Here are some thoughts by Wai Leng on learning with the community and how the community can and should get involved in the education of a child. Some of these thoughts are instrumental in driving our CLiC Project. Schools cannot offer holistic education in and by itself – so too, in homeschooling, holistic education needs the community. This article was originally published in ParenThink magazine in 2008
Let us know your thoughts.
In our urbanized, consumer-driven and capitalistic society, people tend to become more individualistic and less community-centered, which is quite different from the days of our grandparents, where extended-families live under one roof and the village is an extension of the family. Today, families are very much on their own and pretty much disconnected with neighbours, and community-living is quite an alien concept! This is a pity because the concept of community-living and learning has great potential in bringing people together, in sharing resources and in helping one another in the spirit of a sharing and caring community.
Instead of each family spending money in buying books, toys and other learning resources for their own, why not have community libraries where families share resources by donating or lending books and toys and other educational tools for people in the neighbourhood or community? Instead of spending millions on building expensive-looking libraries that is not easily accessible to the public, why not set up small community libraries which is much less expensive and have the community run and contribute towards the sustainability of them? This would definitely lessen the burden of each family having to fork out large sums of money to fund the family’s educational needs. When members of the community have ownership of the projects, the chances of success would be high. This would benefit young families as well senior citizens where each one has a sense of belonging and usefulness, working either on a voluntary basis or as a paid volunteer.
Education has been turned into a commodity and sending children as young as two to schools has become a norm today. And it is no longer cheap to secure a place in these schools for the very young as parents are prepared to fork out thousands of ringgit to get into the good ones. Where do this leave those who cannot afford it or do not wish to join in the rat race so early? Well, the idea of an extended playgroup can be explored with parents taking an active role in conducting these sessions on a more regular basis. If we subscribe to the understanding that early childhood education entails lots of freedom and space for self-exploration and expressions, and that parents who are their children’s first teachers and who subscribe to that understanding, can and should be involved in facilitating children’s learning through play, then children have an option or an alternative learning environment that is less expensive and less crowded but more holistic and more child-centred.
Parents can also depend on other parents for child-care or baby-sitting when they need to leave their kids somewhere for a couple of hours. This also eliminates the need to pay for professional child-care services that eats into the family’s finances. To do that, parents need to make connections with other parents by opening up to neighbours and people in the community. Being friendly, caring and considerate neighbours is the first step towards building meaningful friendships that leads to the building of a caring community. In this age of the internet, parents can also connect with other parents online and this has proved very beneficial for thousands of people all over the world. Our website (www.familyplace.com.my) which my husband and I started 10 years ago for the purpose of “bridging families, building communities”, has managed to connect families all over the country and beyond! We could see and experience for ourselves, the power of the internet in connecting families especially in the urban and suburban areas. This kind of community cuts across racial and religious lines and truly reflects the community compositions of our country. Only when people form community and community initiate activities for the people and run by the people, can people be truly autonomous in their living and learning environments and be truly creative in nurturing and developing young minds.
If we allow our lives to be carried away by consumerism and commercialism, if we allow our families to be controlled by external forces that do not necessarily have our happiness and welfare in mind, we lose ourselves to these worldly elements and worst of all, we lose our young minds to institutionalized indoctrination falsely labeled as “education”.
We now have to pay for everything – from teaching our children to read, write and count, to teaching them good character. We have to pay dearly to have them learn to sing, dance and do sports. Everything is outsourced nowadays and they do not come cheap! So what can families do to make these activities more freely available to their children? Again, the concept of community-learning is very interesting as members of the community can share and exchange skills and resources and make these activities affordable and available for all.
Governments that support and promote community centres and their activities do well to benefit the people and the community and this leads to real education that centres on living cultures and life-long learning. Religious organizations as well as other social organizations should also play their part in engaging the community this way that truly fulfils the needs of the people that require other options of learning and living.
Parents have to play an important role in educating their children in the basic foundations of learning and living, as well as spiritual and social education. We need not do this alone because we are not alone! Together we can offer help and support to one another so that bringing up children and educating them become less daunting
Chong Wai Leng