Sunday, May 26, 2013

How Parental Judgments can Shatter a Child: Self Fulfilled Prophecies

How Parental Judgments can Shatter a Child: Self Fulfilled Prophecies 

It is often said when you are dealing with children:

"Treat them as you want them to be, not how they are!"

Basically the driving force while the child is growing and learning is the "Future Potential" of the child and not his "Current State". Focusing on how the child is doing right now, i.e. his current state, ignores the tremendous store of future potential that every child has at any

given time. The potential is yearning to come out and wants to manifest itself. However, the child may not have discovered yet the niche where this potential would manifest itself. Our inability to focus on future and proclivity to brood over the current weaknesses destroys the self confidence of the child and closes the avenues through which the child would explore and eventually land into a niche where he can shine.There can be many reasons why the child may not have discovered his niche:

The child's exposure of the spectrum of fields where one can excel may have been limited. Parents, family or even school may not be aware of the unveiling importance of many fields. They may not be aware of all the work that is happening around the world in different fields.

The family environment may not be sympathetic to a child who is trying to experiment with unconventional ideas. I clearly remember that when I did my intermediate, there were just two options in front of us. Either become a doctor or an engineer. It is only in the 1990s that computer science and business administration started appearing on the radar screen of the parents. Families in Pakistan have a very powerful role in determining the directions that kids may take. But, the recipe that worked for us or for some children may not work for others.

An environment that allows children to experiment with their thought processes is a great source of encouragement. Learning actually happens when one tries and fails. Failure should not be considered a crime, but actually a sign of maturity. You can't become a world class footballer or a world class cricketer or a world class sportsman unless you have learned to lose and take each loss as a challenge to be overcome. However, our educational system and our families make failing a crime. They want to see everyone doing the same thing at the same time with the same competency. These expectations are highly debilitating for someone born with a different bent of mind, and yearning to make his mark in uncharted territories.

When we compare our child with others and expect from him to do the same thing as others and when he fails to meet our expectations, the school labels him as a failure. The parent sees the child and compares him with other siblings and feeling pressure from the school and the family concludes similalry. Parents start believing that there is some thing wrong with the child, may be some kind of learning deficiency or slow learning or hyper activity or some such pseudo deficiency.

Once the parents start seeing their child in a negative light, the last support of the child falls. His expectations of an unconditional love are shattered, his self confidence suffers, he becomes unsure of himself, and he loses his "khudi". The more a parent worries about the deficiency, the more the child behaves in a similar manner. Feeling the spotlight on him, sensing that each act of his is under a microscope, his ability to make mistakes and learn from the mistakes suffers. The cost of failure appears to him too great. It will lose him his mother's affection, the failure will disappoint his father, the cousins will make fun of him, the uncles and aunts will point the finger towards the mother or the father and when both, feeling the spotlight on themselves, turn the light back on the child in a vicious circle whose only outcome becomes predictably what was being expected. A self-fulfilled prophecy. A child with some learning problem.

There are parents who have lost faith in their child and consequently the child has lost faith in himself and his ability to learn. The barrier to self confidence becomes so great that the child gives up. The parent finally finds a refuge from the peer pressure of his or her family members and in turn starts having conviction (to resolve coginitive dissonance) that something is indeed wrong with the child, otherwise, the blame would have fallen on the parents themselves.

The poor child and the people around him playing a vicious game of self fulfilling prophecies!

Which Field with Great Scope Should My Child Choose: There is always a room at the top

Which Field with Great Scope Should My Child Choose: There is always room at the top

I often see parents coming to me for guidance about the field that their son/daughter should choose that would have scope in the future. They want to know the field which would be in great demand so that when their child graduates he/she would be able to easily get a good job and make a career out of it. The scenario used to be simple some thirty/forty years ago. At that time the conventional wisdom was that the only field for a good student is either medicine or engineering. If a student can't get into either of the two than he is a failure and would for ever be labeled as such. The situation changed a bit about 20 years ago when two other fields got added to the list: IT/Computer Science and Business Administration. 
There is always room at the top! Daniel Webster

Learning Problems: Top 9 Questions to Answer Before You Run for Help

Learning Problems: Top 9 Questions to Answer Before You Run for Help

If you think your child has a problem or the child's teacher/school has told you that you need help for some learning deficiency that they have noticed in your child, then before you rush for any remedial action go through the following checklist. Do read the reason for building this checklist at the end.
  1. How do you know that the child's behavior is actually a problem? 
  2. Is your source of information based on some movie? 
    • How many documentaries on the subject have you seen?
    • How many of such documentaries were made for commercial gains or sponsored by pharmaceutical industries?
  3. Were you influenced by the opinions of your family members, cousins, in-laws?
    • Was your conclusion based on comparison with the child's siblings?
    • Was your conclusion based on comparison with the child's cousins?
  4. If you were also told about the problem in child by the school teacher, then 
    • Did you find out what the teacher's or school's expertise about the subject is?
    • How many books of educational/learning experts have the teacher read specifically ?
    • Is the teacher knowledgeable about the different and opposing views on the subject?
    • How many research papers and articles has the teacher researched? 
    • Did you ask for a list of papers and books on the subject that she has read?
    • Does the school has a recommended list of books and papers on learning, growth and motivation that administration must have read before they can counsel the parents?
  5. Was your view about the child's problem diagnosed by a psychologist/psychiatrist?
    • How is the family life of the psychologist/psychiatrist and how many children does he/she have?
    • Ask for a list of books, research articles specifically related to children's learning and growth that the psychologist/psychiatrist recommends others to read.
    • How much time has the psychologist/psychiatrist spent in school environment guiding the learning of healthy students and of what age?
  6. Is that behavior actually a problem: What is the basis of your conclusion?
    • How many books of educational/learning experts have you consulted?
    • How many research papers and articles on the Internet have you researched.?
    • Are you aware of the views of different schools of thoughts on that issue?
  7. Are your observations about the child constrained by the time pressure?
    • Are you pressed for time due to family/work or household pressures?
    • Do you feel pressed for time because you need to give special time and attention to your younger children?
    • Are you pressed for time because of the health issues in your family and near ones?
    • Are you pressed for time because of some external pressures?
  8. Have you studied the Islamic view about the human nature?
    • What are the learning requirements for the success in life here and in the hereafter ?
    • How does Islam define success in the life here?
    • What are the minimum requirements to be successful in the eyes of the creator?
  9. What are the achievements of people who were diagnosed in their school times with such problems?
    • How many such examples have you seen and studied?
    • What made these high achievers overcome their initial problems?

Objective of the above Checklist

  • The checklist is intended to highlight the role of different people involved in labeling a child. 
  • Beware of people masquerading as an expert who have studied for passing the exams and never did a passionate study of the nature of a child and the growth and learning dynamics. 
  • Please have faith in the ability of your child.
  • Before you start suspecting a problem in your child do a little research. Seek guidance from several sources. 
  • Beware of the pharmaceutical companies bribing the doctors/psychologists to recommend medications for problems that do not exist or are not severe enough to require immediate medication. They are routinely bribing the doctors and psychiatrists with foreign trips and gadgets, funding various psychology institutes and other businesses. 
  • Note that psychologists and psychiatrists typically are trained for abnormal people. They go through text books that are based on the experience and study of abnormal people. They often have not done an extensive study of the normal children having difficulties in learning. 
  • The study of learning issues of healthy children is the domain of educationists and not psychologists or psychiatrists. You must consult a very well read educationist who is up to date on the literature and research in education (not someone in school whose entire life is spent teaching or controlling or administering children).
See Also:
  1. Do you think your child has some learning deficiency?Top 9 Questions to Answer Before You Start Worrying
  2. My child does not sit still and concentrate!
  3. How Parental Judgements can Shatter a Child - Self Fulfilled Prophecies 
  4. Are you really concerned about your child's education
  5. Bell Curve Evaluation of Students and Islamic Conception

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Why are there no IT companies with more than 10,000 employees

Why are there no IT companies with more than 10,000 employees

In a speech made by Dr. Ishrat Husain, Dean IBA at the CIO Summit on May 21, 2013, he asked the question why is it that we do not have in Pakistan any IT company similar to WIPRO or InfoSys of India. We do not even have an IT company with more than 10,000 employees. He raised this question following an impressive talk by Dr. Ata ur Rahman outlining the great and wonderful work he had done as Minister of S&T and as Chairman HEC in jump starting the telecommunication revolution and development of policies that have improved R&D.

Charter of Children's Recognition

A Charter of Children's Recognition
By Salman Asif Siddiqui 
Founder and director of Educational Resource Development Centre.

Children learn best when they are respected, and this respect is every child’s right. If we take a look at the quality of experience that children undergo during their education,  we will arrive at the conclusion that it is filled with feelings of fear, insecurity, rejection, embarrassment, humiliation and guilt.

I often ask teachers if education without insults is possible and a lot of them wonder at my question. I
have asked many students, who have been top performers in their schools, if they have ever experienced a fear of disapproval and most of them say ‘yes’. Quality education cannot just be referred to the conceptual coverage of curriculum. Quality education needs to be redefined as making learning meaningful and enjoyable with making children feel unconditionally respected and recognised.

Recognising children is to accept and acknowledge them for what they are. Children should not be recognised conditionally on the basis of their test scores, mastery of a foreign language or show of obedience. They must be recognised wholly because they are human beings.

Children’s self-respect is something that remains at risk throughout their childhood. There is an acute need to have a national consensus on the protection of this basic children’s right. I would like to propose a Charter of Children’s Recognition for this purpose that is based on three fundamental principles. As per the dictionary definition, ‘charter’ is a document describing the rights that a particular group of people should have. It can serve as a practical guideline for teachers and parents to work with children and should be based on the following principles.

Listen and acknowledge 
How do you feel when you are not heard or acknowledged? You feel unimportant. Sometimes you feel disgraced. Listening can be a very powerful tool to make children feel important. Children bear tons of things to share ranging from interesting and weird questions, to realistic and hypothetical ideas, to a variety of sentiments and feelings.

Encourage children to express in whatever language they feel comfortable speaking in and listen to them without being impatient, judgmental or losing your temper. When you allow them say whatever they want to say in their preferred language, you will find a world that was hidden before. After having listened to children it is appropriate to acknowledge them by simply rephrasing what you have heard.
Acknowledging a child’s point of view does not mean agreeing with him or her. The act of acknowledging makes children feel understood and respected.

Recognise individuality without comparing 

How would you feel if you are compared with your colleagues all the time? Every child is creative in a different way. Expecting all children to be alike is unjust. They can be similar in some ways but actually they are all unique and therefore different from each other. Comparison between children communicates that you are not accepting children as what they are, rather demanding of them to be like their peers. It shatters their self confidence and they view themselves as incompetent. When we believe that every child is uniquely intelligent and creative, only then will we understand that it’s perfectly fine if they learn differently. Expecting all children to learn in the same way at
the same pace and respond invariably is absolutely inappropriate and ridiculous. Children show phenomenal development when they are accepted along with their individual learning styles and pace. Children must be recognised for what they do instead of what they have not done.

Unconditional respect and trust 

How children are treated when they are young has a huge effect on the type of people they will grow up to be. Children are born pure and innocent with delicate self-esteem. Their sense of self worth grows through approval from outside. What children need most are respect and trust, and not costly toys.
Respect is their basic need which comes prior to education. Quality education is to understand and treat children respectfully irrespective of their academic performance or behavioural state. One more reason for which children should be respected is that respect in itself is reciprocal. Children who are treated respectfully learn to be respectful and treat others respectfully, too. Respecting is natural when children do something which is desirable and socially acceptable. Respecting becomes challenging for many when children do something undesirable. We must remember that even in the latter case, we should disapprove the wrong doing but not disapprove of the child. This is to treat children respectfully and reject bad behaviour, if there is any.

Dr Allama Mohammad Iqbal in his magnum opus work Javidnama introduced a clear vision for educators. He says, “The purpose of knowledge is nothing but to show you the splendors of yourself”. Education that compels children to understand the curriculum and does not understand and recognise the child cannot serve the child. The education process must not be impersonal because it dehumanises and demoralises learners through which the purpose of existence is adversely affected.

The writer is founder and director of Educational Resource Development Centre.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why My Child does not Sit and Concentrate?

My Child does not Sit and Concentrate

Ah! We remember the good old days when there only used to be a single PTV broadcast channel and that too would start with "Baseerat" at 6pm and end with "Farman e Ilahi" at around 12. Kids like us will open the TV much before the start time and would watch the insignia and later the signature tune before the start of transmission. We had nothing much to do once we came from schools except to sit down and pick up a book (or a comic) and read till it was time to go to ground and play and come back before maghrib. The most flashy material were the Archie comics. How we patiently waited for that few minutes of our favorite cartoon skit for the entire week! How we waited for that episode of Star Trek for the entire week! There used to be just four short (really short) breaks for ads after every 15 minutes at designated times for which the program episode would leave you at a suspenseful break.

Early to bed and early to rise was the order of the day. Life was simple and uncomplicated. Telephone was a luxury available only to the elites or those with either fat references or extremely fast speed money. T&T (old name of the PTCL) ensured through its bureaucracy that the phone connection will eventually be granted to those fortunate enough to have a farsighted grandfather who had applied for the connection decades before his death. There were only a few homes in each street that had a land-line telephone. Calling any one's house meant negotiating first with the head of the household or the mistress of the household and explaining your identity and purpose before the phone access was granted to anyone else in the house.

I am not telling tales about centuries or ages ago. Just forty years ago! However, over the last forty years, ages have passed. Today life of a child is filled with exciting possibilities. He is now often active in the virtual worlds where he is fighting to survive in a "Mortal Combat", or trying to save his car from tumbling over bridges and ramming into buildings in "Need for Speed", or living through "Age of Empires" where he has to defend his city against enemies while growing food, generating wealth and raising an army and building embankments for defending against enemies firing with canons, catapults and other arsenal. Meanwhile, he is surfing the Internet, getting acquainted with great music, previews of the latest thrillers, watching the construction of mega structures, trying to avoid the vulgar enticements, and coming across with content that is unbelievable. He now has so many channels that one has lost count and that are continuously showing all sorts of programs round the clock. Cartoon channels banging the head of the young mind with an incessant doze of fast pace cartoons, interspersed with psychologically designed ads to keep the kid riveted to the channel.

Surfing the channel has now become a popular habit. When was the last time you watched a program from start to finish on a channel? When was the last time, anyone watched a program completely starting with the announcement and finishing with the credits and acknowledgement of the sponsors? Facebook, Blogs, Linkedin, Mobile Phones and social media have connected our kids with everyone. Kids of ten years are now frequently and even openly getting come-on messages on facebook and cell phones from the opposite sex. If we close the open channels, there are backdoor channels one can easily open. Even the government and supreme court has not succeeded in closing down youtube. How can a parent do this?

This is the exciting and thrilling environment in which today's kids live. However, we are expecting him to sit down with books whose content has not changed over the last 40 years. The material is as dull and drab as they ever were. Structurally not much has changed either in presentation or in structure except a bit of color and more pictures. The teachers are teaching in the same manner, using the same methodology, using the same examples, sitting in the same type of class room with children facing the teacher, and the teacher delivering the same kind of lecture in a timetable that is not much different in duration or structure from the past. Even the homework is being given in the same format, using the same types of homework copies with same type of questions.

Parents often force their kids to sit down every day and write a page of Urdu, a page of English and solve a few maths problems. The parents often think foolishly that what worked when they were forced thirty-forty years ago, would also work today. When kids do not comply, parents first become worried and then become furious. They forget that when was the last time their kids saw anyone writing a page with pencil or pen? When was the last time they actually sat down themselves and were seen writing one page (or a letter) with pen and pencil. Writing with pen and pencil has nearly become obsolete. We are seen either composing emails or sms text messages using keyboards or touch pads. Even keyboards are becoming obsolete. Email or an sms experience is much different, you can copy and paste, forward, spell check, use word completion etc.

And, of course, the parents and teachers are both out of sync and out of date. They neither know facebook, nor can even keep their phones charged all the time. They are too much busy with their daily chores, young infants and pressures of in laws. They don't have time to interact with the kids and listen to them or understand them.

From B to C
Our challenge is as follows: If we want them to make them work, study and learn, then we must design our educational content in a format that can compete with the distractions that they have. As Edwared DeBono mentioned in his wonderful book "A Textbook of Wisdom", if you want to stop someone from going towards B from A, then you can not do that by erecting barriers, threats, codes or rules. The only way to stop someone from going towards B from A is to offer a more attractive C. See the Figure.

The challenge for us is to develop more interesting and more thrilling way of teaching. Teaching material must measure up to the level of games and social interactive media, and then surpass it.  Fortunately much research has been done and there are paradigms of how to grab the attention of children and make learning more interesting than computer games.

See Also:

  1. Do you think your child has some learning deficiency? Top 9 Questions to Answer Before You Start Worrying
  2. My child does not sit still and concentrate!
  3. How Parental Judgements can Shatter a Child - Self Fulfilled Prophecies 
  4. Are you really concerned about your child's education
  5. Bell Curve Evaluation of Students and Islamic Conception

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Myth: Impact Factor Measures Real Impact

Myth: Impact Factor Measures Real Impact

One of the most interesting game being played in the universities is that of impact factor research. There is a whole industry that is now specializing in how to increase the impact factor. There are researchers who are publishing at the rate of one publication every month (or even every other week) in the prestigious ISI index. There are several researchers in Pakistan who have published over 30 ISI papers in three years. Where is this impact coming from? How can one do a unique original research that can produce a paper every few weeks, unless it is just a rehash of some existing work?

Impact factor is the holy grail. A game that researchers play. Simply stated it means that greater the references to papers in other papers, the greater the impact. Supposing a Pakistani researcher's paper gets cited hundreds of times in ISI research journals of obscure names and places, what impact would it have created on the society here in Pakistan and on this nation. It is possible for a group of researchers to collude and using the you-scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours approach to jack up the count of citations. I am told that some researchers are really playing this game well.

One of my friends who did his PhD from a prestigious US university told me about a course that he took in USA that he later dropped. The professor told him to write a paper that is so dense and complicated that it should not be understandable by any one. This should be done by including some complicated equations and matehmatical models and should revolve around terminology related to a particular field. The only restriction was to include a few references to the work of some professors in Europe. When those professors' papers were analyzed, it was found that the papers were equally dense, incomprehensible and even non-sensical. These works are all published in reputable journals.

There is an interesting analysis  of computer generated non-sensical but completely grammatical and correct English papers that appear to be scholarly but totally gibberish which were sent for publication to various  journals/conferences and which got accepted and were published. There is even a website that helps you generate scholarly research papers complete with tables, facts and figures that get accepted in various conferences. Even major publishers of online journals had published computer generated research papers.

I know of some scientists who have over 800 publications in a career spanning over 40 years. If you do the maths i.e. number of days in 40 years divided by the number of publications, the average number of days in which a publication was produced comes out to be around 18 days (= 40 x 365 / 800). What originality can there be in such creative work? Mind you majority of these publications would be in worthy impact factor journals.

I think there is a fundamental problem in this kind of measurement. You are measuring the instrument with itself. Fever can not be measured with fever of other people, it needs a device called thermometer that measures expansion of (say) Mercury. Speed of a car can not be measured by using speed of other cars, it needs a device called speedometer. Height of a plane in air can not be determined by comparing them with other planes in the air, it needs an instrument called altimeter that uses another quantity. The issue in impact factor measurment is measuring a quantity with itself. Hence, the number of publications have increased tremendously. There are now services available that would publish your journal and articles and would get your journal and articles a high impact factor if you pay some thousands of dollars. 

The more fundamental question that may be asked is can we use this impact factor measure to quantify the contribution of Steven Spielberg, Disney, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Sam Walton (of Walmart fame) to the US society.

Can this impact factor quantify the positive contribution of Abdul Sattar Edhi, Dr Adeebul Hasan Rizvi, TCF, and so many others who are creating a sizeable impact on society.

Can this impact factor quantify the negative contributions of the dictators, bigots and war-mongers or exploiters of environment and plunderers of the financial industry in Pakistan. The impact factor is hopelessly out of sync with society and industry.

The challenge for HEC in Pakistan was to define an impact factor that has relevance for Pakistan. It should have measured:
– Impact on the industry; new ventures, new products, new opportunities, new jobs, ..
– Social change, economic change, change movements

Instead of plagiarizing impact factor research and whole scale implementing it in Pakistan without thinking about its societal impact, we should have been prepared to do original research and should have researched to enhance the impact factor so that it can measure concrete changes brought about in our society. This should have been the role of higher education commission.

West is at a stage where the relevance of research to society has already been worked out and they can play this game. Pakistan is at a stage which has to ensure this societal impact as it spends its precious resources in research. Development of such an impact factor that quantifies contribution to our society is our need. It is not the need of West that has already transited from the stage, where we find ourselves at present.

What we need to do now is to develop indices that measure industry growth, job growth, poverty alleviation, health improvement and other such goals. Then we need to link the output of the university such as the contribution of the alumni to society, industry, and entrepreneurship. We should subtract from such positive contributions, all the negative contributions made by the alumni. There should be Hall of Fame for each university and then there should be a Hall of Shame. Let's measure the true impact. The impact on character of the graduates as reflected in their contributions to the society and industry.

People may argue that it is difficult, it may not be objective, it may not be measurable, what would be instrument, who would calibrate. But these are the challenges not the problems. Solving such challenges is the real impact factor research. If proponents of higher education would not do this, then who would!

See Also:

What is PhD?
Why PhD is Difficult: 
Starting with your PhD
Reading Research and Writing your Research
Qualitative Learning from a PhD