Beyond academics - learning through risk-taking



  • D had begun travelling overseas on job assignments soon after school many years ago as a young adult barely out of his teens. To date he has traversed the globe to all continents (except Antarctica!) staying away from home weeks to months at a stretch.
  • Eight-year-old J came home from school recently with scratches on his cheek. He had apparently been in a pushing incident.
  • Recent photos of my grand-nephew TW who has just turned one see him posing beside his first bicycle (with training wheels, of course!).

What do these stories have in common?

Risk_2_eaglettakingoff.jpgPerhaps it is instructive to take a leaf out of the how-eagles-learn-to-fly book, a rather heart-wrenching process from our human perspective.

We all know that life and growing up involves a series of risks. It is an essential component of our human condition that can never know what awaits us around the corner. Using available information at the point of a decision, we then always have to step off a cliff, in a flight of faith, hoping and praying that we advance to the next level.


Some common risk scenarios

  • learning to ride a bicycle with the potential of bruises to come.Risk_3_bikeriding.jpg
  • off to school with the firm hope that they will return with knowledge gained in academics and the broader social context of getting on peaceably and constructively with their fellows.
  • in a strange country on holiday or for work, traipsing strange lands amidst our hope that they will return home safely.
  • in gaming, when players move through virtual landscapes navigating obstacles seeking to move to the next level.Risk_4_gaming.jpg


Taking risks - a learning experience

As adults in working life, we are no strangers to risk which is a constant companion as we too navigate through the uncertainties of the business environment hoping to build a better future for ourselves and family.

So what to do?  Accept that our children have to take steps on their own with the inevitable attendant risks. It is part of their life education that will equip them to make better decisions (hopefully!) later.

Letting go is a very hard thing to do. We feel it (as with my teenage nephew) when our child is flying into a city that is experiencing some unrest with the potential he and his friends may be caught up in violence. Our gut reaction born out of many years of taking risks is to shelter our children, and ask them not to go, not just yet.

But we gained that caution having taken risks ourselves. Would we therefore deny that learning to our child who has to, like that eaglet fledgling, take that step sooner than later in order to survive? Yes, we can be there, like the mother eagle, to catch them when they fall initially, but learn to fly they must, on their own.


Risk and the entrepreneur

Risk_1.jpgIn this global village of ours where modern transportation and the internet have reduced distances both in the physical and virtual worlds to just a short ride or click away, learning to let go is probably the ultimate risk we have to take as parents and educators. Like that eagle pushing her baby out of that high nest, we will always have to let go in the interest of ensuring the survival of our young.

In the broader national context, the appreciation of risks taken and associated lessons learned stand to equip our children with a robust entreprenurial spirit which is in essence an indispensable survival trait. It is that same spirit that drove our forefathers to come to this part of the world to make a better future.


Risk and heartache

Yes, part of the risks may entail setbacks. Such heartache is part of the risk of growing up, like that of learning how to ride a bicycle. But like the mother eagle seeking to benefit her young in the business of life, we have to keep making that flight of faith with our children in their increasingly independent endeavours.