Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of parents today have children who require additional assistance academically, emotionally or both. For these parents, concerns are never far away that their child will battle in the world of the future, and that they might not ultimately achieve personal and career success.
But an educational psychologist says parents need to change the paradigm through which they view success, as many are still focused on ideas about what constituted becoming a successful adult in the past, rather than embracing a world of new opportunities that are constantly emerging.
“In the past, and unfortunately among some people to this day, there was this perception that if your child is not studying to be a medical doctor or a lawyer, then they haven’t made it,” says Dr Greg Pienaar, renowned educational psychologist and principal of The Bridge Assisted Learning School, which supports students facing challenges unrelated to cognitive ability. The Bridge is a brand of ADvTECH, Africa’s largest private education provider.
“Everyone has a future in terms of a passion or career, so if your child is not specifically focused on academic matters and isn’t necessarily wanting to study anything related to core mathematics or physical science or life sciences (biology), then there are literally thousands of other career paths to follow. And these career paths are not inferior, they are just different,” he says.
Dr Pienaar notes that there is also still a perception that students can only advance to tertiary studies if they attend a traditional high school and follow the traditional academic journey in terms of subject selection. That is simply not the case, he says, because schools that provide additional support on the neurodiversity front, emotionally or academically, also write matric exams. In the case of The Bridge, for instance, students sit for IEB exams. Additionally, future success isn’t reliant on choosing only those subjects that provide access to traditional ‘high-end’ careers.
“So, what if your child is interested in something to do with food or cooking or hospitality? What if your child loves everything to do with computers or technology? What if your child is interested in travelling the world and discovering its wonders? What if your child has strong verbal ability and is able to charm and convince people easily? What if your child has the skill or ability to run a business or be an entrepreneur?
“It makes no sense to force them to follow a career path which is not natural for them, while there are avenues available which will support their future career success in a field that interests them or which they are passionate about.”
Dr Pienaar says it is legitimate for parents to be concerned if their child battles to focus and concentrate, struggles with words and reading, blanks out when numbers are involved, or is bright but not interested in academics.
However, realising a child needs additional support is the start of the road, not the end of it, he says.
“Often children battle to focus on a career early in life, but they do know what they like and don’t like, sometimes as early as primary school. Our role as parents is to help nurture these interests and provide the space for a child to develop without pressure, and harness additional support if needed to assist them on their academic pathway, even if that is not the standard pathway related to past perceptions of success. The old cliché still holds, that you can’t force a square peg into a round hole. This is never more true than with our children, because we spend many hours of our lives in our work environment or in something related to work.
“Academic and career success is not merely a case of doing well, but of doing well and being happy and fulfilled while doing so. It is important that our focus falls equally on the other half of the equation, not simply the surface considerations of success.”
There are many ways to fulfilment in life, but if we have the opportunity to choose something which may lead to happiness and fulfilment, then we should do so, Dr Pienaar says.
“Parents can help their children make a start on this road by allowing them – with the help of education experts at their school – to choose subjects appropriate to their desired careers wisely.
“Students should choose carefully and according to their interests and passions, and not according to someone else’s expectations or dreams based on the road most travelled. As adults we have to be honest about our children’s passions, strengths, and weaknesses, and guide them responsibly and honestly on their way to success in life – whatever that means within their unique context.”