"This is no picnic for me either, buster" - work ethic, discipline and relationships for children

Parentree-editors 2009-03-17 14:41:46

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration” - Albert Einstein

Exactly how important are values like strong-work ethic, discipline and diligence in our children’s education? How involved should Indian parents be in their children’s education? As always there is never a magic formula. It depends on our families, needs and circumstances. But here we share some examples from people’s lives - from Obama to our own personal experiences and some other ideas from today’s bestsellers. Reading these can be inspiring and help us in coming with our own guidelines for our priorities and how best we can shape our children’s lives, values and education.

Getting up at 4:30 am. to study? - No picnic for anyone!

Recently, the U.S. President Obama has been in the news about his education reforms for America.  One of the points he has been stressing is about the important role that values like work ethic, academic discipline and relationships between children and their parents, teachers and schools play in a child’s education.

In an interview,  Obama talked about an incident when he was a boy who lived with his single working mother in Indonesia. His mother could not afford to send him to a fancy international school and he went to a local Indonesian school where the standard of English was very low. To supplement this, Obama’s mother had him join an English correspondence course and would wake him up at 4:30, early in the morning, to spend time with him studying that. She had no option since she had to go to work and he had to go to his school. When he would grumble, she used to tell him in her no-nonsense style -  “This is no picnic for me either, buster”. She probably had no idea that this experience would have so much impact on her son and how powerful her son would be one day.

So, what are some things we can glean from this incident? Parents play an important role in their children’s education. The parent’s attitudes and efforts definitely shape children. Obama’s mother took initiative and added to her child’s education with the course. And took extra efforts and sacrifice in making this special studying happen. They must have shared a strong and warm relationship with her son that she could persuade a young boy to wake up at an unearthly hour for extra work. This is where relationships matter for children - special relationships with parents, with teachers and the school - all working together for children - their education and development.

Check out more context about this incident from the New York Times website


10,000 hours in a field for excellence and success?

Have you read the new Malcolm Gladwell bestselling book - Outliers -The Story Of Success? BTW, an interesting, thought-provoking and even inspiring read for many. He talks about different conditions for success and genius. He talks about how opportunity and luck can shape propensity for excellence. He gives the example of how native Chinese speakers have an inherent cultural advantage in mathematics just because of the structure of their language. And how Bill Gates' school had one of the earliest computer terminals and gave unlimited computer time for programming and hacking and how this would have facilitated his becoming a technical and business whiz kid in the field of computers.
But what is most relevant to this context is that he also talks about the importance of diligence, drill and discipline in a field. He studies different famous personalities and finds that in order to achieve a level of excellence in a field, you need to have invested roughly 10 years or 10,000 hours immersed in that field. This is what our Dhoni, Rehman, and others would have done. There you go. No short cut to hard work!

Personal experience

Recently, I was in a way “forced” to sit down with my daughter in her studies because of her final exams. I am so glad and excited about the last month or so that have spent with her. It has made so much difference in her knowledge and application of concepts, confidence, approach and motivation. I could go on and on. For example, just giving her extra practice of maths every day has really strengthened her maths fundas. Instead of bemoaning at the way the teachers tackle certain concepts, I got some hints from other teachers and revised her EVS (Environmental Sciences) with her in a story form - made it fun. We would act out stories about different topics like endangered animals and seasons. It was amazing how fast she could rattle off these stories and facts after this.
I wish I had been more hands-on earlier. These little ones have so much in them, so eager to learn, we adults (teachers, parents etc.) can do so much with them. I am hoping I keep up this resolve to be more involved.
Anyway, my personal experience and reading about other insights have made me realize that we parents should not leave their education just to the school and that we should stay tuned and involved. Also, I am now more determined to foster a will and love for a hard-work ethic and opportunities to facilitate this.

What about creativity? What about slave-driver Indian parents cracking the whip?

Of course creativity, questioning and conceptual thinking are also very important in education along with diligence and discipline.  Concepts taught systematically, thoroughly and in a creative, fun and engaging manner, can really help a child understand and retain concepts effortlessly. But that is not enough by itself and this is where practice or Einstein’s “perspiration” or Gladwell’s “10,000 hours for success”, or just plain old hard work come in. Drill in a subject does not mean rote learning and cramming facts and figures without understanding, merely for regurgitating in an all-important exam. Drill means practice and repetition so that the concepts really get “drilled” on ingrained in a person’s mind so that it also helps in understanding and furthering concepts in their minds. 

So, that is why both “inspiration” and “perspiration” together are important in education. Traditionally, the Indian education system has been biased towards more of drill and rigour and that too more of the rote learning. But that is changing now. Many schools, teachers and parents in India are aspiring for a balanced combination of concepts, creativity, discipline, rigour and drill in education.

Also, we as parents need to stay tuned in our children’s education and help them. But this does not mean that we crack the whip and make them burn midnight oil blindly. We need to be sensitive to our children and their needs. The idea is not to impose our will and ambitions on to them, but to be there for them and help them unearth and actualize their potential. This would mean working with the teachers and the school as well in our children’s education. 

Our 21st century children need a 21st century education. So, let us stay tuned to our children, be involved in their education and let us team up with schools and teachers. Way to go parents. We can do it! 

Please share your insights and experiences...


2012-04-06 11:21:54


This article has been very well written... and though it is well known and understood that parents play an important role in the child's upbringing and development, this article highlights the role that parents should take up in child's growth. Thanks for such a brilliant write up


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