Misconceptions Around Learning Process In Childhood: Adal Aur Sehat Project

Adal Aur Sehat Project is a legal and health awareness podcast.

Image Source: Adal Aur Sehat Project © Creator: Benazir Shah

In Episode 7, hear Dr. Aisha Sanobar Chachar, renowned Child and Psychiatry Fellow speak about the misconceptions around learning process in childhood, the difference between studying and learning; and the importance of training of teachers and parents in understanding child behavior and psychology.

This Article is a transcription of Episode 7. Hear the full audio podcast with Dr. Aisha on Adal Aur Sehat Project’s YouTube channel. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0d4eT1W-pg.

Q. What is child psychiatry and what is its importance in our society?

Dr. Aisha: If we talk about child and adolescent psychiatry then it is a medical specialty and its expertise comes in with regards to children and teenagers mental health, hence the focus is not just to the extent of mental disorders but also towards mental health and its awareness. Unfortunately, in Pakistan there are limited services with regards to child mental psychiatry such as training, advocacy, awareness and there is also a stigma among the general population with regards to this. Hence we are at a disadvantaged position. Furthermore, child psychiatry is not being taught in medical schools either. If we speak about Pakistan there are various factors that are contributing with regards to child mental health. Firstly, our economic condition and overall living environment contributes immensely towards a child’s mental health. Secondly, the fact that Pakistan classifies as a lower/middle income nation is itself a huge factor in contributing towards child’s mental development and health. This was just an overall picture, if we speak further, our education system is not universal, as every school has a different curriculum. Hence, due to lack of universal education, the students are being taught as per the school’s discretion and there is more room for trial and error, and it’s very unfortunate that there is very limited training for teachers before they join the school’s faculty.

Host: Absolutely! To take an example, in developed nations if one wants to take the career path of a primary school teacher then they would have to acquire proper education and certifications, because by teaching children we are setting strong roots of our society. However in Pakistan, teaching is considered only as a side job, for example, it is also taken by people who are not willing to work 9–5. Also, because of the fact that school tuition fees are reaching sky limits, anyone can open any type of school, hence there are no checks and balances and the demand for teachers are high as well. To take an example, a doctor who does not know his patient’s medical history cannot treat the patient well, similarly, if a teacher does not understand the mental development of a child then he/she will not be able to teach her.

Dr. Aisha: To give you an example of two things, firstly, there has been a lot of conversations on climate change, which is great as it is indeed a crisis situation, however, I believe we are not yet equipped enough in the way we convey the information to our children about such important matters. We need to keep in mind how a younger child such as a 7 year old processes emotions and information in his/her mind before bombarding him/her with sensitive information. Furthermore, we are not promoting intrinsic motivation at all, this can be seen by the fact that most children attend school out of fear of their parents or teachers and not because they enjoy going to school. Also, at times children are given examples of domestic workers who are working on low wages because of lack of education from their part, this instills a sense of pride in young minds resulting in them becoming arrogant adults of the society. And then we complain that our society is not tolerant enough when we are the ones who have unconsciously built that mindset in young children. Hence, all of this starts from the beginning. And it is extremely important to have these conversations so that as adults we are more aware of the kind of upbringing we are providing to children.

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Q. Most of the times we notice that parents complain that their child is not taking interest in his/her studies, regardless of the fact that so many textbooks are colorful and are nicely illustrated. Please shed some light on this issue.

Dr. Aisha: This is an interesting question. When I first started my training for child psychiatry, my senior once told me that a child has to enjoy going to school because if he/she does not enjoy going to school then there is definitely a problem. And this surprised me, because if I recall my childhood, there were hardly any kids who actually enjoyed going to school, most of them were just going for the sake of it and school holidays due to any unforeseen circumstance was considered an enjoyable event. These facts are telling us that something is wrong. Moreover, we really have to understand what we actually mean when we say “education”. Do we refer to rote learning as education? Or is it working on child’s cognitive abilities so that he/she may become a civilized citizen in future? Or does education mean getting good grades only so that one may boast in front of the rest of the family? All of these questions impact the overall environment. And based on these questions and teaching practices, one needs to select the relevant school for their children, keeping in view the internal motivation of the child. These factors are important because a lot of times children do not get the permission or motivation to do the things they like as all of the focus is in getting good grades.

Host: I would like to ask another question with regards to this. Often time’s parents put pressure on their children to choose the career path which they want for their kids because of the belief that as parents they know what is best for their children without realizing what their child actually wants to pursue.

Dr. Aisha: It is understandable because no parent would want something bad for their child. However, they often forget that unintentionally they are only trying to fulfill their dreams by forcing their children to do the things which they themselves could not do during their childhood. Again I must say that have no ill intention in doing this, but it causes a lot of damage for the children and even for the entire family environment. Therefore, it is very important for the parents to first realize whether they want to live their own unfulfilled dreams through their children when they force them to do or not to do certain things, because this point completely changes the game. It is also extremely important to not dismiss the child’s emotional and psychological needs by assuming that a child cannot understand anything, when the truth is that a child actually understands everything. I usually give an example that a child is actually like a sponge and we don’t even realize that he/she is absorbing so much from his/her surroundings, and every child possesses different capacity, some can take more information as compared to other kids. Now turning to your question as to why a child does not want to learn.

Learning is a very complex phenomena. Keeping the human evolution in the mind, our brain is actually not made for learning, it will do whatever it takes to avoid the thinking process as it is painful and slow. Because of this there are various self-help books which focuses on the mental shortcut i.e. heuristics, which focuses on reaching fast conclusions using past learning in the mind. Regardless of this, our brain is still curious to know things but at the same time, it does not want to think. Keeping this in mind, if a child comes to school in order to learn, but we have not created an environment that is learning and thinking friendly then I really feel that we are failing to tackle this issue. Also, when we talk about learning we also need to identify the various steps of learning and identify in which step the problem lies. Such as, before learning anything, we need to assess whether a child is capable of seeing and hearing, or whether the child is able to focus. Like you are attentively listening to me and most probably you will remember what I am saying, similarly, if a child cannot pay attention and to what he is listening to and his attention keeps getting diverted then his learning is definitely hindered. Even if his attention span is good, we also need to see whether his brain is making sense of what he is listening to and whether the child can retrieve the information from his brain when he is asked a question. The reason I am telling you all this steps is because when we say that a child does not want to learn, we need to investigate which of these steps are problematic for the child.

Q. Do you think that it is up to the parents’ to first need to understand the reason as to why their child does not want to study?

Dr. Aisha: It is interesting that you have used the word “study”. Because often time’s kids admit that they have studied but haven’t remembered anything at all. The term “study” and “learn” are two different things. A child can study but it does not mean that he/she is learning at the same time. Studying is just one way of learning, when in fact, learning takes on various forms, such as, some kids learn by doing and we call this experiential learning. All of these factors focus on the end product, i.e. whether the child has gained any knowledge or skill. The two factors matter the most here, firstly, what are we teaching the children and whether we expect only good grades out of it or we are also focusing that they carry lifelong lessons which will help in their overall development as well. Secondly, the role of the teachers and their trainings matter, just like we already talked about that parents at times do bring their own childhood conflicts in their parenting, similarly, teachers also at times bring their personal conflicts in their teaching styles. Unfortunately, the concept of mindful parenting and mindful teaching are both lacking in our society.

Q. When you told us the difference between learning and studying abilities and the fact that parents need to understand all this, you referred to children between 6–10 years and above. Can you also shed some light about teenagers and kids who have recently hit the age of puberty and are going through a transitional period, as to how they handle their studies and learning during this time?

Dr. Aisha: This is very important because when we talk about middle school kids and early teens so this all is tough changes. Apart from bodily changes such as hormonal changes which completely changes their sleep and appetite patterns, these kids also go through mental changes and even social changes. Studies also show that this is the phase where kids go through bullying and the school curriculum becomes tougher, and even expectations from the adults also increase. These changes affects the learning in the sense that adequate tuitions cannot help the students who have difficult curriculum and this is when a lot of learning disorders are also diagnosed. And if left unnoticed and undiagnosed by parents and teachers, the child becomes rebellious, as every behavior of child and teen is backed by communication, however he/she is behaving is leading to some sort of communication by them. We just need to understand the language as to what they are trying to communicate.

Host: Also, their behavior is an emotional reaction of whatever is happening in their personal lives.

Dr. Aisha: Just as I already said that during puberty the child goes through hormonal changes, at the same time such changes also affects their emotional reactivity and sensitivity. Furthermore, in teenagers, the frontal lobe, which is responsible for executive functions like time management, expressing emotions and self-discipline.

Q. At what age the frontal lobe completely develops?

Dr. Aisha: To give you an example, the function of the frontal lobe is similar to a car break. In teenagers, this function is not completely developed, however their emotional center of the brain (which is similar to an accelerator) is fully functioning. As per the new studies, the frontal lobe completely develops at the age of 29, however, usually it develops around the ages of 24–25.

Q. In this fast paced world where technology is taking over and the use of social media has immensely increased which has in turn influenced the children and teenagers. What do you have to say with regards to this?

Dr. Aisha: There are couple of things to keep in view regarding this issue. If we begin with the basic picture, we do not have a responsible media, there is more drama and less substance to show through media. Also, if the frontal lobe (the breaks) does not function properly during teenage years then it is up to the adults such as parents and teachers to play the role of a break, in the sense that they can limit the amount of time the kids watch the media. However, all of this comes when there is mutual understanding, respect and good communication.

Host: What message would you like to give to our listeners with regards to what direction we need to follow or whether we need to bring any change?

Dr. Aisha: One of the most important message that I would like to give is that we need to understand the fact that learning is a process, there a science behind it. This is not a matter of whether a child is interested in learning or not, or whether not learning is an act of rebellion, and neither is it an end product. Also, instead of tackling the real problem leading to learning issues of the child, we immediately come to negative conclusions like judging the child’s intention and character. Also, no child intentionally wants to get scolded or belittled, hence we need to go an extra mile in order to understand the child’s condition, and it would certainly be a great favor for our country and the entire society and things can eventually change for a better future.

Disclaimer: Our aim is health awareness. This is not a diagnosis and neither should the contents of our podcast be construed as the same. Neither it is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. Further, we do not accept liability of any individual, group and/or organization, that may suffer from any consequences which is directly or indirectly related to the Adal Aur Sehat Project and/or its Founders.

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Adal Aur Sehat Project is Pakistan's first exclusive legal and health awareness podcast founded and hosted by Khushbakht Shah.