When one comes across statistics released by various world organisations as well as industry leaders expressing concerns over the rate of unemployable youth, graduating from institutions every year, it is enough to set the ball rolling to reinvent our education system. The way we are educating our children right from early childhood to university levels needs a serious overhaul to match the requirements of the 21st Century. Several think tanks and stake holders at every level are brainstorming, applying and reinstalling systems to make learning relevant and applicable to meet the ever evolving demands in a highly dynamic world we are living in.
According to me one of the solutions that could be looked at is using the power of mentorship consciously in our education system. Even though mentorship, as an educational tool, has a very marginalised presence in the current schooling system, I feel it can be a very powerful concept when it comes to skilling children. Survival in the current world needs a critical balance between knowledge and skills. That is why it is important that things are creased out and reinstated as early as school level.
It has been long discussed on many educational forums, how mentorship programmes should be integrated in the current schooling. People have tried to find ways to keep children on a self discovery path, and most of us do realise how the belief system of the adult world pushes children away from living an intuitive life. But how does one devise a plan to help children steadily move on their path of self discovery within the framework of a structured curriculum?
Theorists have well established the growth trajectory of human development, and have found children in a highly exploratory state in their early childhood. It is through play, sensory stimulation, words, language and questioning that they start getting aware of their likes and dislikes, dreams and fantasies. However the highly structured approach in social environments, especially a highly linear and inflexible schooling starts placing limitations and children start losing their magic and wonder to conformity, believing that their fantasies are far from reality in the real world. However it is that dream and fantasy state that mentors are looking for, to nurture creative thinking.
When children do not get sincere validation from their immediate caregivers (parents and teachers) that what they are dreaming is possible, it makes them lose heart and faith in their own fantasies. Structured mentorship programs however have helped preserve that and provide some ray of hope in skilling children and channelising their energies. Wherever schools have walked an extra mile and provided elasticity to children and helped them meet and interact with people from different walks of life, children have shown very encouraging results. Imagine a child who loves reading and wants to explore language as a means of expression, gets a chance to meet a J.K. Rowling in his early childhood. The role model gives a tangible face to the child’s dreams and sets his bar, which motivates him intrinsically, driving his passion towards reality. The strength of the mentorship program lies in not just establishing a valid and tangible figure to an abstract dream, but also the fact that someone is there to hold his hand and take him towards realising this dream. When someone new steps in from outside the regular structure of school and home, it also breaks the monotony of only parents and teachers providing structured learning. It also brings in a freshness of thought and action in the child’s life, and the mentor gets perceived by the child as a living example of a valid acceptance of his dreams by society.
When a mentor steps in, and helps a child channelise his thoughts, passions and desires, it also fosters a sense of self belief, and the child is no longer intimidated to start walking the path guided by his intuition. After completion of a successful mentorship programme, children usually establish a strong and positive self image. Many self limiting beliefs break off.
Mentors have observed how children, when helped at the crucial moments in their lives (whilst the passion is still bubbling within), can easily be channelised, and continue building a strong connect with their intuition. However, the key foundational premise in the entire mentorship process is establishing trust, respect and an inclusive bond between the mentor and the mentee. It is this conduit of trust, love and respect which fuels the entire process of successful fruition of dreams.
Though mentorship can be a very powerful concept which schools can establish, there could be a few stumbling blocks:
- The biggest limitation I perceive is the process of integrating such programmes in a rigid curriculum and marks driven structure. Somewhere schools will have to tweak their focus, and provide elasticity and space to usher in mentors to raise motivation levels of children towards tasks at hand, which could also potentially foster innovative thinking in the long run.
- The second barrier would be the scalability, considering the huge numbers in every classroom.
- The diversity in the needs, expectations and abilities of children and their parents could be the third barrier
- The expectations of the higher academic institutions and the recruitment process as such would certainly be another block. No new system can work if the expectations of the recruiters does not match the focus of the universities. And if the universities are looking for admitting only children with higher scores, then schools strive for those scores and not skills. That blocks the entire funnel.
However, these limitations cannot negate the fact that mentorship can perhaps be one of the missing links in the learning curve of our children. Once the relevance of mentorship as a powerful learning engine gets established, the system will also get set in place. Till then, it may be a good idea for schools to start bridging a link between children and the real work that people do in the real world. Getting domain experts to interact with children at various stages of their growth can immensely help in nudging their desires and passions early on.
Once a child’s wonder and magic gets a face in the real world through role models, he gets validation and opens the doors of his mind to various possibilities. This makes the child remain connected with his inner strengths. The inner compass or intuition thereafter acts as a guide, steering him towards an inspirational life. We manage to thus preserve the child’s passion and protect it from getting lost in the structured four walls of the classroom to a large extent. If we lose to catch them young, the passion and wonder gets extinguished and rekindling the passion may then become a distant dream. Nourish them when they’re young!