(Blog) Character Education And Its Impact On Learning

Author: Roger Sinnett, Headmaster

During my 13 years in China it became increasingly clear that Chinese children underperform, in most cases never reaching their potential. Why? Chinese students are well known for their diligence, their sheer hard work and single-minded determination to do well. However, their curriculum pays scant attention to character development, meaning that the development of EQ is relegated to a subsidiary position. No wonder that many of the 700,000 Chinese students who are at any one time attending a western school or university find themselves poorly prepared for the demands of a western education and therefore at a huge disadvantage. The drop-out rate is substantial. The schools I set up in China had character education at the heart of their provision and I was working at the cutting edge of developing this dimension and raising awareness of its importance.

So what does ‘character development’ actually mean? For me it means the strategic development of a wide range of transferable skills. Teamwork, leadership, confidence, independence, research skills, public speaking, creativity… and encouraging the maturity of attitude which enables social intelligence to develop.

So is this just a ‘China thing’? As Director of Education for Full Circle Education (Shenzhen/Hong Kong) and headmaster of St Bees School in Cumbria we are placing character development at the heart of education for our UK school as well as our two St Bees China schools, creating one common ‘fusion curriculum’ which powers them all. At its core lies the concept of IQ+EQ in balance for a rounded education. Our experience at St Bees UK clearly shows the direct link between the growth of EQ competencies and academic success. As the children’s EQ skills develop, so does their maturity which is positively reflected in every aspect of their learning.

But beware. Such initiatives are not for the faint-hearted. Here at St Bees we require subject lesson plans to contain targets and opportunities for the development of EQ skills, with continual reinforcement through praise and the merit system. We lock horns with teachers who would say “we haven’t got time for this”. We dedicate two hours per week to our Global Awareness Programme (GAP) which mixes year-groups and gives our students constant opportunities to grow their EQ competencies. Importantly, you will not find a character development worksheet anywhere in the school.

“Yes”, I hear you cry, “but how can you measure progress in the development of character attributes?” Just as we are working in a highly successful partnership with Durham University’s School of Education for our Maths Fusion project (UK and China maths), we are partnering with East China Normal University in Shanghai on a joint project to assess the impact of character education on student learning. Exciting times ahead!

If you are interested in finding out more, please contact me on: roger.sinnett@stbeesschool.co.uk.

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