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Set realistic academic goals for children

Picture Credit: NSTP

KUALA LUMPUR: Schooling should be an enjoyable, and not stressful, experience for students. However, there have been many instances of children caving in to the pressure of meeting the high expectations pinned on them by their parents and teachers.

In August this year, the media reported the case of a 13-year-old student in George Town, Penang, who allegedly hanged himself in the bathroom of his parents’ flat after complaining that he could not cope with his homework.

Police investigations showed that the teenager did not have an interest in studying and often complained to his parents of having too much homework to do.


Commenting on this incident, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said schools should be a happy place for students to acquire knowledge and be nurtured.

“But it has reached a stage of pressure… this should not happen,” he said.

Dr Norsafatul Aznin A. Razak, senior lecturer at the Department of Educational Psychology and Counselling, Universiti Malaya, said children feel stressed when their parents have unrealistic expectations of them.

“There are parents out there who want their children to outperform others. Some of them even think their children’s academic excellence is a reflection of the teachers and their (parents’) great teaching skills. But all these will only add to the pressure faced by their children,” she told Bernama.

Norsafatul pointed out that excellence is not evaluated purely in terms of an individual’s intellectual achievement but also his or her character and psychological health.

In order for children to remain motivated and challenge themselves to achieve excellence in various fields, parents’ should refrain from pushing the boundaries in respect of their children’s academic performance, she added.


Taking cognisance of the different learning capacities of human beings, parents should set realistic goals for their children, said Norsafatul.

“Setting a timetable for children to indicate their study, leisure and resting time is a good thing to do as it will encourage them to strive for excellence without feeling stressed,” she said.

She also said that teachers, who play an important role in shaping the personality of their students, as well as parents should devise smart strategies to keep children excited about the learning process at school.

Even Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah has spoken about the danger of putting too much pressure on children over education matters.

Speaking at a function at Sekolah Kebangsaan Tunku Azizah in Indera Mahkota, Kuantan, on Nov 17, she said too much stress can have a psychological effect on children.

Tunku Azizah said when children experience stress or depression, it can lead to a worse situation.

“Children only undergo childhood once and have to be given time to play and enjoy their happy times with the supervision of their parents and aided by teachers,” she said.


Psychotherapy and counselling expert Dr Meriam Omar Din, meanwhile, called for changes to be made to the learning orientation at schools which, currently, leans towards academic achievement.

“It should be more balanced and also focus on helping students to develop human values, critical and creative thinking skills, and interpersonal skills,” she said.

Prof Dr Saedah Siraj, a lecturer at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris’ Faculty of Human Development, said close collaboration between parents and teachers is essential in ensuring a balance between academic excellence and character development for students.

“Not forcing a child (to do something) in any situation, particularly when it involves education, does not mean that they have full freedom (to do what they want). The education process has to be such that students will learn to be more open and willing to follow the instructions of their parents and teachers,” she said.

Students, she added, should also be given the space and opportunity to study at their own pace, with the guidance of their teachers who would have to monitor their progress.

Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim criticised ‘tiger mothers’ (the tiger mother label is given to mothers who push their children to high levels of achievement) as their authoritarian ways can sometimes do more harm than good.

“Parents can be strict with their children when it comes to education but it would depend on the situation. They have to guide their children through constructive interaction and give them the confidence and chance to be involved in the decision-making process in various matters,” she said.

Family activities like dining, performing household chores and participating in recreational pursuits together also help to create a convivial atmosphere at home which makes it easier for children to be obedient to their parents, added Noor Azimah.