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We cannot live on grit alone

By Danny Harrington

I was pointed this week in the direction of this interesting article in the Times Educational Supplement which suggests that the development of grit in school students is, in and of itself, not even correlated with, let alone a contributor to, academic success. As the article says, grit is defined as the combination of passion and perseverance which may take someone through the difficulties they face in life. While defined in an educational setting by researchers in the US, it seems quite clear that this has been a fundamental ethos in British schooling since schools began and is still most strongly emphasised in the UK independent school system with its emphasis on games and taking on challenges throughout school life alongside the academic agenda.

If the study debunking the link is correct, we are still left with something of a gut feeling that grit must have something to do with success – even if that success is the avoidance of abject failure rather than anything spectacularly positive. I suspect that the complexity of human psychology means that many more studies will be needed to have any chance of untangling the impact of grit, or indeed to arrive at the conclusion that it is not sufficiently able to be isolated in such a way. Just because an individual has grit does not mean she will apply it every time she is in difficulty or to the same level as she is capable of or has demonstrated previously. Certainly, if you do not have much grit then life will throw you plenty of obstacles that you might rather avoid. And should we even be measuring “success” at school in purely academic terms? I suspect many who reject the development of grit would find themselves also rejecting exam league tables and the like.

It seems to me that grit can be a positive thing, can be developed through experiential education, especially in the outdoors, and through a familiarity with it individuals can recognise when their grit is becoming a negative i.e. know when to give up. So in that sense gaining and being aware of grit can only be a good thing. Perhaps the authors are correct that too much emphasis can be put on ideas such as these, but it would be a shame to abandon programmes designed to develop grit, especially when they bring with them so many other benefits such as: personal health and well-being; teamwork, leadership and followership development; risk management; and so on. Just when school students were getting more non-academic development, let’s not rip it away and only emphasise the classroom and its trackable academic outcomes.

ITS Education Asia and Tai Poutini Polytechnic are launching a Level 4 Certificate in Experiential Learning in 2017. This is both a Foundational year for undergraduates and a potential 1st year undergraduate programme for those interested in teaching and/or leadership in the outdoors. It is suitable for any young adult wanting transferable skills for career development in the 21st century.

Dulwich College Singapore

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

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