Why grit should matter in our education system

Good Shephard School

Grade Four pupils engage in a game at Nyeri Good Shepherd School on March 8, 2021. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

I have grown to see grit as a mixture of passion and perseverance—two traits in abundance in the recent elections. It is apparent that Kenyans are a mettlesome lot.

I have witnessed that spirit among my students. It is motivating as an educator to see the effort and energy with which they approach their activities in and out of class.

We not only predict their success but celebrate their impressive achievements, which don’t come easy but are a testament of grit. Of course, grit is not the sole predictor of endurance or success.

But it matters more than any other personal trait; educators must thus not ignore their role in developing it.

When we look at someone who’s highly skilled, we stare in awe and think it is raw talent: “They’re naturally gifted”.

The challenge is to make the youth understand that greatness is doable; once you understand that a high-level performance is backed by hours of mundane work behind the scenes.

Many people often start things full of excitement only to give up too soon when they encounter obstacles. What builds skills and leads to success is staying at it.

But those lacking in grit tend to have goals that don’t align, or a big final goal without supporting mid- and lower-level goals.

Most people quit after they get bored, decide the goal is not worthy or can’t see themselves making it. There are four crucial antidotes to quitting.

Interest: Passion starts with enjoying what we do. You don’t have to enjoy every single part but you enjoy it overall. Practice: You must devote yourself to improving, zeroing in on your weaknesses: “I want to improve, whatever it takes.”

Purpose: The conviction that your work matters; it’s connected to the well-being of others. Interest without purpose is hard to sustain.

Hope: This encompasses all three stages. It’s what will keep you going when things are difficult and doubts arise. A morsel of success can leave us hungry for more.

Learnable traits

All these are learnable traits: You can learn to become interested, you can build the habits of practice and discipline, you can develop a purpose and you can become a hopeful person.

Experts don’t just practise more; they do it differently, zeroing in on weaknesses, focusing more on what went wrong and then fixing it. But deliberate practice is exhausting. To improve quickly, set a precise stretch goal.

Focus 100 per cent on it. Get immediate and accurate feedback. Repeat and refine it.

Parents and educators can grow grit in the youth. Authoritarian parents are demanding and unsupportive, permissive ones supportive and undemanding.

A middle way, taking all the positives, is possible: Demanding and supportive parenting.

Let schools provide an environment where taking risks is applauded, opportunities exist to try things and students are known so that recognition of effort is quickly given to encourage perseverance.

Encourage an equilibrium of approach to academic rigour, musical excellence, By engaging in education outside the classroom, academic performance will improve.

Mr Pennington is St Andrew’s School, Turi, senior school section headmaster.

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