Pushing kids to succeed academically | Wahu Kagwi

“Don’t believe the hype!” That’s me practicing my exaggerated blogger headline related to challenges facing education in Kenya. How did I do? On a scale of 1 to 10? Hehehe…

Pushing kids to succeed academically seems to be the norm, as parents strive to get their kids to the top in education and careers. The hype is that our kids must be top academic performers to do well in life. “Our kids end up leading a kind of checklist in childhood…”, as Julie Lythcott-Haims stated in her talk at TED.

I remember having a chat with my child’s class one teacher about pushing kids to succeed academically – putting pressure on the kids to become number one. I mean, in a class of 17, you have a 1/17th chance of topping the class. Furthermore, where does that leave the rest of the kids? Feeling disappointed in their 7 year old selves. What’s the point? To become number one, or to learn? ? SMDH!

I recall feeling quite sad for my child at that particular instance, because this was the very same pressure, I had gone through, several years before her. It’s typical of challenges facing education in Kenya. First of all, I spent a good part of my academic life striving to be number one, even when my chances to get there were, well, not that high to be quite honest. Secondly, I felt like that was really a major academic goal. Most of all, I didn’t feel as though I had an option, but to keep trying. Consequently, try I did, over and over again, with no luck, leaving me feeling frustrated. By the time I was 18, I felt like a failure in life 

If only I could go back in time, to my young self. If only I could give her a nice big embrace and tell her to forget the hype. I would tell her that number one doesn’t mean anything in the real world. In the real world, what matters, is your street smartness. Your ability to work well with others, and your capacity to create wealth. And over and above that, finding happiness in what you do is a sure guarantee to joyful days and stressfree nights.

I can’t go back in time, but I can surely apply my life lessons – on pushing kids to succeed academically – in my parenting, and in my mentorship programs. I look at my child Tumiso, who struggles quite a bit with languages. “The rules keep shifting!” she says, in regards to the English language. She wonders when to use dear not deer. Why plane and not plain. Lets not even get into Kiswahili, because there, even I can’t help her! Ya… mama T over here got a sweet D+ in Kiswahili…even my dad laughed at me…. Like he serious chekad mpaka he was in tears. Very confusing reaction for a young girl! Hahaha! But I digress.

Back to my Tumiso. She may not be a linguist, and requires support in this area. On the other hand, when it comes to sciences, she shocks us all. I mean, who knew that flamingoes are pink because of the kind of planktons they eat? Or that a Lion who takes over a pride from another male kills all the cubs he hasn’t fathered, because he wants to spread his seed? She mentions animals that I didn’t even know existed, and I often have to consult Google to make sure my child isn’t playing tricks on me. She tells me she can’t wait to start studying biology and chemistry to really understand how life works.

It’s no secret, she has a natural tendency towards the sciences. Due to this, I feel that instead on focusing on what she’s not good at, I will push her in the things that I feel come naturally to her. In as much as I shall encourage her to read, and work on her areas of weakness, I shall spend more time exposing her to experiences that will engage her young scientific mind. Because one’s natural bias, or area of interest, is natures way of pointing us in the direction of our destiny.

As a kid, I really enjoyed the performing arts. Consequently, it would almost be like punishment to miss a school musical, drama festival or recitation. As I somewhat struggled in academia, I flourished in the arts. But focusing on my passions made no sense, right? What’s the point of writing a song that wins a school competition, if you’re not in the top ten academically? But alas, here I am, years later, in a field that I love, and actually getting paid (well) to do the thing that I enjoy!

I find it interesting that in a logical framework such as the education system in Kenya, so many illogical standards are employed. How do you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree? Or a monkey, by its swimming prowess? How do you judge an artist by his ability to balance a chemistry equation? Or a potential international footballer by his mathematical genius? It’s not fair, but it is what happens. It remains one of the major challenges facing education in Kenya, and I hope it can be resolved in the future.

Therefore it is upon us as parents to pick out what our kids are great at and encourage them to keep improving. We prop them up in their areas of weakness, but push them as much as possible in the things that come naturally to them, because therein lies the key that will unlock their wealth and happiness.

Mums and dads, what’s your take on this. I’m really eager to hear your opinion.


More resources: Julie Lythcott-Haims “How to raise successful kids without over parenting”

Wahu Kagwi is a Kenyan musician, mother and entreprenuer. She is wife to Kenyan musician David Mathenge aka “Nameless”. Wahu shares her pregnancy and parenting experiences at her Babylove Network blogspot and loves to receive feedback to improve her own parenting.

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