One in three children aged 10 to 14 years old is not curious about world events. 74% of Singaporean teens do not read, watch, or listen to the news. Miranda Yeo of Join The Current, an educational literacy campaign to engage children aged 10 to 14 to develop an interest in current affairs, tells us how her mother nurtured her interest in the news, and how you as a parent can get your child interested in current affairs.
I remember, when I was young, hiding books under my pillow before my daily afternoon nap and sneaking them out to read while my mum thought I was asleep. That habit did no service to my eyesight but it made me fall in love with words.
It was when I started writing for my school magazine in secondary school that I began connecting my love for language with the real world. That challenged me to form my own opinions on issues like body image, crime and education, so that I could write interesting and engaging pieces for the student population.
Researching about body image, for instance, led me to realise that eating disorders were far more common among my peers than I had realised. At the age of 14, I began to question media portrayals of beauty and I started to pay more attention to friends who might suffer from unhealthy body image issues.
Armed with knowledge about the world around me, I was able to consider different perspectives from a more informed point of view. I became known among friends as the one not to cross when it came to topics like feminism, same-sex relationships, and my love of Adam Lambert. Of course, an interest in social issues also meant I fared well when it came to English essays!
Mum, my First Current Affairs Teacher
Rather than view current affairs as being too complicated for young children to comprehend, my mother saw it as an induction into the real world, and a way to help me understand that I was born into a nation of relative comfort, safety and privilege.
My mother, a 40-year-old housewife then, took the bulk of responsibility for educating my sister and I. She devoted her time and energy into ensuring we understood that what we learnt in school was not the be all and end all of learning.
“Start by learning about your neighbourhood first, then your country, then your region and then you’ll learn about the world and how you can make it better,” she often said.
My mother fuelled my interest in the world around me by cutting out newspaper articles and leaving them on my desk. I would come home to a story about how sleep deprivation could affect my studies, or another about the terror threat in a neighbouring country.
Taking it a step further, my mother would use correction tape to blank out certain words in the newspaper articles for me to fill up — to build my cloze passage skills and vocabulary.
Sometimes, she would pose questions in the margins of the paper to get me to think about why this story was important. These would later be discussed over dinner or before bedtime. She thought these exercises were more interesting than laboring over assessment books; she was definitely right about that.
In the morning, Channel News Asia would be playing on the television. I remember that particular September 11, when I woke to sobering images of the Twin Towers set ablaze. I also remember watching the heart-wrenching aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that struck the West Coast of Sumatra and destroyed millions of lives.
As a young teenager then, it struck me how small and powerless I was compared to all the changes that took place in the world. This inspired me to learn more, hoping to make the world better after understanding it.
This early exposure to current affairs shaped my worldview and helped me develop my identity. As I grew invested in the realities that surrounded me, I found myself heading towards a career in journalism, where I could discover, learn, and write about the currents that shape and change our world.
More Technology, Less Knowledge?
It was with some surprise that I realised my teenage younger sister, now 17, had a far more insular experience growing up.
My mother re-entered the workforce when my sister was in Secondary Three. This left her with less time to take an active role incorporating current affairs into our lives. While occasional newspaper cutouts were still made an appearance, these had less of an impact on my sister, whose generation grew up on a steady diet of curated Instagram photos, Snapchat stories, and bite-sized Tweets.
For her, information is more ephemeral and unfiltered. Given a plethora of content to read online, she selects only what is convenient or entertaining to her, leaving her often unaware of more pressing issues that affect our society. A recent family chat about the petition against Adam Lambert’s 2015 countdown performance drew a blank stare from her.
When I embarked on my final year project in university, my team and I wanted to encourage our younger peers to sit up and take notice of the changes that affect our world.
Keep them Curious, Keep them Interested
I believe that curiosity is one of humanity’s greatest enablers. Our world is changing rapidly and our generation (and your child’s) will have to deal with global warming, technological unemployment, ageing population issues, and terror threats. Our ability to do that has to start with us being curious first, to learn about why things are the way they are — before we can come up with the right answers, if any.
If you are interested in nurturing their children’s interest in current affairs, here are five simple ideas you can explore. Your child is never too young to learn about the world out there!
1. Cut out news articles and leave them in places where your child has direct access to – on the fridge, on the toilet door, or even on the dining table. Blank out keywords, get your child to fill them in, and ask them questions to engage them.
2. Watch news programmes on television and draw your child’s attention to events that are happening in the region. Visuals can be a very powerful emotional reference point for children to relate to.
3. While driving from place to place, leave the car radio tuned into news stations such as 93.8 Live and BBC World Service (88.9MHZ).
4. Buy your child a news scrapbook where they can keep cutouts of articles that speak to them and encourage them to write down their personal thoughts about the articles.
5. Discuss current affairs over dinner or breakfast. Turning news stories into everyday conversation topics can help your child to establish a personal connection with news events.
Join the Current! Subscribe to the mailing list at www.jointhecurrent.com and ‘like’ the Facebook page (facebook.com/jointhecurrent) for regular updates and free resources that you can use to engage your child in current affairs. Free this Sunday? Sign your child up for the Reel Vs Real workshop at the Central Library.
All images except feature image: Join The Current.