Should you start now?

Should you start now?

GAIN EARLY

Should you start now?

SHAPE THEM Schools must explore ways by which the student is kept fully, and interestingly, occupied.

Parents, whose children are in the eighth and ninth classes, are often confused about the right age/class for the child to start preparing for entrance exams to professional courses. Since coaching material for some of these exams is available for students in the eighth standard itself, parents are not sure if they should begin the process, five years in advance. Would beginning early be an advantage or would it bring on fatigue and turn out to be counterproductive?

The obvious flaw in starting the regimen too early is that it freezes career options even before the child has the maturity to decide on one. Also, the premature focus on one particular line interferes with the way the child has learnt the other subjects in school. Another strong reason for deferring the coaching regimen is that most high school students get to dabble with other non-curricular activities only till they are in school. Introduction of more curricular work at this stage would eat into this fun time and that is both unfair and unhealthy.

But this decision to keep the pressure off from the 13-year-olds comes with a down side. With no extra course material to work on and no tuitions to attend, the student continues his/her education in exactly the same manner as he/she did in middle school —  attend classes, copy notes, complete the assignments and homework, learn for tests and exams, and play during free periods.

And that is not right because, at 13 plus, the student is more mature than a middle school child and is capable of handling more serious and challenging mental work. Hence, setting the bar low, not providing him/her with challenging tasks and holding expectations at the same level are all definite prescriptions to making mental laziness a habit. Since this is also the age when the adolescent is most vulnerable to peer pressure, a lightly-loaded student may be driven to spend unacceptable amounts of spare time in frivolous pastimes.

Since schools work under constraints and cannot be expected to provide any input beyond the call of the syllabus, parents must take cognisance of this situation. So while rejecting the early introduction of coaching material, they must explore ways by which the high school student is kept fully, consciously but interestingly occupied.

Research has established that zero to four and 12-16 are two crucial age periods in brain development. And it makes sense to exploit these windows of opportunity and maximise the chances of strengthening the brain.  The current practice of enrolling toddlers in pre-school is based on this belief that young children should be provided with adequate stimulation and exposed, on a daily basis, to an environment where learning happens in a structured manner.

But an adolescent in the 12-16 group, is already in a learning set up. So, providing this youngster with an enriched programme is a far more difficult task. A stupid way of doing it, which is also the coaching school method, is to fast forward the lessons and make the student work on problems that would get done a year or two later in class. Unless the student is a prodigy, this duplication of school work is bound to kill interest in the subject and render the learning process joyless. The benefit derived, if at all, can only be narrow and limited in use.

The challenge is to direct the child towards activities that are interesting but at the same time, make adequate demands on the use of the grey cells. Brain teasers, mathematical puzzles, crosswords are some of the conventional tools that serve the purpose well.

Other recommended activities like reading up on a topic beyond the syllabus requirements, learning a new language, carrying out simple science experiments, studying classics and poetry, going through the various, serious, newspaper articles, listening to debates on current affairs and interviews on TV and staying abreast of the happenings in the world, watching educational programmes, etc. There is so much variety here that every student can pick up and pursue activities that interest him/her. Parents must encourage the adolescent child to explore new horizons and develop a taste for engaging in serious pursuits.

The direct benefit from these activities is that the student’s knowledge base gets widened and this is sure to come in use in life always. But more importantly, indulging in serious activities trains the brain to think logically and that is a necessary skill one must acquire to pursue any line of higher learning. At the physical level, in the three years of high school, the transition from child to young adult happens. The same change must be reflected in the mental plane too. The high school graduate must develop in the three crucial years, skill and mental stamina to take on the challenges in future.

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