Wednesday 8 June 2016

What our kids need to be successful


Book cover
I just completed reading the above book. Actually, it's my second time reading this book. But it's so good that it warrants a post about it. 

I think all Singaporean parents should be handed a copy of this book or at least made to read the first chapter of the book. Straight away it shoots down what we typically believe - good grades is key to our children's success. 

In the first chapter, it shared about an experiment known as the Perry preschool experiment. A group of preschoolers from the lower income/IQ families were selected and randomly divided into two groups. One was given quality education while the other ran on it's own. They wanted to help increase the intelligence of these children. As we all expected the treated group fared better in their academic grades BUT hold your horses. This gap was not for long. By third grade (roughy our primary 3), their grades leveled up. Which means, whether the kids were given good education earlier on or not has no effect on their intelligence level. 

My own thoughts here at this point: if that's the case, shouldn't we let our preschoolers enjoy their childhood rather than focusing on hothousing them during their early years? Afterall, all that early childhood comes to a naught by third grade. And I think it's true. Sonshine was way ahead (academically) his peers during his preschool years, at least 2-3 years ahead. But as he got older, I found that the gap got closer and closer.

So what about all that jaz about early childhood education? We all thought that early childhood education meant that the earlier we start the smarter our kids will become. Apparently it started with a study done to show that more and more parents were neglecting their children due to other commitments that the children lack of the nurture they need at home and as a result the children are using less vocabulary ie less smarter. That sparked off all the Mozart music, education DVDs and what nots. As a side note, I read in another book about the theory of exposing babies to classical music will make them smarter. What the marketers didn't tell the mainstream is that listening to the music will make them smarter but for mere minutes and it doesn't last a lifetime. So go figure. They just want our money. The original point of that research was to encourage more parents to spend more time with their kids, talk to them more, play with them more not so much to educate them more. 

So back to the Perry school experiment, the researchers thought they failed because they didn't help those kids raise their intelligence. 

But wait.

Despite all that, it was the treated group who ultimately got on to be graduates and have successful careers. Why so? It's clearly not because they are any smarter (remember their grades leveled up by grade 3). They concluded that during the treatment period these kids picked up characteristic traits like resilience, hard work, grit etc. And so what is to be said of this experiment? It's not our smarts that will get us far, it's the traits that we posses. 

Let me say that again: It's not our smarts that will get us far, it's the traits that we posses. 

Throughout the book, it bust the idea that our kids need good grades to suceed in life. It is not about the good grades that our kids get, it is the process of working hard which inevitably produce good grades that bring our children far. One may say then good grades is thus still an indicator of success. But don't forget, there are kids who have natural smarts without much effort on their part. These may produce excellent results (because of their natural smarts) but it doesn't mean that they have the right traits to make them successful.  

Take my son for instance, he scored exceptionally well for his Math exam. It's easy to assume that it's because he studied very hard for it and his efforts paid off. Truth is, he scarcely did any revision, not enough to boast about 'hard work'. He did well due to his naturally flair for Math. I won't be surprise if come one day he's peers will do better if they work harder, preserved more than my son. So back to the point, grades are not great indicators of success.
This probably also explains why there are students who do poorly in PSLE but soar sky high at their 'O's or 'A's. It was likely their determination, drive, grit, perseverance that got them their results. Like yours truly (ahem). Which means, even if you don't have the nautural smarts it is not impossible to do well academically. All you really need are the right attributes. 
The other elements of success are not surprising. They are the environment the children grow up in. Obviously, the less stressful and the less traumatic their environment is the better. One other key to sucess is the care they get from their primary care giver, could be their mom, dad, both or grandparents. The more nurturing the care givers are the more they are able to withstand the external stress and pressure they may face. 

As I type this, I am wincing at myself for falling short in my parenting. For one, like most Singaporean parents, I've been too focus on academic results, where my kids rank among their peers, what I must do so that they won't lag behind etc. As it is, the school is giving them enough stress and stifling their creativity. Still, I created a stressful environment for them instead of a more nurturing and creative one. I wonder how many parents out there are like me? Numerous, I dare say. 

All these are not to say that we should become relax parents and let the kids rule on their own. I think rather than focusing on the results, we should focus on sharpening their characteristics. Their school years are the best years to do this. We should make use of their schooling years to teach them values like respondsibility ie as a student they are expected to do their homework and hand them in on time. Teach them the beauty of hard work ie the more practise the better results (even if it's one mark improvement). Teach them the value of resilience ie even if the results are poor this term, it's ok, rise up and work harder for next term. Teach them persistence ie never give up, keep trying until you get the result you want. And when the good results come in, rejoice with them. Not because of the excellent results but that they have proven to themselves that they have it in them to do well in anything they set their mind to. And hopefully they will continue to sharpen these traits well into their adult lives.

But far too often we push them to work hard for a shallow reason. We want excellent grades to be printed on the certificate, perhaps for our own glory or perhaps we mistakenly think that is the key to their success. Instead we should be focusing on having them pick up the right skills as they study. We should focus more on the process rather than the results.

In short, the key for our children to succeed is not their grades. It lies in the traits that they posses. What are those trait? The book identified some of them as persistence, self control (interestingly the preschool teachers indicate that it is not the less academically inclined kids who give them the most problem, its the kids who have no self control), curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. How many of those do your kids have?

I know it seems obvious to say that. I know its been said from parent to parent that character is more important. But that to me are weightless words, I needed evidence to back it up. This is what the book did for me is, it gave me the supporting cold hard research and not just by hear-says. It also confirms what I wrote here some time back.

I enjoyed this book because it puts things in perspective for me. The challenge will come when the school gates reopen and we are made to plunge right back in to the rat race. Every holiday, I change my mind set, shift my perspectives only to be pulled back again whenever a new term starts. It's hard, it's really hard not to  get hook by the academic progress of the kids especially when all day and week long we receive subtle or direct messages on how our kids are faring against their peers. I think as parents we owe it to our children to make a conscious effort to renew our minds and keep ourselves and our kids on the right track. I doubt I'll be able to change my mind set over night but I think keeping myself exposed to the right articles, constantly bombarding my brain with such wisdom may help, not now perhaps in the long run. Hopefully by then it won't be too late.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree that good grades will not guarantee future success, if success is defined as having an accomplished career and by many Singaporean parents' standards, it will also mean a well-paying one. Resilience, perseverance and willingness to work hard, communication skills, curiosity and appetite for risk are more important traits to develop. Unfortunately, all these qualities take time to develop and too many Singaporean children are spending most of their hours studying and perfecting the exam answering techniques through tuition and assessment books, just for the sake of getting a few more marks. In the grand scheme of things, these As and A* will not matter at all. But the lack of the key success factors may greatly diminish one's chance of excelling as an adult in the global economy. Such a sad reality.