Education For Life

Education for life is a term that is often heard but what does it really mean?


“Education is not confined to the walls of a classroom; it stretches well beyond that.” So wrote Afraj Gill, a student at Queen’s University in Canada, in a recent piece boldly titled “An A* student regrets his grades”. “The system teaches us that if you get A’s across the board, you’ll be successful,” wrote Gill. “We sacrifice learning for schooling.”


Gill’s concerns are well founded. A new book by writer and broadcaster Paul ToughHow Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character – explores the implications of new research that shows that test scores and grades are not necessarily the best – or even very good – indicators of how able a student is likely to be to succeed in school and beyond. In fact, as an Economist review puts it, “the skills that see a student through college and beyond have less to do with smarts than with more ordinary personality traits, like an ability to stay focused and control impulses”.


This isn’t to say that test scores don’t correlate to academic achievement – but, as one summary of the book points out, “non-cognitive characteristics actually predict success better than cognitive excellence.¬†For instance, the psychologist Angela Duckworth has found that students’ scores on self-discipline tests predict their GPA’s better than their IQ scores”.


Other characteristics, such as conscientiousness, curiosity, optimism, and perseverance (or “grit”), are also predictive of positive outcomes such as success at university. Duckworth, for instance, found that students at the University of Pennsylvania with lots of grit did well in their studies even if they’d earned comparatively low college-board scores to gain entry.


So to focus solely on students’ exam results is obviously to miss a trick: surely, as educators, we should also be looking for ways to cultivate these essential qualities of character and provide an education for life. The trouble is, of course, knowing how.


Cultivating a Culture of Character


Tough identifies a few important factors in early development, such as the importance of parental nurturing in childhood, and offers a few interesting examples of how we might incorporate character development into schools. The KIPP (“Knowledge Is Power Program”) Academy in South Bronx, for instance, was set up in 1995 to pioneer a new style of schooling. At first it appeared successful – most of the KIPP class of 1999 graduated from high school and enrolled at university – but only 21% actually completed a four-year university degree, a somewhat disappointing result. Founder David Levin noticed that those students who did graduate with a degree, however, were not always those who had achieved the best grades at KIPP – they were the ones who had other strengths of character.


Levin decided to focus on instilling seven key character traits: grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity. Students were saturated with messages about each trait – teachers, for instance, would work mention of character strengths into each lesson. Although Tough points out it’s still too early to know for sure whether KIPP will prove successful, it’s encouraging to note that the university graduation rate had gone up to 46% for the class of 2005.


As homeschoolers the possibilities for providing an education for life are boundless. we’d love to hear what you think!



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