The Education Gap – the role played by character (Strength of Character)

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Many countries around the world are examining the gap between the levels of achievement experienced by different socio-economic groups.  One well known academic believes it is a critical social dilemma, particularly for Pakistan.  There are entire areas where the inability to gain good jobs which attract the high salaries have become a generational issue for the local population.  We need to find solutions for these inequities.

Strength of Character

The Education Gap – the role played by character (Strength of Character)Childhood disadvantage has been linked to lower educational outcomes, and in particular to skills with literacy.  Researchers who study generational or persistent poverty investigate various sets of skills, that maybe related to the success of some people.  Qualities such as persistence, industry, resilience, self-discipline, conscientiousness, self-confidence – for the majority of us this is our character, although they are given various names by the various branches of science.

Despite this, all tend to agree that these are the qualities that matter, not high IQ scores, or family background.  These character skills can be taught.

Strength of character seems to be the bases for success, both abstract and material success.  This strength can give meaning to life and it has been suggested there are seven parts to it:

  1. Grit – being able to stay on task, being persistent, not giving up,
  2. Self-Control – being able to control you own thoughts, mental processes and your physical behavior,
  3. Curiosity – showing an interest in things with no particular motive, except to know,
  4. Optimism – not letting setbacks stop you, remain motivated,
  5. Zest – showing enthusiasm,
  6. Empathy or Social Intelligence – understanding others,
  7. Gratitude – to be thankful, to give and take.

For many these are considered to be abstract skills, and are often neglected while we focus on more visible goals.  However, there are those who believe the teaching of these skills is of paramount importance, and if schooling has not assisted students to develop these skills, then tertiary institutions need to take on this responsibility.

The psychology of learning shows that the primary and recency effect is crucial for learning – referring to that which we study first, and that which we study last.  Tertiary institutions provide the final opportunity for students to develop these crucial life skills.

In order for this to happen however, universities, and other tertiary institutions will need to change their focus.  Presently research and journal publications, etc. are given priority.  This is also how some universities get their funding through their research.  However this is our last opportunity to develop character, in addition to content.  A strong academic culture can deliver all the elements of a strong character.   A positive environment, with respectful working relationships can demonstrate the skills needed – the modelling of these skills can be one of the most powerful teachers.  Universities must play a role in developing strength of character.

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