Raising healthy, happy children is challenging in our fast-paced, technology-driven world. Intuitively we know that when a primary caregiver gets and remains involved in a child’s life, the child can flourish. Research supports this. At the same time, children spend up to eight hours per day, sometimes longer, in school. Peers, teachers, and support staff influence the student’s attitude and behavior.
In a 2017 report titled, Wise up: Prioritizing wellbeing in schools, Young Minds, UK’s leading charity championing mental health of young people, cite well-being as a “clear indicator of academic achievement, success, and satisfaction later in life.”
The second Singapore Mental Health Study by the Institute of Mental Health, released in 2018, has found that one in seven Singaporeans experiences a mental health condition in their lifetime. The number of young Singaporeans between the ages of 16 and 30 who sought help from IMH’s Community Health Assessment Team from 2015 to 2017 has jumped by an alarming 190 per cent.
Schools in the 21st century play more complex roles in educating the young. More than moulding minds, schools bear an increasing responsibility in cultivating the character and well-being of the students who come into their fold. To this end, a new model of education— positive education —serves as a useful framework.
Positive education applies the key tenets and approaches of positive psychology in educating students. Positive psychology is a movement within psychology that concerns itself with promoting the positive aspects of human functioning, such as positive emotions and experiences, and human strengths and potentials. Researchers and scholars who support positive psychology are interested in the factors, processes and conditions which lead to happiness, flourishing and fulfilment.
Understanding and developing one’s character strengths has been deemed one of the key approaches to achieve this goal. Other known evidence-based positive psychology approaches feature savouring of positive experiences, gratitude reflection and expression, enhancing task engagement and flow experience, facilitating the construction of meaning in life, and forging and maintaining warm and caring relationships.
Angela Duckworth, well known for her research on grit and how it can predict success, says grit is part of the larger roadmap of “character.” She defines character in three parts:
• Strengths of heart (interpersonal)
• Strengths of will (intrapersonal)
• Strengths of mind (intellectual)
As an organizing principle, strengths of heart, such as gratitude, enable harmonious relationships with other people. Strengths of will, such as grit and self-control, enable achievement. Strengths of mind, such as curiosity, enable independent thinking. Overwhelming scientific evidence now shows that character strengths like self-control, curiosity, and gratitude are critically important to social and emotional well-being, physical health, and achievement. Angela suggests that to be truly successful in life, one needs to develop character strengths in each of these three dimensions. For example, you need strengths of will (grit and growth mindset) to do things and accomplish your goals. Your strengths of heart (gratitude, emotional and social intelligence) can help you be a generous and effective collaborator. And your strengths of mind (curiosity and zest) can help you to be more creative and innovative.
“Grit is far from the only or even the most important aspect of a person’s character,” says Angela. “You need both greatness and goodness to be part of who you are.”
Yu Neng Primary’s school values, aptly encapsulated by the acronym “GR3IT”, define character strengths of Graciousness and Respect (strengths of heart), Integrity and Resilience (strengths of will), Responsibility and Teamwork (strengths of mind). Now in her 85th year since inception, Yu Neng Primary continues to uphold the traits and virtues of her founders, with the mission to nurture “passionate learners” (strength of will), “creative thinkers” (strength of mind), and “caring leaders” (strength of heart).
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” With this new roadmap of character, we are now in a kind of a renaissance of understanding; we are on the cusp of doing what schools have long been understood to do, which is educate the whole child, one with passion to pursue life goals, creativity to adapt and overcome challenges and care for the community one belongs to.
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