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Support individual strengths

Everyone has a hat in Zimbabwe; in truth, everyone needs a hat in Zimbabwe, primarily for protection more than for fashion — not least protection from the sun, but also from rain and from danger (in sport or the building industry). Two points need to be made about such hats or caps: we must wear a cap that fits and we must wear a cap that suits.

by Tim Middleton

It is very important to find and wear a hat that is the right size. If we wear a cap that is too small for us, it will very quickly fall off or be blown away, making it no use whatsoever. However, if the cap is too big, it will probably fall over our eyes and make it very difficult to see anything, which again makes it of no use to us. Everyone has a different size of head so it is crucial to find a hat that fits. As the saying goes, “If the cap fits, wear it.”

At the same time though, it is very important to have a cap that is appropriate for the occasion; any old cap will not do. This may mean that we do not wear a cap with one political party’s slogan on it at a rally for another political party, but it means more than that. A cricket helmet is an absolute necessity for batting but it is not much use for swimming; a swimming cap is what is required for that. However, a swimming cap is in turn not suitable to wear at a wedding but then neither is our chosen wedding hat suitable for mountaineering, where a “beanie” may be better suited. A “beanie” though will not be the right hat for us to wear at our graduation ceremony but the mortar board used on such an occasion will not be ideal to play golf in — we need a baseball cap but it, in turn, is not ideal for batting in a cricket match, which brings us back to the beginning! So it is just as crucial to abide by the saying “If the cap suits, wear it.” We must find a hat that suits the occasion and the context (ask any lady about ensuring we do not wear an orange cap with bright pink clothes).

We need to understand that both these principles apply to education, for us all as parents and pupils. Firstly, when it comes to educational performance, the saying “if the cap fits, wear it” applies. In the same way that caps come in different sizes and fit different people, so different children have different levels of “success” — one child’s “success” level may be very large while another child’s “success” level may be much smaller. We should not measure each child’s ability by other children’s ability. So we as parents must applaud our child if he has done his best, not if he is the best; it does not matter what set or stream they are placed. Just as some heads are bigger and need bigger caps while some are smaller and need smaller caps, so some children have a greater capacity to understand academic matters and some have a smaller capacity to do so. We need to ensure that we let our children “wear” the academic level that “fits” and measure them by how well that hat fits.

Secondly and similarly, when it comes to a child’s educational performance, the saying “If the cap suits, wear it” also applies. We should not measure every child’s “success” purely by academic results — some children are not gifted in academics; some are not gifted in sport; some are not gifted in music. Rather, we should let him flourish in the area where his talents and interests lie, not where other children flourish (or worse, where we as parents flourished). As it would be highly embarrassing to turn up at a wedding in a cricket helmet, so it would be highly embarrassing to make a child do subjects that do not suit or follow a career that does not suit. They can still wear their caps in their own style, as we see teenagers wearing their caps at all different angles; so we can still “wear” our subject and career in our own style, as long as we do the task to which we are called.

A principal overseas wrote in a letter to parents, “Please do remember, among the students who will be sitting for the exams, there is an artist, who doesn’t need to understand Maths. There is an entrepreneur, who doesn’t care about History or English literature. There’s a musician, whose Chemistry marks won’t matter. There’s a sportsperson, whose physical fitness is more important than Physics…. They are cut out for much bigger things in life. Tell them, no matter what they score, you love them and will not judge them… And please, do not think that doctors and engineers are the only happy people in the world.” Let us give our child the hat that both fits and suits and not force an inappropriate hat on her.

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools and author of the book on “failure” called Failing to Win.

email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw

website: www.atschisz.co.zw

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