Education is not something that can just be “got,” like a new pair of shoes.
It is a fallacy, and a modern one at that, to believe, that if one goes to a specific place – ie school or college – one becomes “educated.” Prevalent as it is, this is a completely ludicrous idea. Just think about it!
How would educational games make children more “educated?” Only experience, insight and understanding can do that.
"Educational” books impart no more “education” than do intelligent conversation, inquiring minds, observation, experience and trying things for oneself.
Education is quite literally all around us. No one goes through life without being constantly “educated.” It is literally a lifelong process, starting the minute light causes a newborn infant to squint and ending at the moment of a person’s last breath.
Of course we are not all equally “educated.” Learning how to make the most of all the knowledge we are exposed to, is a learning process in itself. Not all of us have the privilege of being shown how to make the most of our insights, how to interpret our experiences and how to build on and extend these. This is, indeed, one of the results and benefits of being exposed to “formal” education. Nonetheless, only a very small fraction of a person’s education is actually gained at school.
We send children to school so that a concentrated version of many academic skills they will benefit from in their adult lives are instilled in them. This is good investment, although expensive - both in terms of finances and time. Sending children to school or home schooling them is considered the duty of a parent, no longer an investment in a child’s future, but an inevitable and necessary part of childhood.
This does not, however, exonerate parents from playing a very active and ongoing role in their children’s education. The fact is: most of what is truly useful to us in life was not learnt in a school; nor can it be.
Every conversation you have with your children teaches them something. It may not be factual knowledge, like a date or a specific piece of information, but something will be learnt - maybe about the thing you are discussing, maybe about you, either way it will be useful somehow.
Discussing money and whether you can afford something or not; evaluating two items and making a choice between them - all these help children understand and learn, little by little, skills for life.
If you make time for them, and really engage with them for a while, they learn how important they are and how much they mean are to you. This will, to some degree, add to their self-confidence, their belief and understanding of their own role in life.
If you cook, set the table, bake or garden together, they will learn some of those skills. It does not matter if you burn the dinner. The experience teaches them things: how to light the oven, measure out things, stir or whip efficiently, wash their hands thoroughly, clear up, how long to put something in the oven for, and a host of other tiny, but vital bits of information. They may come away with learning how to deal with a burn from the oven, or how to cope with failure; whatever it is, learning WILL happen; personal progress will be made.
If they hear your parents reminiscing about their lives, they will learn history, culture, traditions, empathy and a host of other things. They may only learn (though highly unlikely!) how to sit still and pretend to be enjoying a long narrative about Granny’s neighbour without showing any outwardly visible signs of boredom. (What an asset that skill will be in future board meetings!)
Wrapping presents, for example, is a tricky skill, involving area and surface, circumference and a measure of good sense. How to do a good job with wrapping paper, IS learning. Who to buy presents for, how much to spend, how to find the right item for the right person? These are all vital skills that will shape a person, developing, amongst others, their emotional intelligence.
Being sensible in the face of danger, interpreting signs and taking appropriate steps for prevention, is a result of learning. With all the health and safety rules, the tedious wealth of regulations and restrictions around us, common sense has taken a step back. This is tragic.
Rules fail – we all know this. The abundance of horrifying examples in the press are proof enough. Then the blame game starts, fingers point. Sooner or later it is revealed that somewhere, someone missed a subsection of a rule and there we have it: disaster.
Due to the relentless need to follow rules, regulations and other prescribed behaviour, common sense has been forced to take a step back. Yet that is everyman's inbuilt, portable early warning system. It may be far more helpful to the individual than a bunch of regulations, compiled by a set of pen pushers, hell-bent on avoiding being at the receiving end of a lawsuit. With practice, common sense can be developed and nurtured.
If we remove all ornaments because Johnny, now 8, (it WAS common sense to remove them when he was toddling) still has not accepted that playing football indoors is likely to result in trouble, then Johnny will never learn that. Johnny needs to break something and get into trouble, or develop the sense to anticipate trouble and therefore stop playing football indoors. Either way Johnny has gained knowledge. Not, however, if the “problem” was removed to avoid disaster.
Common sense has served to protect generations of people. How come we now relegate it to the back burner and suddenly use “rules” instead?
Seeing people deal with shop assistants, gardeners, their parents, the neighbours, teachers etc will teach children how to interact with other people. They learn respect, disdain, charm and disapproval from all the interactions they unwittingly witness every day.
Seeing a housemaid pound coconut, being shown how to make spring rolls, tidy the room or remove a spill from the carpet is education. Learning how to sensibly clean a car, peel a potato, sort the washing into piles, or mend a broken hose is valuable learning too.
It would be very foolish to assume that only educated people can “teach” others. In the olden days all knowledge was passed on from one generation to another, and knowledge was transmitted and preserved. That does not need to change. Literature and culture, religion and philosophy, science and mathematics, the great guiding lights of our civilization, were all originally “handed down” anecdotally.
Learning how to keep their baby brother safe from choking, cars, or in the swimming pool is education. If they develop sense, the instinct and level of responsibility to be able to do it competently, they are very advanced in certain aspects of learning.
Even if you just sit still in a place looking for a while - they learn to be able to be still. They learn to be able to keep quiet, or look at the flowers, or the sunset, or the view. Of course, if in every second of downtime you are looking at your phone or biting your nails, that will be learnt too.
The common thread in all of this is TIME. Time spent watching, talking, making, reading, exploring, investigating and trialling. Children need to be challenged, motivated and given the opportunity to find out and grasp things for themselves. If there is no conversation and interaction, there is no chance for them to ask about an issue, or want to get to the bottom of it.
If children rarely get the chance to converse with adults, they will not learn how to express themselves – their ideas, thoughts, even worries. Interaction between children, even teenagers, uses a very limited vocabulary, is always in colloquial language or fashionable slang, and covers a relatively narrow range of topics. We know – we have all been there. But most of us also had parents, who spoke to us, questioned us and in return explained things to us. This generation of children does not get the same amount of adult conversation within the family.
If children cannot put things into words properly; if they do not learn to formulate sentences to express their sentiments or fears – how are they supposed to compose and write essays?
Unfortunately for this generation of children, the cruellest and most persistent time thieves are about: mobile phones, play stations, iPads and other electronic gaming gadgets. By all means these have their use, but they do not replace interaction with other people – and yet for many they do. Busy parents are grateful for the peace afforded by these electronic distractions. When will someone draw a parallel between the increasing number of teen aggression fuelled crimes and the growing number of electronic gadget induced loners in the world?
Children have to exist in full awareness, not be oblivious, wrapped in some device. If there is real human interaction around them they will learn. Children are curious, but Google does not have all the answers. If parents, extended family and friends are around, children will learn so much more.
Museum, theatre, literary festival and other trips help, of course, but so do simple things, like sitting in the car and singing the “oldies” and laughing about what age mum was when this was “the song!” This gives children an awareness of the passage of time, of fashions.
Parents are exhausted these days. We fire on so many cylinders that stress is virtually inevitable in our times. Taking your child to the globe to show them which country you are travelling to; where auntie is now; where your new clothing item came from may appear to be an additional chore. For your child, however, it may be what triggers an interest, or allows him to make a connection. Whatever it is, it will be a source of learning. If you can add some information about the country you are discussing, even better.
Parents are a child’s main educator. Not school. Let us all try to do a good job.
Agnes Holly, BA English and German; MA Comparative Literature; Hornsby Dipl Special Educational Needs. Agnes has more than 25 years' teaching experience in various roles ranging from university to nursery teaching, in addition to on-going work bringing up 5 children