John Larrysson's Column: Early to University (1 of 3): My School Mates

Someone was reading a news story about a twelve-year-old who skipped most of secondary school and got admitted directly to university. They were jealous that their child could not do the same. I disagree. I have had the misfortune to have met or dealt with several such children over the years. 

[audio 1]

I met a proud little girl at university. She had entered a university physics program at twelve years old. She even gave a lecture on a physics topic of which she was exceptionally proficient. However the challenge of creating a social life was too great. She was lonely and surrounded by big people all day. No matter how kind they might be, she had no one her own age to play with. Eventually her parents put her back in secondary school where she could have friends, but school work was not a challenge. She was returned to university for alternate semesters and eventually graduated. What started out with pride ended with loneliness and frustration. 

[audio 2]

There was a boy I knew at university who had the ability to go to university several years early. However his parents did not think he was mature enough. (true) So they kept him in secondary school. His school life was easy and unchallenging. He found all his school work very easy and never had to study to get all As. However when he got to university he had a problem. He had never developed any study skills and was unable to learn more than what a teacher mentions in class. (If he stayed awake.) The work at any good university requires a lot of personal studying, reading and problem solving. When faced with failing grades he was unable to cope. He jumped down a stairwell and died. 

[audio 3]

He needed to be given school work that was challenging and taught to work on problems and do homework. He did not have to work hard to do secondary school work and so when faced with real challenges he was unable to cope. I sat through the coroner's inquest wishing that I had spent the time talking to him instead. 

Good schooling provides difficult challenges, that are within a child's ability. Academic, physical and social demands must all be balanced.  Sending a child off to cope with the social pressures of university is overwhelming. Keeping a child in classes where they get all A-grades without effort is not teaching them to study.  A balance between challenge and ability needs to be maintained. 

[audio 4]

by John Larrysson [email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.

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