Learning is the one process that never seems to end as far as life is concerned. Even after one has passed the age of 70 it is not rare for them to learn one more thing about life or about themselves in general.
However much of the learning that we experience happens at a younger age when one seems to have a blank slate that needs to be filled with information. This is why early childhood development is vital and governments as well as parents ought to give it the attention it deserves.
Over the past few days, I have been spending time with my lovely nine-year-old nephew, Jonathan. To say that I have learnt a lot from this young man is a total understatement. This young man always has so much to say and even more questions to ask. On many occasions you are compelled to wonder whether he is really just a child or an adult stuck in a child’s body.
I have learnt that this young man learns a lot just by observing, thinking and then asking whoever cares to listen. He will ask you lots of questions about any topic. And as you answer, you should be prepared for more follow up questions.
He is the kind of kid who will ask you whether it is true that Rwanda’s president is Paul Kagame and if your answer is yes, he will then ask you if you know him personally and whether you have met him and so many other questions. I am always blown away by this child’s quest for knowledge.
Even ordinary activities like watching TV are opportunities for him to ask you all sorts of questions whose answers you better provide. He also loves to use his memory to compare answers. So if you answer a certain question he will not hesitate to inform you that at school they were told something else or that another uncle of his told him something contrary to what you are saying. This simply means that if you are to answer his questions then your answers ought to be convincing as well.
My understanding so far is that actually Jonathan is not smart simply because he asks questions but also because he always has people willing to provide him with the answers that he needs. His sister, mum, dad, grandparents, aunties and uncles as well as teachers are always prepared to put his queries to rest.
Now let us contrast his situation with other children his age who are always quiet and timid when it comes to asking questions. If I was a parent I would prefer to engag with an active child who keeps me busy thinking of responses to his smart quips.
Much as this could be a natural way for a child to behave, many parents reinforce it by always playing the busy card at each opportune time. When the child asks something, the parent prefers to remind the child how he/she is busy and does not need to be disturbed.
In other cases, the father will tell the child to go and ask the mother or vice versa. At the end of the day, the child will realise that those around him/her are not sources of answers to simple questions and resort to being quiet most of the time.
Each time a child asks something and gets an answer, they get the confidence to ask more and more: something that sparks off a robust learning process. Interacting with your children will go a long way in helping them to develop critical minds that help them evolve into better learners.
All this reminds me of a clever Chinese proverb that loosely translates to, ‘Tell me and I forget; Teach me and I learn; Involve me and I understand’. Indeed, if Rwanda’s education system is to produce quality graduates, interactive learning must be seen as the path of choice.