A Child-Centric Approach- You, Your child and School by Ken Robinson

The book takes a child-centric approach to learning. Learning according to the author is a natural phenomenon, something that all kids thoroughly enjoy doing. Education is the formal structured approach to learning that doesn’t work for everyone. As a parent of school going kids, I found the title highly intriguing. I really wanted to know, so what is different? Am I missing something here?

According to the author more than 90% of children in the USA study at public schools. Each school comes with their budgets and restraints but overall they provide good quality education. Unfortunately none of that applies to Pakistan (hasn’t for the past two decades or so) here public schools are in a deteriorating state with limited funds and underpaid-underqualified staff. So anyone who hopes to acquire quality education must do so at a private school at their own expense and put up with whims of private schools. I have had my schooling at a private school as well but that was a small set-up and have limitless good memories of that time.  My kids too go to a private school but a rather large one at that and we live in a big city. They haven’t had the opportunities I’ve had in terms of growing up in a close-knit community, access to sports and outdoors. All the factors of exorbitant fees, limited outdoor activities, the fear of safety, helicopter parenting and constant rat-race for grades is multiplied manifold in the metropolis of a developing country.

Through this book I actually wanted to figure out how the kids in the developed world are faring in this competitive world? Is it just us? Other than the immense pressure of private schooling and their qualms, the rest applies to the vast majority of children of school going age these days. This book opened my eyes to several things, the first being the complete lack of parents to empathize with children and the immense levels of stress they are undergoing. Yes, kids these days are more stressed with grades, prospective college admissions, extra-curriculars, social media and peer pressure. We perhaps didn’t have as much of that. Furthermore the temptation of indoors is too much, TV and computer games in the comfort of their homes is easier entertainment rather than the scorching heat outdoors and the sheer will of playing sports on their own when their peer are doing pretty much the same things!

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The book proposes a general framework along the lines of well-being, optimism, exploring the outdoors, doing physical exercise and the importance of play. If you’re looking for some life-altering information that would give you the ultimate formula to raise the next Bill Gates, well that isn’t happening with this book. On the contrary, this book proposes that all types of careers need to be considered, specially along the lines of skill-building. Ina future of robots taking over majority of administrative functions, learning skills like carpentry etc might actually function as a competitive advantage. I particularly liked the story he told of a boy who wanted to be a firefighter and his teacher insisted that he would be wasting his life, he should focus on something more academic oriented. After a few years of completing his training as a firefighter that boy saved an old man’s life, that man turned out to be the same teacher!

The author has two other books and a few intriguing Ted Talks to his credit. In fact I would highly recommend his TED talk on “Are Schools Killing Creativity”. This book itself is unique on its own and I didn’t find too much of a overlap between themes.  So if you as a parent, an educator or even as someone involved with policy-making gets to read this book. It did answer some of my questions, in the technology-driven world of today the answer lies in some of the “old” stuff: outdoors, strengthening spirituality and genuinely listening when needed. The education needs to be centered around the child not the other way round, I would recommend it, definitely!

Watch the Author’s Ted Talk here!

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