Tag Archives: education

The Four C’s of Learning

Today, I came across this concept of the 4 C’s of learning-applicable to both children as well as life long learners.

The 4 C’s that are emphasized are Critical thinking, Creativity, Communication and Collaboration. It is believed that teaching children these skills is critical in the 21st century learning.

I also came across another blog post that advocated adding a 5th C to the above mix: Compassion. And I couldn’t agree more.

To me both Critical thinking and Creativity may be subsumed under one grouping : thinking skills. And thus we can retain the 4 C’s but with Creativity and Critical thinking combined and Compassion added to the mix.

Why do I propose such a state of affairs? Because it maps beautifully to the four domains of leadership model: the HHHV model of Head, Heart, Hands and Voice.

While Critical and Creative thinking map to Head; Compassion maps to Heart; Collaboration can be mapped to Hands and Communication maps directly to Voice.

Finding parallel evidence for a model lends great credence to it and the HHHV model is one such model that has found multiple corroborations.  I am excited that if the 4C’s model of learning is indeed applied in the classrooms, it will lead to the creation of a new breed of leaders. What about you? Are you equally exited?

For developing non-cognitive skills of Employees, focus on their Managers!

A recent article by Paul Tough, focuses on how one can increase the non-cognitive skills of students. He shows, how, the evidence increasingly points, that we cannot ‘teach’ these skills, but by creating the right environmental conditions and via real-world interactions, these somehow develop.

These non-cognitive skills are skills like grit, resilience, self-control and perseverance; and these have been shown to have differential and significant impact, over and above cognitive factors, on academic performance and outcomes like the CGPA.

The article starts with documenting the well-known finding that (chronic) stress in early childhood is associated with worse outcomes later in life. It then goes on to document another finding, that irrespective of whether the early childhood is stressful (barring aside extreme adversity) or not, if the child-parent interaction is full of warmth and supportive and consistent, then it leads to development of  positive non-cognitive skills like attention and concentration.

For children who grow up without significant experiences of adversity, the skill-development process leading up to kindergarten generally works the way it’s supposed to: Calm, consistent, responsive interactions in infancy with parents and other caregivers create neural connections that lay the foundation for a healthy array of attention and concentration skills. Just as early stress sends signals to the nervous system to maintain constant vigilance and prepare for a lifetime of trouble, early warmth and responsiveness send the opposite signals: You’re safe; life is going to be fine. Let down your guard; the people around you will protect you and provide for you. Be curious about the world; it’s full of fascinating surprises. These messages trigger adaptations in children’s brains that allow them to slow down and consider problems and decisions more carefully, to focus their attention for longer periods, and to more willingly trade immediate gratification for promises of long-term benefits.

Now, as per one conceptualization, its easy to draw a parallel between a child-parent relation and a employee-manager relation; many of us look at our bosses as parental authority figures and look towards them for direction and guidance. If we extend the analogy, its easy to see why the supportive, warm, caring and consistent behavior of managers towards their employee may be an important variable that results in the employees exhibiting behaviors that utilizes and is focused around using non-cognitive skills.

Also important is the emotional intelligence of the manager- how self-aware the manager is and how capable of self-regulation he or she is. The analogy with parent-child emotional interaction and modelling is presented below:

A second crucial role that parents play early on is as external regulators of their children’s stress. When parents behave harshly or unpredictably—especially at moments when their children are upset—the children are less likely over time to develop the ability to manage strong emotions and respond effectively to stressful situations. By contrast, when a child’s parents respond to her jangled emotions in a sensitive and measured way, she is more likely to learn that she herself has the capacity to cope with her feelings, even intense and unpleasant ones.

So, if one wants to have employees that can focus, self-regulate, do not cut corners in service of short term goals and are creative/ innovative, then along with some behavioral raining in these aspects, a fruitful avenue would be focusing on the EI and attitudes of their managers so that they act in right way towards their employees, and create the right conditions for development and display of non-cognitive skills.

The article then goes on to discuss how neither punishments nor incentives work to decrease the behavior problems or to increase the academic outcomes. Translated to the workplace, carrots and sticks don’t work, neither for controlling dis-engagement nor for increasing performance. One striking indictment of incentives follows:

And yet in almost every case, Fryer’s incentive programs have had no effect. From 2007 to 2009, Fryer distributed a total of $9.4 million in cash incentives to 27,000 students, to promote book reading in Dallas, to raise test scores in New York, and to improve course grades in Chicago —all with no effect. “The impact of financial incentives on student achievement,” Fryer reported, “is statistically 0 in each city.” In the 2010–11 school year, he gave cash incentives to fifth-grade students in 25 low-performing public schools in Houston, and to their parents and teachers, with the intent of increasing the time they spent on math homework and improving their scores on standardized math tests. The students performed the tasks necessary to get paid, but their average math scores at the end of eight months hadn’t changed at all. When Fryer looked at their reading scores, he found that they actually went down.

What does work instead, is creating the conditions for tapping into intrinsic motivation: and one way to do so is by providing employees/ students a sense of autonomy, mastery experiences and a sense of belonging/ relatedness. This is based in the rich literature around self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan.

But how does this relate to the non-cognitive abilities? In educational settings, Jackson, an economist, tried to measure the non-cognitive ability of students and also correlate to teacher’s effectiveness and came up with striking insights.

Jackson had access to students’ scores on the statewide standardized test, and he used that as a rough measure of their cognitive ability. This is the number that education officials generally look at when trying to assess teachers’ impact. But then Jackson did something new. He created a proxy measure for students’ noncognitive ability, using just four pieces of existing administrative data: attendance, suspensions, on-time grade progression, and overall GPA. Jackson’s new index measured, in a fairly crude way, how engaged students were in school—whether they showed up, whether they misbehaved, and how hard they worked in their classes. Jackson found that this simple noncognitive proxy was, remarkably, a better predictor than students’ test scores of whether the students would go on to attend college, a better predictor of adult wages, and a better predictor of future arrests.

An analogy to workplace would be productivity as the cognitive skills; and absenteeism, layoffs, on-time promotions and performance ratings as a proxy measure for non-cognitive abilities. And what did he find?

Jackson’s proxy measure allowed him to do some intriguing analysis of teachers’ effectiveness. He subjected every ninth-grade English and algebra teacher in North Carolina to what economists call a value-added assessment. First he calculated whether and how being a student in a particular teacher’s class affected that student’s standardized-test score. Then, separately, he calculated the effect that teachers had on their students’ noncognitive proxy measure: on their attendance, suspensions, timely progression from one grade to the next, and overall GPA.

Jackson found that some teachers were reliably able to raise their students’ standardized-test scores year after year. These are the teachers, in every teacher-evaluation system in the country, who are the most valued and most rewarded. But he also found that there was another distinct cohort of teachers who were reliably able to raise their students’ performance on his noncognitive measure. If you were assigned to the class of a teacher in this cohort, you were more likely to show up to school, more likely to avoid suspension, more likely to move on to the next grade. And your overall GPA went up—not just your grades in that particular teacher’s class, but your grades in your other classes, too.

Jackson found that these two groups of successful teachers did not necessarily overlap much; in every school, it seemed, there were certain teachers who were especially good at developing cognitive skills in their students and other teachers who excelled at developing noncognitive skills. But the teachers in the second cohort were not being rewarded for their success with their students—indeed, it seemed likely that no one but Jackson even realized that they were successful. And yet those teachers, according to Jackson’s calculations, were doing more to get their students to college and raise their future wages than were the much-celebrated teachers who boosted students’ test scores.

Now this is huge! It correlates with the parallel  claim I have been making that most of the managers are basically either task-oriented or people-oriented.  Those who are task oriented, are like the teachers who can increase the cognitive ability of students, and are able to drive productivity in their teams; the other set of managers, who are more people-oriented, are like teachers that create the conditions that lead to more non-cognitive abilities in their students, and are able to truly engage employees and bring out their best.

And this they do by creating the right conditions:

The environment those teachers created in the classroom, and the messages that environment conveyed, motivated students to start making better decisions—to show up to class, to persevere longer at difficult tasks, and to deal more resiliently with the countless small-scale setbacks and frustrations that make up the typical student’s school day. And those decisions improved their lives in meaningful ways. Did the students learn new skills that enabled them to behave differently? Maybe. Or maybe what we are choosing to call “skills” in this case are really just new ways of thinking about the world or about themselves—a new set of attitudes or beliefs that somehow unleash a new way of behaving.

And what are these new set of attitudes or beliefs:

Farrington has distilled this voluminous mind-set research into four key beliefs that, when embraced by students, seem to contribute most significantly to their tendency to persevere in the classroom:

1. I belong in this academic community.

2. My ability and competence grow with my effort.

3. I can succeed at this.

4. This work has value for me.

If students hold these beliefs in mind as they are sitting in math class, Farrington concludes, they are more likely to persevere through the challenges and failures they encounter there. And if they don’t, they are more likely to give up at the first sign of trouble.

The four factors are related to belongingness (where managers can play a big role), mastery experiences and growth opportunities, for creating self-efficacy and feelings of competence(again under manager’s control); and ensuring the work is purposeful and not meaningless (where again managers can play a big role).

Its about time, managers lived up-to their responsibilities, and organizations reward the people-oriented managers too, who are creating the conditions for their employees to grow and flourish. The non-cognitive skills of employees can be developed but via the managers and hence its important to create the right culture where people oriented managers are also rewarded and recognized.

Indian parents prioritize career success over happiness for their kids

As per a survey [pdf] done by HSBC of 5,550 parents in 16 countries, Indian parents prioritize career success over and above happiness for their kids. Now, this is a small sample size ( ~ 350 Indian parents if one assumes equal sampling from all countries), but I am not surprised. This rings true from personal experience.

Now, the procedure was very simple, parents were asked to pick top 3 goals for their kids. In India, ‘Be successful in their career’ was picked by 51 % parents, as compared to ‘Be happy in life’ (49 %), ‘Lead a healthy lifestyle’ (33 %), ‘Earn enough to enjoy a comfortable life’ (22%) and ‘Fulfill their potential’ (17 %).

happiness_india

Now, by itself, the results may not  seem striking…after all there is only 2 % more Indian parents choosing career success over happiness and about half of the Indian parents are choosing happiness as well as career success, so what is the big deal?

career_india

It becomes a big deal when we put things in perspective. The average percentage of parents who have happiness as a major goal for their kids globally is 64%. That is, two out of three parents globally want their kid to be happy at all costs, while only half of Indian parents do. Moreover, in some countries like France, as high as 86 % want their child to be happy, first and foremost!

Contrast this with a focus on career success. Globally, only for 30 % parents, career success is a cherished goal for their child; or stated another way only 1 in 3 parents is focused on the career success of the child globally, while this figure becomes 1 in 2 parent in the Indian context.

What does such an extreme focus on career success, to the detriment of being happy, lead to? High suicide rates in the education hub of India : Kota.

I hail from Kota and know first hand the tremendous pressure that children are subjected to as they prepare for engineering/ medical entrance exams conforming to their parents wish.

The HSBC report also talks about career ambitions parents have for their children. Its a worrying fact that globally 4 in 5 parents(83 %) have a specific career in mind for their child and in emerging economies this number is even higher. What room does it leave for the child to pursue what their own dream/ passion is?

I coach students too and make it a point to be true to my clients interests (the student) rather than their parents interests ( the party making the payments) cause often the interests may not align!!

The report also talks about how traditional streams like Medicine remains a popular choice (of parents for their child) globally (19 %) ; while Indian parents prefer Engineering ( 14 %) and Computer Science (18 %) over Medicine (14 %) for their kids. Also as many as  89% of parents have either paid for, or plan to pay for additional tutoring. (no wonder coaching business in Kota, and elsewhere, is blooming).

I have nothing against getting additional tutoring or coaching for your child( given the reality of competitive entrance tests, that is unavoidable) and I myself had taken coaching with a Kota institute for clearing my JEE (way back in 1994);  but what I find unacceptable is the subtle, and at times not so subtle, peer and parental pressure to  either become a doctor or an engineer.

By not considering what the interests, passions and strengths of the child are , we preclude them from being truly happy and successful in their adult life.

What the report uncovered was that globally, about a third of parents base their career preferences for their child based on income generating potential while an equal number base it on benefit to society or how well suited the job would be to their children’s strengths. With just 29 % parents globally having ‘Fulfill their potential’ as a major goal for their children, this sorry state of affairs is understandable (but not acceptable).

It might sound like preaching, but if we can learn from the appalling case of the numerous suicides in Kota, it is perhaps evident that unless we align students strengths and interests with their future career and ensure that happiness and fulfilling one’s potential does not take backseat to a sole focus on career; we will not only continue playing with precious human lives, but also leave many more to keep living lives of quiet desperation in their adult life.

One solution comes to mind: Making well-being and character strengths a focus early on since school and that is what the promise of positive education is. Its hard to reach out to parents and make them change, but perhaps we can make the children themselves aware of their need to prioritize happiness and equip them with tools to discover and capitalize on their strengths for resilience and well being throughout the life. IPEN is a step in that direction and I welcome you to reach out to me to take it further in India.