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Mothers as Family Educators

When staff at the Tianjin Children's Development Center surveyed 5,000 mothers, they found that although they placed a high importance on their children's education, they just didn't have all the necessary information and training they needed.

The survey, which covered mothers with children up to six years old in seven districts of Tianjin, was aimed at discovering what support these mothers needed in connection with their children's education. Of the 5,000 mothers surveyed, 99 percent had gaps in their knowledge about family education, 43 percent required more training and 37 percent needed books on family education. The results showed the mothers were in urgent need of guidance on scientific methods of family education.

On May 9 which was Mother's Day, the Tianjin Women's Federation sponsored a forum entitled "Mothers, Kids and their Futures." Speaking at the forum, Professor Wang Donghua, the director of the Mother's Education Institution of East China Jiaotong University, said that today's generation of mothers naturally want the best family education for their kids but they are unsure of how to achieve this. So it is imperative to provide the mothers with the support they need.

Tianjin recently selected 30 "outstanding mothers" from among 70 candidates. All 70 mothers who took part revealed that their way of getting the information they needed for family education was to talk things over with other mothers.

Childhood depression

When staff at the Children's Psychological Consulting Department at the Tianjin Anding Hospital conducted a survey of 516 elementary and middle school students, they found that some 15 percent of the children were subject to depression with nearly a quarter of these reporting having had suicidal thoughts. Depression was most evident among the 15 year-olds (26 percent) and 12 year-olds (22 percent).

Based on her clinical experience, the director of the department concludes that over 90 percent of childhood depression and other psychological problems can be traced back to family causes and mothers' lack of understanding of matters concerning family education.

She cites the example of a 15 or16 year-old girl in grade three of middle school. Though she had an excellent study record she refused to go to school for the high school entrance examination. After interviewing the girl, the doctor attributed her problems to her family education. Her mother had never compelled her to study but because of her excellent results had routinely over-praised and spoiled her. Over time the child came to overestimate her own capabilities while lacking any real strength of character.

Well educated mothers may be no better

There is a commonly held belief that mothers with better educational backgrounds will be more knowledgeable about family education. Well perhaps not for Tianjin's "30 outstanding mothers", 19 of whom had never reached junior college level.

Professor Wang sees a lack of correlation between a mother's personal level of educational attainment and her abilities as a family educator. When it comes to educating their own children, the illiterate mother and the doctor are on a level playing field. Some women might only be elementary school graduates, but they are able to motivate and inspire their children through their open, honest and hardworking characters and the example of their actions. And of course some highly educated mothers are also successful but they should not be complacent for they too need to work at improving their performance in the role of family educator.

Moral education, the poor relation in the family

Professor Wang said, "Today there are problems affecting all stages in a child's education and development. From infancy onwards, many mothers place too great an emphasis on developing intellectual capacity while ignoring other aspects like moral education. They are led by the current educational fashions in society and so their children find themselves studying music or information technology even though they may lack any real interest or aptitude in these disciplines. A scientific approach to family education attaches importance to developing a well-rounded child and views intellectual development as just one of the necessary integral parts."

Professor Wang is of the view that as society as a whole is oriented towards formal education with an emphasis on intellectual development, mothers have little alternative but to pay attention to this. However there is a current lack of any measurement of and recognition for moral education and research into developing measurable standards in this area has become an important topic for discussion.

(China.org.cn by Chen Lin, June 7, 2004)

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