“Children nowadays are not as motivated as we were at school,” is the complaint of many parents and teachers. It’s fairly easy to realize and admit to this fact. However, have we ever asked ourselves why this is so?
The Brain Likes Stories
When I go back in memory lane and think about my own childhood, I remember that the things that motivated me to become achievement-oriented were stories of successful men and women. These stories were narrated to me by my grandparents, parents and teachers. Story-telling has been one of the most significant information dissemination approaches since time immemorial. Whether it is the dissemination of tradition, customs, or rituals, the oral culture has affected mankind to a great extent that the human brain is naturally wired to learning materials more easily when they are presented in narrative, story forms.
Given the fact that the brain is naturally inclined to retaining information that are narrated in a story form, parents and teachers might want to make use of stories (especially true stories) to revive the intrinsic motivation of students to learn, where they learn because they want to learn. In other words, stories are powerful tools to motivating students to become interested and passionate about learning and success in life.
Education: The Unpopular Topic
One of the reasons why children nowadays don’t care much about learning is because education is not given enough emphasis as it should be at home and school. Parents and teachers take it for granted that children know what education is and why they need it. But the fact of the matter remains that children have little if not absolutely no clue as to the true meaning of education. Again, this could be traced back to definite patterns of interactions between adults and children at home and school.
Think about it for a while. What are some of the topics that most parents talk about with their kids? Homework, exams, textbooks, lessons, school events and activities, play, games, TV, shopping, food, visiting friends and relatives, etc. (the list goes on). Parents spend relatively little or no time at all talking about education as an exclusive topic. They talk everything that surround education, and miss the actual target. In the end, children come to understand education as a system of things put together, in a systematic way, by some geniuses who claim themselves to know everything about something better than everyone else. This is definitely not going to motivate any child to become personally connected to the process and product of education. We need a paradigm shift, and we need it now.
Talking about Education
Parents and teachers need to take the time to talk about education. They need to take time to narrate to children stories of great men and women in the past and present that made it in life because of what education has done to and for them. Children need to become aware of the philosophical underpinnings of education and the reasons why it is such an intimate part of human lives. This could be done effectively by sharing stories of heroes who rose above situations and circumstances with the help of education. These stories would serve as positive visual images that children could hold on to in their minds. These stories would motivate children to see the value and necessity of education for their own lives by connecting themselves with their heroes/role-models.
Children nowadays are least motivated because they lack good role-models (many don’t have any, and the few that has one, gets them from the TV). They lack heroes whom they can identify themselves with. They lack role-models that they can emulate and become-like. I clearly remember what drove me toward wanting to pursue the highest possible degree in university. It was a 9th grade values education class where our teacher took us through a story of a blind man who completed a PhD in the UK before becoming Malaysia’s consulting economist. When I read the story and heard it narrated in the class, I become internally driven toward wanting to do the same. I decided that day someday I would go about pursuing the highest university degree and become an expert in a field of my liking. And I did just that. What began as a young person, continued until university, and the same passion to learn and become a better person still burns within my heart. I attribute it all to that one story, about a great hero! I looked up to this person and went forward to becoming-like him in terms of achieving life-goals and contributing as a good citizen of the world.
Where do we get such success stories? Don’t look too far. Start with yourself. Tell children how you have come this far in life. Tell them how you have overcome difficulties and challenges and how education has helped you become a better person. Share with them specific experiences where education directly or indirectly came to your aid. Look around in your own family; your uncles, your aunts, your own parents, and grandparents. You would be surprised that you could come up with many success stories about heroes who walked the distance and paid the price to learn the beauty that education brings along in life from your own family members. Share these stories. Be proud when you talk about your own education and schooling to children. They will be infected by your excitement about education when they see the sparks in your eyes as you narrate the stories to them.
My dad is a 2nd grade dropout, who had to quit schooling because his father suddenly passed away and he had to shoulder the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings. But even as he narrates his short two-years of schooling experiences, I get excited. I know deep inside that my dad is passionate about education and would have done anything to remain in school. His life story has always strengthened my resolve to value education and gain the best of it.
Telling success stories to children about heroes who were sustained by education does not cost anything. However, its effect surpasses all the techniques and tools that we have ever developed and employed to motivate children to learn. Children love stories. Education would make more sense when parents and teachers share true stories that add life to it!