Unlocking the prodigy in our children

From publishing her first book —  “Flying Fingers” — at the age of seven; taking the stage at Ted Talk with the topic “What Adults Can Learn from Kids” in 2010; the countless talks and lectures within the United States and across several continents; to the moment we finally meet in person: Adora Svitak has come a long way.

Column for Cherish Leow

This timeline merely reflects a tiny part of Adora’s story. However, what she has achieved or aim to achieve may be more than what many of us have committed ourselves to doing.

Fifteen-years-old this year, Adora is a writer, teacher and activist. She is also currently a curator for TEDxRedmond. Not just a passionate individual full of ideas, but also a do-er who cares more about taking action, and less about the“what ifs”.  Adora is an inspirational young lady, and I believe this has a lot to do with her upbringing — a supportive family and their incessant belief in her capabilities.

Adora is often being referred to as a child prodigy. Highly intelligent and forward thinking, Adora is no doubt on her way to accomplish extraordinary feats.
This got me thinking… what has gone wrong in our existing model of education?

There have been a lot of talk about youth empowerment, but to me, this is not something that, once implemented would account to immediate results. I feel that we should be unlocking our children’s potential right from the beginning.

Children have great capacities for innovation and creation. For anything that children do not understand or have yet to learn, they will always find ways to experience it. They do not know that certain things do not work this way or that way, so they give it a go. They are not afraid of being wrong. Or rather, the notion of being afraid to not getting it right is still a concept too abstract for them to grasp.

Often, our society undermines creativity and innovation in the process of educating and nurturing a child with qualities deemed to fit those considered desirable by society. A picture that is all too commonly seen is how parents and teachers tend to inculcate a sense of obedience in children so that they do not challenge the establishment (the adults). Parents want the young to achieve in the classroom and the teachers penalise students for giving the "wrong" answers.

Growing up, we start to internalise that failure is anything that is not perfect, hence disempowering ourselves from exercising our mostly untapped creativity. Such fear of failure causes many, if not most of us, to stop reaching beyond what we can see and settle with just what we are told. This all too often produce individuals who are pleased to be just another cog in the wheel, where the desire to explore, create and innovate is being locked away, covered in dust.

Come to think of it, like many of you, I went through the system in school where I learned to conform rather than to challenge, to consume knowledge rather than being groomed to be a creator. As a result, for many years through adolescence, there were too many instances where I dared not explore and go beyond my comfort zone.

Children of this generation have greater advantage in that they have access to tools to communicate ideas at a much larger scale than before. What is required then would be for the community at large to understand the importance of not to deny or to curb the creative potential of the younger generation — but to give young people opportunity and platform to develop and to showcase their innate talents. More importantly, parents should cultivate a love for reading in the young. Reading is a gateway for attaining a better understanding of our world and it can be a stimulating tool for self discovery.

If there is one thing that I am thankful for, it would be for my parents to cultivate in me a love for books. I would forthrightly say that reading played a significant role in shaping my thinking and keeping me inspired. A love for reading is an interest that once cultivated, would stay with you for a lifetime.

I believe Adora is exceptional because her parents unlocked her potential in the most critical years of her lifetime, where she cultivated a love for reading and writing, a strong sense of self belief, and this subsequently developed into a young talent with an unwavering enthusiasm to be a change agent in society.

Would you have done it differently?

Catch Cherish Leow’s interview on Tamu AWANI with Adora Svitak, made possible through Talks@Mindvalley (a speaker series hosted by its CEO Vishen Lakhiani and his team) on Astro AWANI.