Lina Ashar: iPad Kids and Facebook Parents

linaBrought up in Africa and England, and trained to be an educationist in Australia, Lina Ashar was appalled by the state of education in even the most advanced Indian schools when she returned to her motherland to ‘settle down’ and raise a family. Her intense desire to bring about change led her to establish a chain of schools – which now include Kangaroo Kids, Billabong High International School and Brainworks. Now 49 with a 22-year-old son, Ashar rues the fact that Indian schools continue to focus on left-brain skills like mathematical, analytical, and mechanical abilities that are being rapidly replaced by Google, machines, and technology.

“The criterion for success has changed. We have moved from a Knowledge Age to the Creative Age. Simply ‘knowing things’ does not serve any purpose,” she says, adding that she meets scores of students who are brilliant academically and yet will struggle to make it big once they’re out of school. And she’s taken it upon herself to change the system.

Ashar began her journey as a teacher in a prestigious school at Juhu, Mumbai, looking after a class of 55 students, using a system completely based on rote. “My Australian teacher friends were perplexed when they found out the grade levels I was teaching,” she says, since in Australia – where Ashar had acquired her B.Ed – teacher training for pre-school children, primary school children, and high-school children is completely different, as it should be. “No one (in the Indian schools) seemed to comprehend that children cannot think abstractly till about nine years of age. The focus was on memory. I intuitively knew that memorising any information that the brain cannot connect to in a meaningful way was not only difficult, but also highly stressful,” Ashar recalls. She convinced her businessman father to loan her the money to start up her first pre-school; he made her draw up a proper business plan first. “Since I began with no capital, my expansion took on a franchising route where all available finances were spent on creation of the curriculum and teacher-training tools. Events spearheaded by a corrupt businessman in July 2006 put me back considerably in my career and has been my toughest professional and personal challenge,” she says in retrospect.

Gradually, her business took on better shape, as did Ashar’s business skills. “I had to learn and wear new hats every moment of every day. Project Manager, Interior Designer, Administrator, Curriculum Developer – these were all changing job profiles that I played out on a day-to-day basis,” she explains, adding that the next challenge was to put systems and controls in place to maximise quality learning and teaching. Eventually, her enterprise grew.

In her new book, Who Do You Think You’re Kidding? Parenting in the New Age of Digital Revolution and Globalization (Random House India, Rs 299) Ashar talks about the hazards of using 20th century parenting tools with kids born with keyboards on their fingertips. “Today, kids as young as five are on Facebook (even though the legal age is 13) and are generally web savvy. Watch a seven-year-old with an iPad and be prepared to feel digitally inadequate,” Ashar says. “I just need to visit my son’s FB page to know that his social world is completely digitally driven. I know who his friends are, where he is partying, what his choice of music and films are.” She notes however that technology has created a huge generational gap. “The Internet today not only ladles out academic information but also plays a major role in the social life of a child,” she says, emphasising that technology skills, communication and teamwork are vital 21st-century skill sets that children need to master in the current work-life scenario. At the same time, kids also need to be taught about the flip side of the Internet’s free-for-all access to information, which is not always authentic.

Instead of addressing the needs of the new world that technology has created, Indian parents are lagging woefully behind by continuing to fill the child’s life with a barrage of activities after school that leave little time for children to actually experience a childhood, Ashar rues. “The constant stress placed on children for academic scores; the hope that their children will inherit and live either the job, or the business of the family, or the parent’s aspiration; the parenting or control of their children even after they have grown into adults; the lack of preparation for the empty-nest syndrome – these are some of the main issues that Indian parents face,” she says from her experience with them.

She also warns of veering too much towards either ‘hyper-parenting’ or ‘sensitive parenting’. ‘Instilling strict discipline is necessary so that kids learn socially acceptable behaviour and etiquette, money management, perils of alcohol consumption or unsafe sex. On the other hand, some amount of indulgence and permissive parenting is equally necessary in matters of socialising with friends, choosing snacks or comfort food, hobbies, following the current trend and culture in dressing or hair cut,” she says, citing moderation as key. “Being an authoritative yet loving parent alone can produce well-adjusted and happy children.”

Maximise your kid’s potential, says Lina Ashar:

•   Be connected with your child. Turn gadgets into communication tools. If they love to chat through the virtual media, so be it.

•   Discipline should be non-threatening. Your child should never fear to tell you the truth.

•  Teach children, while they are learning to handle competition, how to develop their self-esteem. Teach him to compete with the self before competing with others.

•  We programme our children with all our verbal and non-verbal communication. Ensure you encourage the positive in your child.

•  Positive affirmations and gratitude are great for raising one’s energy. Teach your kids how to experience both.

• Show children that the ways we grow, change, and develop through life are strongly influenced by the choices we make. Instil in them a strong sense of ‘the kind of me I’d like to be.’

• The power to empathise is important, if not vital, in leadership. Empathy also just makes the world a better place to live in. Kids who work in groups are more empathetic and collaborate and share more easily than others who don’t.

•  Heed to a child’s aspiration over any parental ambition you may have. Be mindful that the main purpose of being four is to only be four and not to get ready for being 25.

• Teach kids that positive and negative thoughts are equally powerful. Teach kids to be mindful of their thoughts and be able to identify the positive thought from the negative one.

• Teach kids to develop perspective. A different view of things always helps. Develop their skills of observation.

• The future is about ‘Life Mastery’. Invest time in developing successful habits of thought, attitude and behaviour instead of tuition classes.

First published in the January 2013 issue of Atelier Diva

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