Mavericks’ Attitudes


The whole notion of developing growth mindsets appears to be somewhat in vogue with Microsoft focusing on developing it in employees; and Harvard Business Review picking it up following on from something they have written about quite a bit recently, and in the past. This is something important for the Singapore’s education system to grapple with. We have had one or two generation of ‘productive’ workers who helped to bring the country from third world to first but unfortunately perhaps as a consequent of bad parenting, brought about new generations with extremely fixed mindset.

And this is why corporates are now taking over the responsibility of developing grit in their employees instead of this being a virtue that used to be developed through parenting and schools. In a recent article on Straits Times featuring an interview with our Minister for Education; he actually said:

Parents may have the best intentions, but imagine if this is aggregated over 10 years, until the child is 16 or 18. The child may not have had the necessary experiences to know how to bounce back from failure, a tenacious attitude to overcome obstacles and succeed in life. (Minister Ng Chee Meng, ST)

And this comes at a point where the country is facing some of the most difficult structural issues with our labour composition and manpower capabilities. We have come up with some pretty interesting measures, taking the form of Skillsfuture, which was praised by The Economist over a few articles captured in the recent Special Report on Lifelong Learning. But more effort will have to be made at the beginning of school and also as a culture of education to help students develop growth mindsets which will allow them to be more malleable in terms of their subsequent lifelong learning, and also better employees for any industry that we are going to develop in Singapore.

The question is how? We could learn something from the research by Carol Dweck which she shares over a talk on TED:

Rewarding processes, endurance, encouraging grit, creating persistence will help students develop a growth mindset and this isn’t just about getting good grades. It clearly is about changing of attitudes and perspective towards the system, in fact any system. Singapore has become so established and settled in upon our structure that we have started taking a rather negative view of it – the rigidity, the bureaucracy and ‘that’s the way it is’ attitude. These all points to a fixed mindset populace. Education is our chance at changing the course of our country’s future, more so than merely instituting a lifelong learning system. Sal Khan has another great talk that is about operationalising education to develop growth mindsets as well (though he doesn’t put it that way).

In a time when the public service has to be rejuvenated with what is considered ‘maverick’ ideas, I personally think that investing in an overhaul of the education that develops growth mindsets would radically alter the course of our descent into mediocrity. If even entrepreneurs-to-be are asking the government to try and cushion them from risks and asking for protection from failure, then it is no longer a matter of economic policy. I’d vouch for our government’s commitment to doing more for the economy directly. Yet for the long term good of our economy and society, let us launch radically, practising more of a maverick approach towards our education system first before we ask these of the entire public service.

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