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A Child’s Right To Be Challenged

2019-06-26 Nick Bowley

Dear YueCheng community members, 

A Child’s Right To Be Challenged

We send our children to school for many reasons, but primarily they go there to learn. 

Learning is hard work. The child’s learning involves identifying meaningful data in the form of facts, concepts, skills and values, then applying different levels of thinking in order to build personal understanding of them. 

The next step for the child is to transfer the processed data to purposefully-constructed and inter-connected taxonomies within her brain’s long-term memory so that she can retrieve them back into her short-term ‘working’ memory for use as and when needed in different contexts. 

Phew! That’s a lot of work for a girl or boy, but it’s what your child does when she learns how to read, how to write an essay, how to ride a bicycle, or how to make friends!

And there’s more! The old-fashioned idea of ‘practice makes perfect’ also plays a necessary role in effective learning because it makes it easier for the child to retrieve, replicate, adapt and improve her understanding and skills as and when needed.

If all that sounds like bad news, it is not! Why not? Because children love learning! They also love hard work, and if they are really learning they don’t even notice that it is hard work! I have never known a child in my career who did not like learning, provided that the learning was seen by the child as meaningful and relevant and that the degree of difficulty progressed in incremental steps at a pace that suited the child. Playfulness is also an essential ingredient of deep learning because unhappy children don’t learn.

If a child does not enjoy learning at home or at school, the problem lies with the adult, not the child.

The child does not learn if the adult asks her to do work that is too easy, too difficult, or not seen as meaningful or relevant to her life. In those situations, the child is not ready to learn what is being taught and therefore she will not learn. 

Here are some simple examples of when a child may not learn:

  • A teacher introduces a new topic in mathematics at the end of a lesson and then gives the same homework to every child based on this new topic.

  • A parent requires her child to learn a list of ten new words of English every evening.

  • A geography teacher in Beijing explains the difference between ‘weather’ and ‘climate’ using data from the teacher’s’ own home town, Rio de Janeiro.

  • The swimming teacher asks all students in his new class to jump into the deep end of the pool to see how well they can swim!

The last example is too horrible to think about, but it highlights a core aspect of successful teaching and learning at all ages and in all subjects. The teacher and parent must know each individual child as a learner if they are to challenge her in a way that is meaningful, relevant and incrementally progressive. In particular they have to know the child’s readiness for challenge within the particular learning context. This is what we call personalized learning. 

Every child has a right to be challenged at school. That is why she goes to school, and she looks forward to it.  But it has to be the right kind of challenge for the child. If not, she will feel bored (if the challenge is too easy), lost or humiliated (if the challenge is too difficult), or disrespected (if the challenge is not meaningful or relevant). In some circumstances, she may even feel unsafe.

You may remember some of these feelings from your own schooldays. I certainly can! Even today there are millions of children in our world who feel like this at school, and my heart goes out to them.

Finding the right level of challenge for our children is not easy, but her learning and happiness depend upon it. 

You are welcome to send comments to me at nick.bowley@yuechengeducation.com

Next time I will write about the importance of mother tongue language. You may find it challenging!


With warm regards,

Nick Bowley

Superintendent, YueCheng Education