to eat family meals, if they do, those might easily take out another 3 hours in the week.

When you think about a child’s time in this way it becomes even more startling to think that parents would be tempted to cram in to every child’s days a variety of ‘after school activities’ – tuitions 9to repeat the school learning, clubs, activities, organised sports etc.

Here’s an article recently written about what this means in the Indian context, but how growing numbers of Indian parents are thinking twice about what they’re doing by scheduling their children so heavily. The article does, honestly, hint at the fact that some of this over-scheduling is done in circumstances where parents are convincing themselves that the activities are for the child’s benefit, when at times it’s a convenient child-care facility to enable them to live their lives with all the choices that they’ve made about how they’re committing their time.

Scroll – Over-scheduled, under-slept children experience neural fatigue

I have a strong wish that the parents who are scheduling their children in this way would invest more time in learning about the latest thinking and knowledge about children, the development of the mind, positive psychology and the science of human potential. Along with this, they would benefit personally, as well as be better able to support their child if they learned more about the scientific awareness of the learning process. I’ve written it before, but i do believe, that as parents we have to ask ourselves some challenging questions when we’re prepared to invest time and effort in to the learning required for running a business or pursuing a profession or job role, but not invest any significant amount of time in to learning how to fulfil our life responsibilities as a parent.

One of the saddest ironies is that the over-scheduled approach has little to no chance of leading to a child achieving mastery of anything. Spreading oneself so thinly, going through so many activities is going through the motions. It doesn’t permit for passion, motivation or the focused practice that can lead to achieving any decent level of competence at something.

I’ve had occasions where I’ve been saddened as I stood with a parent whose child obediently agreed that they love doing all the different things they’re doing. This isn’t producing genius. if anything it’s more likely to destroy the potential for genius and worse, it plays on the child’s desire to please the parent – to be seen as an obedient and good child who will receive the recognition and praise of their parent. this is conditional parenting and a major cause of stunted lives in later adulthood.

Of course, on the scheduling of tuitions to extend beyond school learning, parents will claim that this is necessary to achieve the results they need because there is inadequate trust that the child and their school are achieving the levels of learning needed. I wish that parents would solve this by talking more with their child’s school and teachers – instead of subjecting the child to duplication through tuitions and other ‘driven’ learning approaches to extract more academic outcomes.

We can do so much better for our children, with the right information, the right learning and the right approaches. Parenting isn’t about quantity. We’re not going to enable our children by just doing more stuff to them. We must work with their interests and allow them the space and time to grow up, to become fully rounded people.

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The Harm Done By Tuitions

ivod-tuitions-article

Here’s an article I wrote that has been published in this month’s edition of Ipoh Valley of Dreams magazine.

With apologies to Jane Kuok – I’ve got no idea why i look so white in the photo, or where the full stop went at the end of the article – but well spotted!

The ‘Cancer’ of Tuitions

In the South Asian culture, unfortunately, the desire to push children ahead in what is seen as a cut-throat, viciously competitive world has manifested in many undesirable approaches that plague the education system and undermine children’s ability to develop holistically with high quality 21st Century skills. Of all of them, few are as malevolent as tuitions. The premise is simple – if my child is to be a winner, then they must just simply spend more time each day being taught, so that they will know ‘stuff’ better and thereby score higher in examinations.

I’ve written on this subject off and on in the past. I believe it makes children jaded towards learning, reinforces a sense that learning is something ‘done to them’ and maybe worst of all creates a perception that learning is purely about quantity, leading to neglect of quality. When a child knows they are going to be taught the same material at least twice in different places all too often this leads them to treat school as their ‘social club’ – a place to have fun with friends and try to get some light relief in their lives. This undermines the value of school, exacerbates discipline issues and is most detrimental for those children whose parents can’t afford the tuitions.

Who delivers these tuitions after school hours and at weekends? All too often the smae teachers who claim to be so committed to the children’s development. Too many of them can’t resist the extra money over and above their teacher’s salary. In major cities parents have been prepared to pay high sums for these tuitions leading to some teachers earning a good deal more than school Principals!!

The Right to Education Act may have had many faults. However, this was one issue on which the Act was very clear and sought to deal with the issue simply and head on. Section 28 of the Act states:

“No teacher shall engage himself or herself in private tuition or private teaching activity.”

Now, when I read that it seems clear, unambiguous and pretty absolute in its terms. Therefore, I struggle to understand why this is apparently insufficient and inadequate to empower authorities to nip this in the bud and bring an end to the menace. However, simple unambiguous words seem to still leave scope for watering down and ambiguity as evidenced by this story from Times of India. despite the simplicity of Section 28, the article suggests that a blanket ban on tuitions only applies to teachers from government schools and colleges. In the case of private school teachers it reintroduces from nowhere the old waffle about teachers being allowed to take tuitions as long as they don’t do it with the pupils of their own school.

Times of India – Tripura High Court Ruling

As long as such ambiguity is permitted this isn’t going away. teachers will collectively have a vested interest in ensuring that the quality of teaching in schools doesn’t reach such a standard that parents feel their children don’t need tuitions. They may be prohibited from working with the children of their own schools but their financial interests can easily be served by looking after each other’s interests. I’ve even come across instances of teachers in schools openly suggesting that a parent should enrol their child for tuitions and giving the names and contact details of their accomplices.

There is a reason, anywhere in the world, why school doesn’t go on for 11 hours a day! Children need time to pursue interests beyond the realm of school, to reflect on their learning and to relax. They also need the vital personal growth that just simply comes from being a child. It’s high time the word as well as the spirit of the law is enforced.

Outlawing Tuitions

Regular readers of this blog know very well that I’m 100% against tuitions, for all the damage they do at the level of both the individual student and the education system as a whole.

However, I read the following news story with mixed feelings:

DNA Karnataka Article

We knew that there was every possibility that this issue might be pursued by government, as tuitions were mentioned in the fine print of the Right to Education Act. However, until now other states have kept quiet on this and the issues like numbers of school days in a year and the working hours of teachers (also mentioned in the Act). There’s a simple, very good reason these things haven’t been mentioned and that is the massive shortage of qualified teachers and the systemic weaknesses which mean that the profession is not attracting enough candidates of decent calibre. We know from anecdotal evidence what tuition teachers are earning. If the law forces them to choose between being school teachers and being tuition wallahs many will choose the latter.

Worse, once they are no longer tied in to a school, I could see scenarios where they are now ready to give tuitions during normal school hours. So, they will tell their students, especially in the months before exams, to miss school and go to them for the tuitions. The bizarre situation would then emerge where school classes will be half empty as those children are at the tuition centre (otherwise the money paid for tuitions would be wasted!!) Also, should a school have to engage in crass ‘promotion’ to the parent and student to vie with the coaching centre, especially when the basis of most of that argument will be about false ‘promises’ of percentages to be achieved in exams.

School is the right place for children and educators. However, I’m not sure whether legislation like this achieves that as an outcome. In fact, it might even achieve the opposite!

Why We Should All Care About the Evil of Tutoring!!

Does that seem a bit strong? Well, firstly i would suggest that people read the attached article from Times of India.

Then, consider this;
Right now, in India, when a parent places their child in a private school and pays fees, out of every Rs100 they pay, around Rs50 – 80 goes to pay teachers. The difference depends on class sizes, numbers of specialised performing arts, sports and arts teachers etc. The remaining money mostly finds its way in to learning resources and materials, school activities and administrative running costs. However, perhaps the most important part is that which gets invested for the long term in school buildings, infrastructure, IT hardware and software, library books, sports equipment, land for educational and sports facilities etc.

However, when you hand over an equivalent Rs100 to a tutor, not even a single pesa stays in the education system to contribute to the wider social cause of education. It’s just Rs100 in the tutor’s pocket.

It can, therefore, in some way be seen as the ultimate and supreme act of selfishness – taking something out of an already stretched system for one’s own desires, without regard for the impact on others.

As if all that wouldn’t be enough I hate what it does to the tutored child. The day each year when the Board results are announced ought to be a truly joyous celebration, especially for those students who have achieved the highest marks. However, when I look in their faces I am deeply saddened. The joy is not really in their eyes. They can’t have a true sense of achievement. I believe this is actually because they don’t really believe they have the right to be proud of their achievement or to take full ownership of it. I fear that all too often they see the real credit belonging to “those who made me learn” – those who “did it to me”.

It contributes to a lot of bogus beliefs that cripple the potential of thousands of youngsters. I fear they are destined to grow up believing;
a) How much you learn is simply equated to how much time is spent – that it’s all about quantity, never about quality,
b) Learning is something that is done to you in a formal education environment (which means once they leave formal learning they will have developed none of the skills to be effective lifelong learners!).

As educators and parents we can’t learn for our children. We also don’t know (and shouldn’t kid ourselves that we do) WHAT they will need to know to fulfill their potential in the future.Instead, our simple duties are to create the environment that facilitates their acquisition (not our insertion) of the skills they will need.

I don’t rule out the requirement for some one to one coaching for students who struggle to learn in a group environment. for them, some extra support can be invaluable. However, I question why it should be sought outside the school? When we place our child in a school, are we asking them to provide a certain number of hours of teaching or to educate the child. If the latter, then what’s actually happening is nonsensical.

There is another aspect i would wish to highlight. If, as a student, I know all this “stuff” is going to get done to me twice – once in school and once in this other place, then why will i give it my full attention in both places? After all, school offers a lot else besides, so it’s very tempting to start to treat my school as my social club – the place where i catch up with my mates, chill out and further my extra curricular interests as much as possible. I’ll concentrate in tuitions. Over time, what impact will all this have on discipline in schools? What will happen to those students who try to learn in school?

A further thought. If, as a teacher i know that as well as working in the school i am also going to put in a certain number of hours as a tutor, won’t i pace my effort? Won’t i conserve my energy during the school day so as to ensure i have it for the really lucrative times? Won’t i refuse to teach any more than a certain number of hours in a week, thereby causing the school to have to employ more teachers and charge more fees?

When based in Dhaka, Bangladesh I once caught a teacher receiving cash payment from a parent of our school for his child’s tuition. I had already received reports that this teacher had been threatening students that if they didn’t attend his tuitions they had no chance of passing as he would only deal with some key parts of the syllabus in the tuition classes. When I questioned the parent, he defended the teacher and refused to give me evidence against him. Parents there were actually foolish enough to collaborate in a process that was cheating them and more importantly – betraying their children.

so, was the headline too strong? You tell me.

Private tutoring can corrupt public education systems

Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education Bill/ Act

This is potentially the most important piece of legislation to impact on Indian Education in the last 60 years. The country has waited a very long time for real education reform. What’s important now is that we don’t get carried away by the fact that something’s at last happening and see decisions passed which are not justified by rational objective analysis of what’s required and realistic analysis of current ground realities.

The reputation and respect that exists for TSRS puts us in a unique position to influence the decision making that is going to shape school education in the country in coming years. So, I want to use this blog as a forum to open up to get the broadest spectrum of views and opinions that should be fed in to the reform process -I want the views of parents, students, teachers.

The Act includes some pretty dramatic statements, most of which are not getting too much debate……. yet;

a) 25% reservation for EWS/ SC and ST in all private schools with government only reimbursing the amount they would have spent on that child’s education,
b) No teacher to deliver any tuitions or private teaching,
c) Teachers to work a contractual 45 hour week
d) School year for students to be 200 days in junior school, 220 in senior school.
e) No screening processes at the time of admissions (does this homogenize all schools to the level of the mediocre?)
f) No capitation fees at the time of admissions,

The reputation of The Shri Ram School gives us a unique position and opportunity. Both Mrs Bharat Ram and I have been invited to be part of a round table advising on implementation and helping to shape the education agenda in the country. So, this is a unique opportunity to gather people’s views and thoughts and reflect them in the wider policy decision making.

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