Monday, July 15, 2013

Early Education and Educators

Ever tried learning a new language in adulthood ? Yes, I tried learning French when I was in college along with a bunch of my wing-mates. Despite the brilliant teacher, after only one month into it all of us discontinued the course. However, it is not that people do not learn new languages but amongst the perseverant ones who do, every single one of them would vouch how difficult it is to master or even learn them.

Why is this so ?

Language is a phonological system of complex communication which involves a combination of auditory, visual and tactile stimuli to learn, comprehend and correspond. It has a set of never ending rules, signs, symbols which defines this system. Learning such a complex system requires lots of efforts, large portions of brains and of course, a good teacher. Notwithstanding how well the course is designed, structured, paced, enforced - even the brightest of the minds still find it very challenging to learn.

However, ever wondered how did we learn our mother tongue when we were a 'mere' infant or a toddler. Was there any dedicated tutor hired who delivered structured instructions with a set of chapters, assignments and tests using power-point presentations ? Come to think of it, we didn't even know to read then, did we ? We couldn't even ask questions to clarify our doubts.Yet, we gathered grammar, structure, every nuances of the language seemingly without any effort. What's more, if there is a multilingual environment around, children learn even those languages.

Doesn't this sound some sort of a paradox that something which is so difficult to learn at an age of wisdom even after training is so easy to acquire at an oh-she-is-just-a-kid age that too without any formal training ? It is in fact no paradox - it is rather a case of wrong assumptions.

The first assumption is about the learning capacity of a child. Human lives are bound with lots of age-old beliefs and traditions many of which are not logical and whenever we do attribute a logic to them, we usually attach it to an unrelated phenomenon. We believe that since an infant/toddler cannot speak, sit or walk properly, therefore physically undeveloped then even her mental faculties must be at similar rudimentary level. So as we do not burden the child with things like carrying weight, we also exempt the child from the burden of knowledge & learning and with this statement comes the second wrongful assumption.

Is it really true that a child's learning is not happening ? A child's learning is continuously happening through the environment around her and we, unwittingly, are the biggest influence to that environment. The languages which children learn to understand and later speak is from us parents and other people around them. My son picked his Hindi from us while his Marathi from neighbourhood and school kids. And the fact that no one sits with them giving formal lessons and yet they learn several languages with ease significantly shows that even though these little ones may not be physically developed, their mental capacity to learn is are far superior than when they are adults.

This brings an opportunity to ponder about what would happen if parents took effort to teach language to young children in a planned manner contrary to what happens now. My next post will talk more about this thought and it will also lay rest to the case that the parents are the most important teachers of a child and their proactive involvement right from the infancy may chart a different course altogether for their kids.

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