ummy, please can you push me?" "Oh mummy, one more push pleaseeee....I'm going higher!" He squealed sucking in the fresh air and throwing his head back in the wind. He was excited, having fun on the swing at the park! But that word "Push" kept echoing in my head. Could "Push" on a swing also be translated into pushing children academically? Oh! How I wish I could hear, "mummy, please push me," during a math homework drill! How far can one push children to aim higher in life? Do we give up or give in to unacceptable work because we feel emotionally drained as a result of tension at the homework table? Building a foundation of drive and rigour in education from a tender age is important to instill hard work in children.
Growing up in an environment where competition is the order of the day has a tremendous impact on "attitude" to academic pursuit. Positions on report cards are crucial. Scores are everything! In Nigeria, we learn "by fire, by force." We learn with many "hard knocks" too. School, extra lessons, tutors, holiday lessons, tests, exams, standardized tests and life changing national exams that stress both parents and children. But it's almost the same approach in Korea, Finland, and Poland; countries that can boast of having some of the smartest kids in the world according to a PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test designed for high school students in the developed world. In fact, in Korea they are obsessed with studying; an extreme twenty-four hours study culture!
There are debates on the load of appropriate homework for children. 'School work should end at school"... "No, children should always have homework." "It makes them smarter and keeps them engaged"... etc. Surely most parents go through the "Homework Headache" phase. But nevertheless, the task of instilling academic work ethic in children is a role that cuts across the government, teachers, and ends ultimately on parents. That is why parents can no longer afford to be illiterates! The government has to send a message that education matters by funding schools and training teachers. Parents have to show that they care by investing time in their children to monitor, support and enhance what they are being taught in school.
Do you know that in Nigeria, some schools offer Mandarin (Chinese) as an elective subject? Children are like sponges; sometimes parents doubt their ability to absorb large volumes of academic materials. Therefore, more challenging work should be given and tangible results expected. They have the capacity to learn more than they are often taught. It is important to "stretch" children instead of pampering them by dishing out praise and accolades for mediocre performances. "To work, Praise had to be specific, authentic, and rare." Amanda Ripley (2013) The smartest kids in the world: and how they got that way. pg.112.
It is proper to let children know when they have failed and when they are performing below expectations. Sometimes "easy praise" could become a pitfall for children.
In addition, creative abilities should not be underestimated in young minds. Technological changes have revolutionized the way we communicate today and most of the new media from the eighties to date are products of ideas from people when they were young. Children have to be equipped mentally to "survive" in the world we live in today. The "No child left behind" American education initiative is a good slogan but for some children worldwide, they don't just need a "Push", they need a "Pull" up into a higher standard of academic excellence. And above all, children should also be encouraged and challenged to a higher standard of morality; a life of integrity, virtue, and the fear of God.