Preaching The Asian Parenting Concept At Hong Kong: Prof. RK Biswal

Preaching The Asian Parenting Concept At Hong Kong: Prof. RK Biswal

N Manyata | Apr 15, 2019

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In yet another episode of adding a feather to his cap and bringing laurels to the Department of Humanities, Professor R.K Biswal would be presenting in a 3-day workshop organized by Chinese University of Hong Kong on the topic of ‘Child Behavioural Development’ or ‘in other words ‘Disciplining Children’ to be held at Hong Kong later in June this year. This workshop will promote the concepts of parenting in Asian families with the ultimate goal of promoting the well-being of Asian families with the children. Out of 500 applications from all over the world, 50 have been selected out of which 2 belong to India. Professor Biswal is one of those privileged recipients of this fully-funded travel grant from the International Society for study of Behavioural Development (ISSBD). Team MM caught up with him to get a glimpse of the timeline which led him to one of the most prestigious workshops.

MM: You have been working with children with all kinds of needs. How long have been you associated in your field of interest? Shed some light on this journey.

RK Biswal: I have been working with children for the past 17 years. Also, I have been a member of the International Society for Study of Behavioural Development (ISSBD) since the past 5 years. My first project was on ‘Dyslexia’ in which I was involved in training children with specific reading disabilities, to help them improve the same. I started working in a clinic in Bhubaneswar after my Masters where we primarily worked upon school going students who suffered from different kinds of reading disabilities like Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia to name a few. After that, I went on to pursue my PhD from Delhi University where I worked with the normally developing children. My PhD topic delved deep into the topic of ‘Theory of Mind and Cerebral Lateralisation' and also ‘Developmental Study. Developmental Study talks involve the lifespan development of skills and abilities with age. You cannot expect a 3-year old kid to do multiplication because learning has to do something about maturation. If you are not mature enough, you will not be able to perform a certain activity. However, with maturity, some kids do not develop the required skills or abilities and are also slow in developing the same. We, as psychologists intervene to help such children with special needs. This is how my journey started.

MM: You have mentioned working with normally developing children in Delhi University after working with children with special needs. What motivated you to pursue this field and then what inspired you to shift the focus to normally developing children?

RK Biswal: My training days were based primarily on Clinical and Counselling Psychology but later on I developed an interest in Educational and Developmental Psychology and also in psychometric tool development. While working in this clinic in Bhubaneswar I came across Professor J. P Das, a renowned psychologist in the world who inspired me with his ground-breaking and far-reaching work. Then my project supervisors in my Masters, Prof U.N Das developed an interest in me to work with children. Later on my PhD supervisors, Prof Nandita Babu from the University of Delhi and Prof Manas K Mandal from IIT Kharagpur also helped me establish a relationship between the brain and developmental in children. Following this, I developed a keen interest in this subject.

Coming to shifting the focus, when we talk about diseases or deformities, people understand. However, when we talk about normal people, we don't have a definition for the same. In order to achieve a better understanding of what is normal, I started this journey with normally developing children so that one can say to what extent some behaviour can be considered normal and beyond that extent, it can be deemed as abnormal.

MM: What are some of the recent projects that you have been working upon?

RKB: Currently I am associated with various kinds of organisations who are basically working with children with all kinds of needs starting from children with normal needs, children with disabilities, children in conflict with law to children demanding special care and protection. There are juveniles who commit crimes and end up in observation homes, children in orphanages who were orphaned by mishaps and also disadvantaged children. Such children need to be developed so they can enter the mainstream and cope with the various harsh realities of life. I find children with disabilities to be the most difficult one among all. I am currently running a project that primarily works with children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Intellectual Disability and Multiple Disability. Their brains are malfunctioning which serves as a major hindrance. As a technical institute, we need to widen our scope of the study and reach out to such kids by developing assistive technological devices to help these children improve their lives. Children in orphanages or in conflict with the law need special care and protection from society because they need to be confident when they are hounded by a sense of inferiority. Also, there is a common developmental pattern in children with special needs and normally developing children. I have always supported inclusive education having worked in this area for several years. We have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for kids with special needs but we need trained manpower so that we can expect such kids to develop normally with the other kids. The role of the parents and the teachers is the need of the hour who need to be trained as well as sensitized. If you can teach such a kid how to carry out his day-to-day life activities which can be as simple as brushing his teeth or taking a bath, then it will be a great life-skill to start with for his normal growth and development.

Nowadays, children make the wrong lifestyle choices with bad eating and sleep habits due to lack of proper parenting at the initial stages of their growth and development. We need to re-program and redesign the school’s course curriculum and timings taking into account climatic factors to accommodate the needs of the children. Parents send their kids who are as young as 2 years to schools, which entirely kills their creativity at a young age. By the time they reach adolescence, they have lost all sense of purpose in life. These are few of the areas where we need to intervene and find out what can be done at the level of the child, the family, the institutions and also policy-making. We need to adopt a two-way approach i.e. a bottom-up as well as a top-down approach to address such needs.

MM: You have been selected to take part in a 3-day workshop organized by the Chinese Univerity of Hong Kong and have also received a full paid travel grant from the same. Shed some light on it. Also, how did you come across this opportunity?

RKB: It is a regional workshop that is going to be organized by the Chinese University of Hong Kong at the Hyatt International Regency from 25th to 28th June 2019. This workshop will pave the way for the Asian universities to collaborate and jointly contribute to the scientific study of parenting in Asia to reach the ultimate goal of promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and the Asian families.

There are several workshops happening for South-Asian Countries now. I had attended one in 2017 organized by the Prince of Songkla University in Thailand. I was selected for the same but didn’t get a travel grant. However, this time I qualified for a full-paid travel grant for the Hong Kong Workshop from around 500 odd applications across the world with two being selected from India. We would be looking forward to proposals in future to develop a network of South Asian Universities. These collaborators will discover ways to understand the idea behind disciplining children and develop their psychosocial wellbeing. The idea is to take a cue from the parenting culture in the West and address these issues in Asia.

MM: How does this network benefit the institution and its students? Also, how does this network manifest its global outreach endeavours?

RKB: The primary aim of this network is to build research collaborations, training and support systems as well as to conduct conferences and workshops. In that process, the name of the institute will be internationally recognized. We will also be hosting some of the foreign delegates in our institution along with student and faculty exchange programs along with publication in international journals through this network. We are also proposing respective governments of various countries to incorporate changes in the policies to improve education as well as child developmental practices in the country. The issues need to meet the public eye and then only we can expect a change. We need to increase the research and the funding towards child development, education, skill enhancement, child psychosocial well-being and the assessment of their skills, abilities and aptitudes. We are planning to train the professionals through the TTT (Train the Trainer) program as well as the parents as a part of its global outreach program.

MM: What are the basic requisites to get such a grant?

RKB: You need to have a PhD from a reputed university. Also, you need to be currently placed in an institution with a good reputation. I have been working here at NIT Rourkela for the past 8 years. It also depends on the quality of the proposal that you have submitted along with your past publications. I have been a member of the International Society of Behavioural Development (ISSBD) since the past 5 years which helped me get this grant. I have also attended the Thailand Workshop in 2017 and another biennial conference in Sydney last year.

MM: How have you planned to run or deliver in this workshop?

RKB: All the presenters will be presenting posters. I will be speaking on the topic of disciplining children. The training duration will witness an array of deliberations, discussions, future collaborations. Some of the renowned mentors would be available to guide us to become world leaders in the areas of research we are into.

MM: How can we improve the parenting culture and at the same time discipline children in India?

RKB: Parents need to give enough quality time to their kids. Neglected children tend to have disturbed psychological makeup. Parents need to understand that children need to develop an emotional comfort or closeness with them in order to develop self-confidence in future. For example, a child who is brought up under the watchful eyes of his parents, grandparents, friends and family members is less likely to commit crimes in future considering the love, care and affections that he receives.

Our disciplining methods are outrageously rigid and harsh. We don’t know how to deal with a child’s psychology. No amount of punishment or physical assault can be a substitute for the love, warmth and care that a child needs. The notion that ‘if you spare the rod, you will spoil the child’ is a fallacy.

There is also a concept called ‘Helicopter Parenting’ in which a child’s every single demand is blindly met by the parents without any hesitation or resistance. This makes a child frustrated and helpless in when he is unable to meet his needs without his parent’s assistance and support in future. There is no concept like good or bad parenting.

Indian parents have very high expectations about their children and careers. In a competitive scenario, we need to train parents and teachers to guide their kids from the initial stages of growth and development. Unfortunately, we teach our kids that the opposite of male is female and vice versa. Instead, they should be taught that they are complementary to each other. IEP is not just for students with special needs. It is for all. Parents and teachers need to be trained and sensitised so that they can make the children realise their inner potential. We should not follow the herd and get easily swayed by public opinion or hearsay. We need to detect the inner skills, abilities and aptitude of our children at a very nascent stage so that we can steer them in a better direction.

MM: How do you think engineering students can partake in this subject?

RKB: They can develop assistive technology devices and ensure mass production to look after the basic amenities of all. It is necessary to do an ample amount of ground-level work or research before-hand. It becomes quintessential to analyse the situations and the typical difficulties faced in order to come up with the requisite simulations or instruments.

MM: What final message would you like to give to our readers?

RKB: Be sensitive.  It is imperative to understand people and not judge them bluntly. Keep your mind, eyes and ears wide open to the plight of others.

Team MM wishes Prof. R.K Biswal all the luck for the workshop.

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