Monday, March 19, 2012

Teach your child interdependence, not just independence

Most of the school systems today are run based on competition, where every child works on his own and tries to show he is better than others through his marks and awards. On the other hand, the real life is all about competition between 'Group of cooperators'**, whether it is the competition between companies, or the competition between individual players.

Contrary to popular perception, even competitions between players in individual games like tennis, badminton and golf are not competition between the two individuals, but competition between two teams. For instance a tennis player like Roger Federer has a team of coach, physiotherapist, tour manager (who manages the logistics and other matters in the various cities), agent ( to manage the activities outside sports), psychologists ( who is required to tune the mental conditioning), playing partners ( who play with the players) and others. So when Roger Federer sustains his game for ten years, it is not just the raw tennis-playing skill of Federer that is critical, it is the result of eco-system that Federer has created through his team.

In other words, cooperation comes before competition. Even our ancestors survived the harsh environment because they 'grouped together in tribes'. But we seem to have forgotten this simple lesson when it comes to helping our children gain this important skills of working together.

We rarely teach this skill of working together to our children in schools. Although psychology tells that after the age of 7, the student likes to socialise and work with other students, our school system do not encourage this 'working in group'. That is why, i guess, in a recent survey conducted by a education group in Bangalore, when students of VIIIth class were asked 'Which is the best time in your school?', majority of the students replied "Our best time in school is when we come/go to school in a bus". Isn't this a classic symptom of what students crave in a school?  It was Judith Harris, who found that more than the parents, the children are influenced  by their peers.Unlike traditional schools,  in a Montessori school, children from the age of 7 always work together in groups.

The skill of managing interdependence is not only about learning to work together in a group, although that skill is critical. More important part of the skill is understanding the 'interdependent loops' of which we are the part, and utilising those 'loops' to help us. For instance, if your child is learning 'language' such as French, the best way to learn the language is becoming a part of group of students who are learning French, and utilising that Group, to gain the skill of using French language ! When one is in a group of such students, they prod each other, correct each other. They find activities like going to French movies, or joining a web 'seminar' on 'French architecture', or go to a talk by 'French writer' who has published an English book. It is the cooperation of the group that not only creates learning, but also motivation to learn.

Last year, when i was coaching a college student, Astha i found that she was a student with average marks till 12th standard. But when she joined an Engineering college, she was in the top 5 in his Engineering college. When I found that she had become part of a group of students who were like her, i helped her find different ways in working with her interdependent group. I gave her few lessons on  conflict management, understanding one's role in the group, and simple skills of communication. They studied together in library,  challenged each other, worked together in a project. Astha had managed to use the 'interdependence' to her advantage.

As we live in a society, we are part of different groups. We work together with other building members of different neighbours to maintain our society clean and safe. We are part of political group which is setting up a library in our community. We are part of a NGO who is helping street students in our community to educate. We can utilise these different interdependent groups for helping our child 'be part of an interdependent' loop and learn both the skills: the skills of working together with diverse people, and the skill of using the relationships to one's advantage. 

If your school is not helping your child build his skill of interdependence, what are you doing for your child?

** If you want to read more about this concept of competition between group of cooperators read The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government by Eric Liu & Nick Hanauer

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