Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

True Grit: The Next Lesson to Be Added to Curriculum?

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

True Grit: The Next Lesson to Be Added to Curriculum?

Article excerpt

'Character education' could be coming to higher education. David Matthews reports

Carol Dweck is a psychology professor at Stanford University whose ideas on education have swept through schools. She insists that children who have a "growth mindset", a belief that through effort they can overcome problems and improve their own abilities, perform radically better in class - and in life.

In a TED talk that has so far garnered more than 4 million views online, she shares inspiring tales of pupils in tough, inner-city areas who have zoomed ahead after being trained to believe that their talents are not fixed.

And according to some, academics may soon be hearing a lot more about the theories of Professor Dweck and "character education", the attempt to change the behaviours and attitudes of young people to better equip them for life, rather than just imparting them with knowledge.

Whether universities should do more to instil qualities such as resilience and "grit" into their students was one of the key debates at a conference on the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects held in London earlier this month.

Johnny Rich, chief executive of the universities guide Push, made the argument that institutions needed to do better at giving their students "social capital", by which he meant not just eating with the right fork but other, broader attitudes and behaviours.

"That is the one [area] where so little work has been done in higher education," he later told Times Higher Education. "We don't look at how we can transform the opportunities of a disadvantaged student."

During the conference - The Future of STEM Subjects in Higher Education - hosted by the Westminster Higher Education Forum on 14 April, Mr Rich praised the approach of education secretary Nicky Morgan, who has championed character education in schools.

Lecturers might wonder whether character education is just another term for "soft skills", such as teamwork, communication and IT abilities, that are already on the radar of universities.

Mr Rich acknowledged that the two concepts are not completely distinct. But for him, character and social capital are deeper personality traits and behaviours - "emotional strengths and moral strengths", as he put it.

There was "a lot of evidence on the power of resilience over time as a stronger indicator of success than academic achievement", he said, while emotional intelligence and delayed gratification were also crucial elements of character education, he added. …

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