Have We Forgotten To Raise Independent Thinkers?

Are your decisions for your child in pursuit of the red tick mark at school? Ever wondered how it affects your child? Well, it costs us the most priceless outcome of education – a free thinking child!

By Chitra Ravi

Have We Forgotten To Raise Independent Thinkers?
In pursuit of the elusive red tick mark
“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” - Margaret Mead, Author and Speaker

Sometimes life’s most important lessons come in when we least expect it. I had such an epiphany a few years ago in a Grade 1 classroom. It was a class of 30 enthusiastic tiny tots, their eyes wrinkled in concentration, listening intently to their teacher, Jyoti Miss.

It was a session on ‘Parts of a plant’. Majority of the children in the class seemed to be aware of most plant parts. Jyoti Miss gave them all worksheets, to complete the parts of a plant. However, she did not wait for them to identify and name the plant parts, which should have been the ideal learning outcome of her session that day. Instead, she drew a plant on the blackboard, labelled them and instructed the class to “copy them correctly” for spellings in their worksheets.

Why? What if the kids get it wrong? What if Isha labels a stem erroneously as a branch? What if Rahul names a bud a fruit? Their worksheets would then have the dreaded red cross marks. No one likes to see that. Not Isha or Rahul. And, certainly not their parents. And definitely not herself. I realised the red ink mark had them all under its spell.

The class progressed. The children were now asked to write down the name of their favourite flower in the worksheet. This activity seemed like fun to the little ones as they bent their heads and got to work. There’s something about little children sitting at desks in classrooms. It melts your heart, and fills it with hope. Their shoulders bent down to focus on the writing, the pencils moving in all kinds of motion, and erasers working overtime. I can never sit still when confronted with such a scene. So, I decided to move around the classroom, peeping into random notebooks and pondering over the answers.

The fear of the BIG red cross mark

As I moved from one desk to another, I noticed ONE single answer, making its appearance in the notebook of at least one kid at every desk. The common answer to ‘my favourite flower is _____’ seemed to be rose. Unanimously so. With some children it was a spontaneous response. With some, it came after a couple of rounds of writing, erasing and writing again. Some had a smile. Some had a pensive expression.

I was intrigued. Why is rose such a common answer? I pulled aside Niyati. Asked her “Why do you like rose so much? Is it your favourite flower?”. She looked up at me, her eyes wide open and filled with an emotion as yet unknown to her. She looked back at her notebook and then told me “I actually love tulips”. Now more intrigued, I asked her “then why did you write rose as the answer?”. Pat came the reply “I don’t know the spelling of tulip. If I go wrong with the spelling then my teacher will give me a red cross mark in my worksheet”.

I was dumbstruck. The fear of not getting the elusive red tick mark. It costs us the most priceless outcomes of education – a free thinking child. A child who thinks independently, and is just waiting eagerly for the adults in her life, to give her space and time for free expression of her thoughts. Much is lost when we curb this thinking through our mindless pursuit, of the perhaps, elusive red tick mark.

We, as a generation, grow up looking for acknowledgement, acceptance and recognition from those around us. Is the school I am considering, better than the one my neighbour’s child goes to? Abacus classes have more scope in mathematics?Jhanvi’s’s flair for art can wait a while. What will my colleagues think if Rohan doesn’t go to an IIT coaching class in sixth grade? In other words, we parents look for the ‘red tick mark’ in every decision we make. Be it about the school, or college or the job the child chooses. We are caught in the grips of the vicious red tick mark. And inadvertently, pass on this fear to the child.

How can parents step out of this mindless pursuit? In the coming academic year, what is that one thing that you will do to break free of this ‘red tick mark’? 

Encourage the Whys and Hows: Children have an innate curiosity of everything around them. But they gradually stop asking. Ever wondered why? Well, it is because we serve things to them on a platter, leaving no room for questioning. Dictation words, revision questions, fill in the blanks with answers given... where do we give them the space to think and explore? Instead of giving them readymade answers... ask them leading questions. Let them put on their thinking hats. Oh... and be ready to be floored by some great creative answers!

Celebrate mistakes: Cliched though it sounds, it is true that mistakes are how a child (and even adults) learn the best. So what if your child goes awry with the spellings, let her express what she feels. Spellings can then be corrected later with a “That’s beautiful. Now let’s learn how tulip is spelt”.

Let the child be: In the formative years, the key is to have the child express thoughts in a way that he/she is most comfortable with. So, don’t fret if your child drew a picture of a beautiful flower instead of writing out its name. Schools and homes should be the safe haven where children feel emotionally safe. That’s when creativity flows from those young minds.

So, together, let’s make a change towards creating a learning space at home and at school, where the child just blossoms into his/her beautiful self. May the 'red tick mark' slowly disappear into nothingness.

Chitra Ravi is an educational visionary who has spent the last two decades crusading against mediocre practices in the educational ecosystem. In 2001, she founded Chrysalis, a state-of-the-art educational research and innovation organization with a vision to awaken the extraordinary Human Potential in every child. She leads the organization to bring radical changes in the school education system.

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