Why resilience matters in education

Resilience is a much used term in modern education circles. The well-being and emotional health of learners is something that has taken on increasing significance in recent years, and nowhere is that more evident, and essential, than when preparing young people for their lives beyond the classroom.

In developing well rounded, independent learners, we need to teach them to cope with adversity and how to successfully overcome the many setbacks and obstacles which they will come across throughout their time in education, and beyond. Thankfully, Ofsted has now recognised this and emphasised it in its new assessment framework, which states:

“The new ‘personal development’ judgement will consider what a provider does to help develop learners’ character, resilience and values and the provider’s advice and support to help learners succeed in life.”

Real world situations are critical for success

Given how young we start assessing school children in the UK, students have many opportunities to develop their resilience in the context of exams and working towards their academic goals. However, the opportunity to practice and develop the skills they need to handle the many non-vocational challenges presented by adult life, are much less common.

One of the problems is that opportunities to experience real world situations are much harder to come by within the confines of the classroom. You can warn students of the dangers of unsustainable debts, or the perils of poor money management, but it’s hard to make it connect if they can’t see it directly in the context of their own lives.

Being able to practice budgeting, sitting job interviews, or completing a personal tax return, in a situation that mimics real life without the consequences, is pivotal to helping them develop the resilience they need to cope with adversity in adulthood.

Putting the pressure on

When we started working with young people to develop our own financial life skills education programme, we realised that there was a need not just to place students in such situations but to ensure that they felt the pressure of them too. That’s why we chose to “gamify” our financial education programme; that is, to pit students against each other as they face up to new challenges and have to make decisions for themselves, without an adult to give them the right answer.

Making the experience a competitive one, but with the reassurance of working in a team rather than alone, means that the students we work with are able to recognise the pressure that comes with managing debt in real life. For many of them, it is a window into the lives of their own parents and guardians and one that makes them consider, often for the first time, the complexity of the issues they face in managing their households and careers.

It takes a village to raise a child

In our current global circumstances, with rapidly rising concerns about the climate crisis (particularly among young people), the need for all of us to develop such resilience is becoming more and more of an imperative.

To achieve this on a meaningful scale requires all of us to play our part. We need to create positive environments where children can feel valued yet able to learn through experience and by making their own mistakes; we need to find more ways to create strong links between families and their child’s education; we need to provide the right support and advice in schools, so students receive relevant information at the appropriate times in their education; and we need to strengthen our communities by making our young people more aware of the wider world and the part they play in it, encouraging them to participate more fully and recognise the consequences of their actions.

Obviously, Ofsted’s new emphasis on personal development won’t (and can’t) deliver all of this on its own, but it has raised the level of debate around the subject and made schools reconsider how best to deliver non-academic life skills for their pupils.

Resilience matters more than ever

Our experience of delivering Keep the Cash over the last eight years has taught us that resilience lies at the heart of such areas of education. Against a backdrop of significant social, economic and environmental changes, rising personal debt, falling real-terms wages, and the uncertainty of our current political travails, we’ve heard first-hand the concerns of thousands of students and we know just how much these issues trouble them.

Placing those students in tense, yet safe, situations, where they can learn from their own mistakes, has enabled them to develop some of that much needed resilience. Hopefully, with Ofsted’s new direction, there will be much more being done throughout education to build those skills even more.

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