Teaching pupils to be brave and kind
Building character is best way to nurture educational success 
Hilary Wilce
CHARACTER matters. In fact, it matters more than anything else when it comes to doing well in school —and life. Yet, parents and schools are actively preventing children developing their inner resources, either by being too hands-off and neglectful, or by pressurising them to do well and never allowing them to fail.


Teaching pupils to be brave and kind
Building character is best way to nurture educational success 
Hilary Wilce

CHARACTER matters. In fact, it matters more than anything else when it comes to doing well in school —and life. Yet, parents and schools are actively preventing children developing their inner resources, either by being too hands-off and neglectful, or by pressurising them to do well and never allowing them to fail.

Good parenting, supportive mentoring and thoughtful, character-based schooling can make all the difference.
Good parenting, supportive mentoring and thoughtful, character-based schooling can make all the difference. — Thinkstockphotos

This is the message of an important new education book that has been topping the best-seller charts in the US and has now been published in the UK.

The book has been setting the cat among the parental pigeons by pointing out that over-assiduous parenting is associated with rising rates of anxiety, depression and failure. But its main concern is with poor children. It looks at why so many educational interventions fail to help disadvantaged students do better, and demonstrates that it is things like perseverance, motivation and determination that ultimately help children succeed.

This old-fashioned message would have been familiar to Aristotle and Kipling but appears to have vanished from the modern world, where the idea of “character training” seems like something from the sepia-tinted past. But, as this book shows, character is badly in need of a comeback, and some pioneering schools in New York are already starting to put it at the heart of their curriculum. It’s a timely and essential message, yet last summer, when the book was first published, it had me grinding my teeth in fury — not because I disagreed with its thesis but because I was deep into researching what seemed at first glance to be the same subject.

The American book was called How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. The working title of my book was Backbone: What Children Need, aren’t Getting and How to Give it Back to Them (long, explanatory titles being all the rage on both sides of the Atlantic). My book was based on what I’d seen in thousands of nurseries, classrooms and lecture halls over a working life as an education writer, as well as my more recent experiences as a personal-development coach. It also looked at the growing evidence that children’s characters are changing — and not in a way that bodes well for their adult lives.

But when I got over myself and settled down to read How Children Succeed, I realised we were approaching the same important territory from different angles. Paul Tough, author of the American book, is a best-selling social-affairs reporter who has written a brilliantly readable account of the growing evidence that inner resources count more than any amount of extra teaching support or after-school programmes when it comes to overcoming educational disadvantage.

Tough draws on neuroscience, economics, psychology and child development to show how qualities such as self-mastery and optimism are what make children succeed and persevere, and how, in the light of this, good parenting, supportive mentoring and thoughtful, character-based schooling can make all the difference.

It’s a vivid and persuasive social polemic, rooted in real children’s lives, that brings the schools of urban America leaping off the page — and should be forced reading for Michael Gove and his merry band of free-schoolers, who, having filched the idea of charter and KIPP schools from the US, now need to look West again to see how fiddling with school structures can never, by itself, help pupils do better.

My book, by contrast, is being written specifically for parents to show in detail what strength of character consists of, and all the many ways it can be developed in children. (How I wish I’d known this when my own children were growing up!) It identifies six key values that, when knitted together, give a person deep-rooted focus, resilience and integrity, and suggests an overall outline for encouraging children from toddlers to teens to grow the “backbone” of these qualities.

On the way, it looks at the research from both the US and UK showing how children are becoming more self-absorbed, less thoughtful about others, and less able to deal with problems, setbacks and difficulties, and outlines how these changes are in turn making them less equipped to learn well, think deeply, work with others and bounce back from disappointments. It looks at the British school programmes that are working to help their pupils develop character, but points out that nothing has more influence than the home environment and the quality of pre-school years.

All this sprang out of the slow but growing unease I felt as I spent time in schools, observing children’s daily lives. As a journalist, I was usually there to write about some so-called “development” in education — a new building, a revamped curriculum, or inventive method of teaching — yet, it increasingly seemed to me that the behaviour and attitudes of pupils were too often sabotaging the very things designed to help them. And not, alas, in any exhilaratingly rebellious way.

Rather, children seemed distracted, disorganised and disengaged, or else worryingly devoted to getting things “right”. And when I started to ask heads and teachers about this, I released a tsunami of anxiety about the everyday behaviour they were seeing in school. Many children, they said, now appeared more anxious, more impulsive, less focused, more heedless of others, and more dependent on other people to do things for them than they had been in the past. A nursery teacher said each new intake seemed less willing to share, listen, or even hang their own coats on their own pegs. A prep-school teacher complained about the staggering sense of entitlement many pupils now demonstrated — if he gave them poor marks for a piece of work, they felt it was never because they could have done better, but only because he was “picking on” them. (And often, he said, their parents agreed.)

Meanwhile, universities and colleges were raising the alarm about how today’s “satnav” students now seemed less able to think for themselves or manage their lives. A toxic combination of teaching to the test at school and parents hovering over their lives at home, was starting to mean that even those headed for the most prestigious universities in the world were proving to be as helpless as babies when they first found themselves fending for themselves.

All this matters desperately because in a competitive and fast-moving world, tomorrow’s adults will have to draw deeply on their personal resources to learn new things and navigate life’s constant changes.

I already see this daily in my work as a personal-development coach. Academic attainments still matter, but degrees and postgraduate qualifications are now two a penny, and it’s what’s inside the individual that ultimately shapes careers and lives.

A good life demands openness, courage, resilience, honesty, kindness and persistence. This is the true spine of success, without which we are all jellyfish.

And since no one wants their child to be a jellyfish, our prime job as parents — and teachers — has to be to help our children build the backbone they need to make the most of their lives. — The Independent



IIM-Trichy to offer short-term executive courses

CHENNAI: The Indian Institute of Management, Tiruchirapalli (IIM-Trichy), will soon start several short-term executive education and customised management programmes for individual companies at its centre here. In a statement, the management institute said: “IIM-Trichy will shortly announce a range of short-term executive education programmes and customised management programmes for individual companies at its Chennai centre.” The institute said it would also commence the second batch of its three-year Post-Graduate Programme in Business Management (PGPBM) here from July 2013. A flagship programme of the institute, PGPBM is specifically designed to enable working executives who aspire to equip themselves with a formal management education. According to IIM-Trichy, the Chennai centre would be equipped with video conferencing facility and connected with its Trichy campus. “The institute will install a lecture capture system, which will enable students to catch up and refresh their learning from classroom lecture sessions at their convenience,” the statement said.

Ageing Germany woos young Indian students

HYDERABAD: With its labour force likely to decline by 6.5 million people by 2025 because of its ageing population, Germany is looking to attract young students and skilled workforce from India. German Ambassador to India Michael Steiner said India and Germany can complement each other by exploiting their demographic advantages. “In 2025 we will have minus 6.3 million workforce, not just engineers and doctors but also skilled workers because we are older society than, for example, India,” he said while launching “Excellence on Tour 2013”, a road show by the German House for Research and Innovation, New Delhi, to showcase education opportunities for Indian students in Germany. “India is a young society with millions and millions of students and young people who need to be trained and educated and who need jobs. The average age of Indian population is 25 years while in Germany, the average age is 35 years,” he said. — IANS


Campus NoteS

Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar

Presentation on traffic problems

GURU Ramdas School of Planning of the university recently conducted a study on various aspects of Amritsar City. A presentation on traffic and related problems was made by Balvinder Singh, Head of Department, and Sunanda, Assistant Professor. They apprised the audience about the various problems related to traffic of the city. While making a PowerPoint presentation, issues related to critical junctions such as Chhehertta, opposite Guru Nanak Dev University, Putlighar Chowk, Railway Station, Queens Road Junction, SSSS Chowk and Bhandari Bridge as internal junctions of the city and the India Gate Junction, Ram Tirth junction, Ajnala Road Junction, were highlighted on the basis of traffic volume surveys done by the students of BTech (Urban and Regional Planning). To overcome the identified problems, long-term as well as short-term solutions were suggested. The presentation was followed by a brainstorming session in which Dr Kaustab Sharma, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Dr Ketan Patil, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Traffic Police Inspectors, Surinder Singh, Assistant Commissioner, Municipal Corporation, Amritsar, participated. Balvinder Singh concluded that the need of the hour was to introduce public transport system, removal of encroachments, putting up of direction and traffic signs at proper places and to strictly enforce traffic rules.

5 students clear UGC NET

Five students of the All-India Services Pre-Examinations Training Centre and Centre of Preparation for Competitive Examinations of Guru Nanak Dev University have cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET), which was conducted by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in December, 2012. Dr Daljit Singh Arora, director of the center, said while Swati Dubey of the Education Department, Uma Prashar of the Sociology Department, Sakshi Sharma and Raghu Sharma of the Management Department cleared UGC NET under the general category, Davinder Pal Singh of the Political Science Department cleared the test under the reserved category.

B.Tech student honoured

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a multinational IT company, recently visited the campus to honour a student of B.Tech (CSE) of the university. Ankita Luthra, the topper in the CSE course, was awarded with a certificate, gold medal and cash prize of Rs 10,000 by the company representatives Rajit Sikka, Sushil Chandra and Mukesh Diwan. Dr Inderjit Singh, Registrar, was the chief guest. Dr Hardeep Singh, Professor in charge, Placement Department, faculty members and parents of Luthra were also present on the occasion.

Musical programme

A musical programme was organised by the Department of Music at Guru Nanak Bhawan of the university recently. Diwakar Kashyap and Prabhakar Kashyap, eminent artistes from Banaras Gharana who are popularly known as Kashyap Bandhu, presented ‘Durga Stuti’, ‘vandana’, followed by Hori, Chhaiti and Tappa, distinct musical styles. They also gave a brief introduction to various musical concepts of their gharana. While expressing concern about the contemporary music, they said the need of the hour was to attract the young generation towards the rich heritage of music.

Contributed by G. S. Paul