Is primary school destroying your child's self-esteem?

  • Children start to form their beliefs about the world and how they fit into it at the age at which they're enrolled into primary school. This stage of schooling then becomes especially critical to their development.

    At the age range of 3 to 10, children are like sponges - absorbing everything happening in their environment in such a way that it can get ingrained into their subconsciousness and consequently affect who they become as adults. Here's what Jean Piaget, a developmental psychologist, says about child's stages of cognitive development.

    Even though a lot happens at home with parents, children go to school five days a week and spend up to 40 hours - that's about 35% of their waking time each week. Arguably, the school then is only second to home.

    I'm sure every conscious parent wonders what effect school generally is having on their child, but this is usually limited to the academic side of things - are they learning anything? Are they learning fast enough? And so on.

    For most parents, the psychological aspect of things usually escapes notice, either because they're not looking out for it or because it is just too subtle to be noticed.

    But ask yourself right now; between what your child learns in school and what he/she becomes, which is the most important to you?

    An obvious answer, right?

    This is why you need to pay more attention.

    Anytime I look back at my primary school days, I can't help but cringe at some of the things I remember. While there are a lot of excellent teachers doing wonderful things with children and affecting their lives positively, it's also true that there are also a lot of ignorant and incompetent ones.

    I've read a lot of psychology and parenting stuff to understand the level of the danger that this ignorance and incompetence pose to children.

    It's not just about the spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child mindset that makes it seem alright for children to be severely punished or flogged in school. It is not just in the way they're not allowed to make mistakes, neither is it just about the possibility that they're being bullied by their peers - as abusive as these things might be.

    It goes deeper than that.

    It is in primary schools that some children start to believe they're not smart enough or there's something wrong with them. Of course, our one-size-fits-all educational system doesn't help the matter at all.

    Children who learn differently or have different interests from what is being taught face the most difficult challenges.

    It is a problem with the system, but it becomes a problem with the children who cannot seem to fit-in or learn as fast as the others, even though of course, this can be a sign of creativity and intelligence.

    Now the danger is in the way these children are treated, and your child might well be among them.

    I can remember vividly how our teachers would make us sing for the 'Olodos' when they fail to answer a question correctly; how these so-called Olodos would get jabbed at and insulted for not meeting up to some obscure standard of how they ought to learn.

    And don't think because you have your child in an expensive private school, he/she is immune. I went to a private school myself.

    I have a lot of reasons to believe that the idea of being an Olodo affects the way a child learns in the remaining stages of schooling (secondary and tertiary) and follows a child to adulthood.

    How damaging can this be?

    In extreme cases, this idea of being an Olodo if deeply ingrained can go on to affect a child's self-esteem in later years and consequently, his/her success in life.

    So I'm asking again, is primary school destroying your child's self-esteem?

    If you're a parent and your answer is 'I don't know', this is a wake-up call for you to get more involved.

    Here are some tips:

    1. Know the type of school you enrol your child into and the standards it upholds

    Don't just rely on hearsay or the content of an advertisement. The decision of which school to enrol your child is a big one because it's repercussion can be far-reaching, never forget that. Ask lots of profound questions and be sure you're on the same page before handing your child over to a school.

    2. Get to know the teacher (s) that are directly responsible for your child

    If it's possible, spend some time with them and get to know their views about the important things that have to do with your child's education. This is also a way to dissect their mindset and their method of teaching. If anything seems off to you, it's an opportunity to discuss it.

    3. Pay an observation visit

    If you can arrange it, it's also an excellent idea to visit the school once in a while and observe how the kids are being taught. You can even advice the school to include this as part of its activities during PTA meetings.

    4. Ask your children questions about his/her experience

    Especially the experience they go through in class and with their peers. It doesn't have to be every day, but you can make it often. It shows your child that you care and also give them an opportunity to discuss things they wouldn't have otherwise thought of discussing with you.

    When you make this a habit, it becomes difficult for any lasting damage to be done without your notice.

    As for the system, granted it is not suitable nor favourable for a lot of children, but since it is not about to change anytime soon, the least you can do as a parent is to make sure it is not abused, regardless.

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