Top student trait: Start early



IN an article two weeks ago in Weekender, I pointed out that a top student trait on my list of the best traits is humility.
A top student has humility. S/he is humble, which means that s/he learns without having the “yeah, I know all that” attitude which often impedes the progress of many learners who are taking instructions from a tutor, teacher or coach.
You must have realised that the opposite of someone possessing humility is someone who is proud – and being proud will prevent someone from getting the best from another person s/he is learning from.
This week’s top student trait is this: S/he starts early.
That is, the top student is serious in getting the best results as soon as s/he can – and starts early in the learning process.
It can also mean starting to learning essential skills before his or her peers learn them.

A top student does not have to be a prodigy
A few years ago, a piece of news caught the attention of Papua New Guineans when it was reported that a very young boy was admitted at a university in the nation to do a bachelor’s degree in science.
The talk of someone being a “genius” in the nation hit the social network and created some stir.
I explained to some people that I thought the boy was more like a “prodigy” than a “genius”.
A dictionary defines a “genius” as someone with exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.
Albert Einstein, the physicist in the last century, was a celebrated genius. However, his ingenuity – the quality of being clever, original, and inventive – was not known until he was 26 and started publishing ground-breaking theories in theoretical physics.
On the other hand, a “prodigy” is a person, especially a young one, endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities. A child prodigy is a fast learner for someone his or her age.
So, when you look at it, Einstein was never a prodigy. His teachers observed him to be a slow learner when he was in school. However, now the whole world knows him as a genius.
That points to the fact that someone can become a genius later in life despite being a bit slow early in life.
Our PNG boy who created a sensation was more like a prodigy than a genius.

How does one become a prodigy?
Most prodigies start early.
They take lessons from their parents or guardians.
Like, when their friends are still learning the ABCs of the English alphabet at the age of six, they are already reading books for children who are 12 or older.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon the story of Adora Svitak who learned to write very early and completed her first book “Flying Fingers”, before she became a teen.
A site that promotes the book stated that “Adora is prolific (writes 200,000 words per year), talented and dedicated to skillfully advancing her writing techniques, themes and vocabulary.”
In 2010, at the age of 12, Svitak gave a talk titled “What Adults Can Learn From Kids,” which has received over 4 million views to date on
Wikipedia states that Svitak is an American writer, public speaker, former child prodigy and activist. Her mother is a Chinese immigrant and her father studied physics and works as a software engineer.
Svitak got her first computer at 4 and began to write short stories on it.
In one of her talks she said while her peers were being read to from children’s books, her parents were reading advanced stuff to her – like details about the characters in Greek mythology.
So, her parents had helped guided her early to master the skills of listening, reading as well as writing.
That is why she started writing stories early – in fact, very early at the age of 4.
So, if you find a child prodigy in music (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), literature (Svitak) or even football (as Argentinian Lionel Messi was), it is very likely that they started early with the help of a parent, guardian or coach.
That is, they learned advanced skills for people their age and which may put them on a par with adults.

A top student starts early
A top student in one sense can be like a prodigy. They learn skills at an early age and are serious about mastering those skills.
Like Svitak, they do not have to wait until they get to university to learn how to write proper sentences in English or French.
They work hard and listen to their teachers, who may be their parents, to learn essential skills that will prepare them for the future.
But a top student does not have to be a child prodigy.
If you are a student reading this article, note that if you want to improve your marks or prepare yourself better for the future, you must start learning essential skills in your area of interest – whether they are in writing, handling maths concepts or even playing the piano.
Listen to your teachers and put in the effort. Be disciplined and master those skills now so that you will not have problems that other students face when you enter a higher learning institution, such as a university.
Skills that are mastered in maths now will help you handle physics or economics better at upper secondary or university level. Good writing skills learned will help you write very good essays later on too – something that others take a whole week to do, you can do that in a day.
The top student can do that because they mastered those skills early.
It is often a grave concern in institutions that some students who enrol have not mastered the basic skills in writing or operating numbers and that slows down everyone’s learning process.

Learning from Pavard, the French back
As you may have noticed by now, I was watching closely Les Bleus (The Blues), the French national football team, in their quest to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup and was happy when they did accomplish their goal in the grand final.
I shared the news with some young people the morning after they won – as well as my friends and relatives.
One thing I said was France had the youngest backline in the tournament and the youngest team while Argentina had the oldest.
(The starting four in the backs, Benjamin Pavard, Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane and Lucas Hernandez, are all in their 20s. Pavard and Hernandez are both 22, Varane is 25 and Umtiti 24.)
One name I mentioned particularly was Pavard (who wears number 2), the defender who scored a goal in their round of 16 game against Argentina where they beat Lionel Messi and the boys 4-3.
In doing that, Pavard scored his first goal for France and his first ever goal in top-level football, including his club matches. (He plays for Vbf Stuttgart in Germany. Upon the mention of his name, people have been asking: “Benjamin who?” He is like the kid who came from nowhere and is now at the centre stage of everything.)
Pavard’s goal was also voted as the goal of the 2018 tournament. He is now a celebrity.
But he has shared with the media that he was separated from his family at the age of 10 to live and train in a football academy.
Pavard said the times were hard and lonely then, but he and his parents had decided that he was to be groomed to be a professional footballer – and now, 12 years later, the spotlight is on him.

Learn to start early
People who want success start early in their effort.
They make sacrifices early in life. (That is something we all must learn.)
While many others their age want a feel-good life, they sacrifice things, their home and even the comfort and love of their parents.
Pavard has now made France and his parents and family proud.
For you students, note that your road to success starts now, at the primary and secondary levels.
All the hours put into schoolwork and your commitment in their studies will pay off in a decade’s time.
The hard work and consistent effort expended by you at the primary and secondary levels will see successful bearing of fruits when you do very well in college or university.
That is, success starts here – not in university. What you do here is like sowing the right seeds to be harvested there later.
Prepare for the future. Start early!\

  •  Thomas Hukahu is a freelance writer.

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