'It is our duty to twitch curtains, open doors, and widen horizons'
Exposure to great role models and a broad range of experiences will help children find their purpose, writes Professor Ger Graus
According to a survey of 1,000 children in 2017, more than three quarters of children aged 6 to 17 aspired to be YouTubers, vloggers and bloggers. The research by travel firm First Choice revealed that 34 per cent of children would like to be a YouTube personality, while one in five wished to start their own channel. Traditional career choices, such as teaching, were much less popular three years ago. The research also revealed that children would rather learn how to use video editing software instead of studying traditional subjects such as maths and history.
From an evolutionary point of view, it is no surprise that YouTube stars have become celebrities to young audiences and the contents produced by these stars are fervently consumed and have a powerful hold over them. This will be a familiar battleground to many parents pushing back against the pull of these influencers, even testing the boundaries of millennial parents who themselves have grown up in the digital age.
According to new research by market researchers Kids Insights, there appears, however, to have been a seismic shift in children’s occupational aspirations over the past few months with scientists, teachers, supermarket workers, doctors and nurses now the new superheroes of the COVID-19 generation. A return to the type of role modelling that is perhaps about to once again change the dynamics of career aspirations and educational priorities? Perhaps.
"Role models demonstrate passion for what they do and have the capacity to infect others with it."
The first observation needs to be that this is nothing new. Role models come into young people’s lives in a variety of ways. They are educators, leaders, mothers, fathers, peers and ordinary people encountered in everyday life. There are, I believe, at least five criteria required to elevate a person or profession to role model status in the eyes of a child. Role models demonstrate passion for what they do and have the capacity to infect others with it. Role models shows a clear set of values and live them in their world. A role model shows commitment to community. Role models show selflessness and acceptance of others who are different to them. A role model shows the ability to overcome obstacles. Not surprisingly, young people admire people who show them that success is possible.
My mantra has always been that “Children can only aspire to what they know exists” and over the past few months, they have not only witnessed the existence but have vicariously experienced the value of rewarding jobs and careers. It is vitally important that we, now more than ever, continue to inspire and educate our global citizens of the future. This, as adults, surely is our role to play.
We need to facilitate the experiences that lead to the discovery of positive role models and from that to role play, i.e. copied behaviour. We need to show the environment is the third teacher, including the environment of imagination, aspiration and role models.
Should we not now collectively draw up a list of experiences, with school, offline as well as online, that we believe our children are entitled to by, let’s say, age 7 - and then again at 11, 14, 16?
"Experiences outside of school will lead to bigger dreams."
Museums, galleries, restaurants, ballet, sports, concerts, teamwork, performing, receiving an award, places of work and government, visiting their capital cities, social media, YouTube, Sir David Attenborough in the Galapagos Islands … It is our collective duty to twitch curtains, open windows and doors, and widen horizons to a better possible, for all children to write their own narrative of their possible.
We do this through leading by example, role modelling, through early opportunities and through facilitating experiences. And when we do this, we find ourselves in a world where not every classroom has four walls, where the environment becomes a teacher.
To all involved, the value of the connection between being taught in school and experiences out there will soon become very clear - believe me. It is these experiences that will lead to bigger dreams, greater aspirations and better role models. If you have a strong purpose in life, you don't have to be pushed. Your passion will drive you there.
The landscape of education is, and has been, changing with educationalists recognising that personal development and achievement are at least as important as academic attainment and that children need a robust set of core skills for the future world of both employment and self-deployment. These include leadership, collaboration, independence, initiative, creativity, communication, perseverance, resilience and flexibility. It is now up to us to step up to the mark.
If we want our children to be truly successful in life, to answer the question “Who do you want to become?” instead of “What do you want to be?”, then we need to play our part. In this case we need to accept and advocate that every child is everybody’s responsibility. “Becoming Me” is a journey full of awe and wonder and the role we play is vital.
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