The Agenda of Human Potential in Childhood Development
Its Implications & Challenges to Education
This well-written article discusses our knowledge of the physical and intellectual development of a child from the time of conception, and how that knowledge may be used to raise strong and intelligent Muslim children.
By Mansor Hj Sukaimi
When you next see a newly born baby, pause for a moment. Take the child into your arms. Look into its eyes; see the glow in its face, the tenderness of its skin, and the purity of its soul. It does not matter who the baby is, who his or her parents are, or even what their religion is. You will see clear signs of the grandeur of God's creation.
Do not ask what he or she will be. Do not fear about its future ~ how he or she will manage life in the new world of massive knowledge, rapid change, and brittle with the hazards of instantaneous exposure. Instead, ponder and rejoice in feeling its strength, the grand potential endowed in every newborn. Look for the signs of strength for the child is, indeed, the untainted embodiment of Adam's magnificence, and the designated missionary of the Prophet's traditions.
When you next see a newly born baby, listen carefully to the reminders he or she whispers to you: "I am a Gift of God, His Trust, destined to fulfill His Command as His Vicegerent on earth. I am not a child. I am but the professor, the scientist, the aalim (scholar), the craftsman, the leader, the parent, merely set in this transient state you call 'a baby'. Do not grieve about my incapacities or possible pitfalls. I am endowed with strength and high potentials. I only need your blessings, your care, your kindness, your time so that this strength in me will grow and blossom. That is all I ask: Give me this opportunity."
If we read again Surat Al Baqarah verse 30, we will rejoice to know that it was Adam who was chosen to be God's vicegerent, not the Angels or the Jins. We will also know that, in nearly all aspects, Adam was obviously the weakest being, except for the two gifts, not accorded to the Angels and the Jins: the knowledge that God showers on Adam as (verse 2:31), and the privilege to think and make choices.
This is the grand tradition that every newly born child brings to us. It is strength, not weakness, and Surat At-Tiin verse 4 and Surat Al-Israa' verse 70 attest to this strength. Therefore, in every child, there is this grand agenda and it must be our joyous duty to help the child fulfill and celebrate his mission.
What has been our experience? What can we do? What knowledge do we need to succeed in fulfilling this responsibility?
Let me share with you some exciting ideas that may change our thinking about the child and its education, and see what we can do to help as many children as possible to grow and become men and women of excellence and piety in whatever they do, and wherever they may be.
First, the concept of Rububiyat as elegantly described by Abul Kalam Azad in his book The Opening Chapter of the Qur'an:
What can we derive from this concept of Rububiyat? Five fundamental elements:
Agenda of Strength
Since every child is endowed with high potential, why are we too often harassed by fears that our children will fail? Surely, the very essence of Islam is strength, and, surely, we will miss out on this if, in developing children, we see their weaknesses more than their strength. Developing children must be made on the basis of what I call "the highest common denominator" in every child. Look for what he or she can be, the "possible human," look for the attributes of excellence. Do not see the child as a future incapacitated boy or girl.
Science, too, has assurances for us. As early as age four months in its mother's womb, the child has over 100 billion brain cells, more than what he or she will ever need up to the end of his or her life. From that early age, the child begins to build for itself the internal means, tools and predisposition to become a vibrant learner. From that age, too, up to his or her birth, the baby actively builds the templates for fine human language, emotions, movements, taste, and memory apparatus, as well as an endearment towards Quranic recitations. All these are attained merely by the child responding to what the mother does, her movements, heartbeat, showers of chemical enzymes, nutrients, and the sound and character of her language, zikir (praising Allah) and supplication.
Yet, why is it that no exciting things are being done every month, every year, to help pregnant Muslimahs during their pregnancies? Why have we not searched and used fully the exciting results about in-utero stimulation and the vast field experiences that abound the world over, and then deliver the knowledge to young parents so that every child gets the best possible opportunity to attain full stature by the time of birth?
Think about it!
Pregnancy, or development during in-utero, constitutes the most crucial initial stage of development. So much is being built in the child, and so crucial are the mental, bodily and emotional infrastructures that are being developed. It is no wonder that a healthy and happy pregnant mother is usually most beautiful. It is no wonder that the child in the womb is the human who gets the best possible protection that he or she can ever have in his or her life.
We also know that, with good in-utero development, the child will have the best chance of being delivered safely and without undue trauma. At birth, he or she has the prospect of attaining 25% level of its human potential, and can be in the best possible natural state. Safe delivery, in turn, makes it easy for the mother to breastfeed, establish the essential mother-child bonding, and ready the child to rejoice life with strength.
The First Six Months
Then comes the first six months of life when the key foundations of learning and life - language, movements, melody and pitch of Quranic recitations, eye focus, sense of rhythm, manual dexterity, taste likes-and-dislikes, joyousness, and the first 3,000 to 5,000 words - are being built. These are indeed the very bases, so essential to the child, for its success in education and in life. All these work towards building, by age six months, 50% of that which is possible in the human.
The First Three Years
Then comes the first three years of life. The young explorer, linguist, inventor, dramatist, scientist, and future parent, equipped with the first six months' grounding, explores the world seeking fulfillment in attaining 85% attributes of the possible human by age three. All these are happening long before the child steps into his or her first kindergarten.
With good development, the child enters the first pre-school or kindergarten with grand style and aplomb at age three or four. His or her friends suddenly enlarge and enrich his or her world and the child returns home with new songs, motivational stars of excellence stamped on her scribbled drawings, and a fatigued, but fulfilled, body snuggling into the mother's embrace for the deserved, deep sleep. This is the joy. This is the endearing sight when all parents do all they can to bring fulfillment to the high potentials of 3- and 4-year olds.
The First Six Years
Then comes Primary School at the vibrant age of six years. The crisp books, fragrant uniform, virgin shoes, multi-coloured pencils, firm school bag and the flashing name-tag joyously accompany the child as he or she enters the school. Into the school domain, the child enters well-equipped with proficiency in two languages, love for books and ability to read, knowing Mathematics as a language, finesse in writing and drawing skills, a healthy body, magnanimous mind, and, of course, the doas and zikirs of the blessed student of His Ilm well grounded by conscientious parents.
The child then grows rapidly. In less than six or seven years, he or she enters the age of puberty, akil baligh. By that age, as tender as 12, 13 or 14, our child is entrusted with Fardhu 'Ain and Fardhu Kifayah (compulsory acts in Islam) - a commissioning that accords the child with responsibilities similar to all other adults, similar to its parents and grand parents. Yet the child is still at the tender age of 12, 13 or 14 years old.
Herein lies the first test of all that the parents have done, or have not done. Herein, too, lies the instance for us to see if our children are duly equipped with the knowledge, skills, piety, daily habits, magnanimity and mental resilience to fulfill the original traditions that began with Adam alayhis-salam. It is from puberty, akil baligh, that our children begin to live as the Vicegerents of God on His earth - earning His blessings, or shrivelling under His wrath.
How many children are ready for akil baligh, beyond just ablutions, body cleansing, performing the daily solat, and completing the "khataman al-Quran"? What about their depth of knowledge about the world, living skills, daily productive living, acts of charity, savings, creative work, the change from being a burden to an asset to parents?
This is the significance of attaining akil baligh. What I say is not an intellectual or semantic discourse. Nor is it even a conscientious act of prescriptive appeal. Akil baligh is a profound state that comes to our children for merely being human, Muslim and trustees of the high traditions of Adam a.s. It is indeed a privilege for only in puberty will our children earn the opportunity to receive His Blessings in his or her capacity as an individual. And only with akil baligh will his supplications for God's Mercy for his parents become validated.
I wonder how many parents see akil baligh as a major milestone in the development of their children. I also wonder whether serious discourses are being done amongst educationists to define the full attributes of what an akil baligh child should, and can be. We need such discourses. Only when we know what these attributes are can we use fully the years of infancy and childhood to prepare the child for the attainment of akil baligh.
If we follow through this longitudinal process of child growth we will naturally see the child through college or university, and then work, and then marriage and then, back to the cycle of bearing, delivering and developing children. It is indeed the grand signs of His Mercy to see that at each stage there are inherent plans, facilities and in-house resources that are readily available, the use of which is sufficient to cause the fulfillment of the child's potentials.
Imagine if all these are readily known! Imagine if the good practices of effective child development become set as the morés, and eventually, the abiding culture of our families! Then the scope for human development becomes vast; the heights for community upliftment, limitless; the tone for preparing life in the new era, joyous and reassuring.
This stage-by-stage growth process has to occur, irrespective of race, status, time or life-styles. As the effects occur in a cumulative manner and in a longitudinal time-frame, it must be imperative that educational programmes begin early, achieve good growth at each stage, and optimize growth at each and subsequent stages. If this stage-by-stage-longitudinal factor is ignored, education of our children will not attain the kind of quality and strength that is innate in the child we call "The Possible Human" ~ al-insan al-kamil.
Reorientations and New Emphasis
Early childhood development offers us the basis and starting point of a truly successful educational endeavour. We need to integrate the stage-by-stage and longitudinal approaches into our management thinking, policies, strategies and project implementation.
Many approaches are possible. I reckon the following matters are important:
All these constitute exciting domains of child, family and human development for the new millenium. We have the chance to make them our expanded challenges - and achieve the crucial headstart! We can and we should work towards human growth on the basis of this agenda of strength, the agenda of human potential. Only then will we have a wider spectrum of choice for a meaningful life for ourselves and our children.
I dream of the day when registration of the child for Primary One Madrasah begins from the time the mother knows she is pregnant. With this facility, the madrasah and the parents can benefit fully from the facilities accorded by virtue of the Rububiyat. Mother, father, the family and the madrasah conscientiously use the early years with good effect, taking full advantage of in-utero development, the first six months, the first three years and the crucial six years. And then present the child to the school and the world in strength!
Given this, the meaning of akil baligh will have its full value for the child is ready to fulfilling His Vicegerency with due acclaim.