It’s a well-known fact: Asian parents are hot on education. The type of education that means anything less than 100% is not acceptable. A friend from my hometown (Portsmouth) taught Math at a top international school in Asia. He said parents would often ask him, “How can my child improve on his grades?” Err, the kid had 95%.
Into this hot-housed world we arrived a few years ago with our weird values of raising happy strong children, never mind the grades. Georgina could not read at 5, but she was a glorious, delightful child. Here’s a video of her at 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RFONbabE6A
She took her own sweet time. For the longest period, her father read to her every night. He read her every book in Fairy series (from Bethany the Ballet Fairy to Gemma the Gymnastic Fairy to the 200 fairies in between the ballerina and gymnast). Father and daughter then moved on to Jacqueline Wilson’s books. The father was so into the books which he read to his daughter that once, forgetting himself, he got very excited about meeting Jacqueline Wilson. Poor lady must have had a shock when a middle-aged man came up to her and gushed, “I love your books!”.
G finally decided to read when she was around 11. ‘I could read from when I was small, you know,” she declared. ‘I just pretended I couldn’t, that’s all.”
It made no difference to us. Because she learned a lot of other important things the natural, organic way with the time that was available to her. She grew into a strong girl with a good understanding of the world. She has such enthusiasm for life and forms her own opinions from the thousands of questions that she asks daily. She was (is) excited about learning new things, has an inquiring mind, is eloquent, sharp, witty and quicksilver bright. And when the time was right for her, she began reading. Mein Kampf is one of the books she is reading, because she is interested in the politics and the wars in today’s world. Slowly, steadily, she climbed up the rankings. All on her own steam. She got into the top set for all her subjects, and that is at an academic school where tuition is norm. English and Music are her weakest subjects.
“Don’t blame me,” she said with her usual insouciance. “My dad speaks bad English.”
I sighed. “But Music, G! Your dad is a guitarist in a rock band, and you got 0% for your Music exam!”
“I only do Rock,” she said belligerently. “And that’s not on the curriculum.”
But she excels in Math. “Momdad, I have beaten all the Asian kids. Even those who do 10 hours of tuition a week.”
Do I sit down and teach her Math for hours on end? No. But I wrote about the ten most beautiful equations in the world. I am always pointing out to her the Fibonacci sequence in the natural world. I told her about Pythagoras and the cult he founded. We talked about Fermat’s Last Theorem (which took centuries to be solved). I asked her if it is ever possible to find Theory of Everything, the one equation that describes “everyfink”.
None of it is related to ’exam’ Math.
Last Monday, she started at a new school. She had to do a Math test for streaming purposes. She was totally unprepared for the test.
She came back in a foul mood. “Half of it was on Probability! And I didn’t do them at the old school. Well, other people probably did, but I was out playing football. I must have missed it.”
The result came back 2 days later. She had 100%.
Her father was annoyed at her for getting 100%. After the fuss she kicked up. “I thought you said you hadn’t covered Probability?” he said. “You lied.”
“I didn’t!” she protested indignantly. “I have not covered them before! I just worked them out. Probability is like the gambling stuff, right? You just work out how likely somefink is going to happen or not, that’s all. So what’s the big deal?”
As my friend Azlan Adnan said, “This is what education is all about – empowering people to work things out from first principles using logic, which is the highbrow word for “common sense,” which, unfortunately, is not very common nowadays.”
And so, here’s our scenic route to 100%. Not through rote-learning, tuition or hot-housing, but through conversations with our child – she was about 6, when we asked her to tell us 10 reasons why it is not a good idea to build houses on a cemetery that is not related to ghosts. It was a good conversation.