Of Praise and Punishment

‘Learning by Doing’ or ‘Hands–on Learning’ has become the new chant of most new schools today. The child is loaded with a deluge of praise and the fear of the loss of certain opportunities of fun as punishment. It is believed that praise and blame / punishment go together at making a child learn. The degree of usage of Praise vs. Punishment varies amidst educational institutions, the more sensitive ones inclining more towards the former. However varied the proportion may be, these are considered the most appropriate learning motivation factors.

Let’s rethink! Does praise or the fear of punishment really make a child ‘learn’ or are these actually meant to make her / him ‘perform’? Showcasing of the little ones’ talents has unfortunately become the need of the hour for competitive parents and schools alike and very few are able to see the fine dividing line between ‘true learning’ and the often silent humiliation of public performance for a child.

A toddler masters some of the toughest skills of human development before setting foot into formal schooling. These are not taught through praise or punishment. Which parent has ever punished a toddler for not walking or speaking as early as a neighbour’s child? Children master language, learn to walk, run, jump, climb and much more through the continuous process of trial, exploration and the desire to learn it for its own sake. All new learning is built on whatever is imbibed from the older children or adults around them. A toddler trying to walk is not looking for praise, but is clearly looking for approval and the vigilant protection of an adult who does not hold them back for safety, but lets them go about freely on their journey of learning by doing. It is important to remember that a deluge of praise only makes it progressively less worthy and the more a child is declared a winner, the more difficult it becomes to face failure. Only after a series of failed experiments amidst endless trials and errors, does real learning happen.

Punishment and praise can at best result in compelled imitation or rather ‘parrot imitation’ while real speech and creative written expression result from proper non-interfering facilitation of the learning by doing process. Praise is considered an important factor to develop a child’s Self-worth. However, progressive schools recognize the fact that children’s Self-worth is not developed as much by praise as by approval of their choices; by allowing them opportunities to feel useful; by trusting children with responsibilities; by letting them explore and help; by listening to their vivacious imagination and admiring the sheer wonder of it; by allowing them space to fit in… Thus, hands-on learning in the real sense of skill development is only possible in an environment of approval and acceptance.

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