The value of failure

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 at 9:14 am

We need to be brave.
There is a price of failure in the real world, but failure has a value as well.
Many successful business people can attest to the value that bankruptcy had on their current business success.

What we so often forget nowadays is the value that failure can have for students.

We forget that the experience of failure should not be avoided at all costs, but should be embraced as a necessary part of life.  It is not, after all, the way we deal with success that demonstrates our ability to survive and grow as individuals.  Rather it is the way we cope with failure.

The person who picks herself up, dusts herself down and starts all over again is the person with whom we want to work.

Our students need to learn the lesson that is it good to fail and learn from failure – “fail better” as the saying goes.

In addition, we need to consider the effect on other students in the group when one student fails.
In the first place there is the notion of “pour encourager les autres”. OK – originally this referred to hanging, which might be a bit drastic, but there is a distinct deterrent effect that kicks in when a classmate gets kicked out.

Seeing one of your colleagues failing a unit and having to retake is often a salutary lesson for the others in the group.
Even more so when a student is asked to leave a course because s/he is clearly not making the grade. But in many educational establishments it is almost anathema to allow any students to leave, i.e. “to fail” a course.

“Retention” is everything. There are many of us, however, who would say it is one of the reasons why so many courses have so little credibility or currency any more.

In addition to all of the above, there is the sometimes unpalatable truth that so many of our students are just not good enough.

– not good enough to learn the necessary skills and grasp the ideas needed to be able to work independently on a topic.
– not good enough to be able to work with a modicum of independence and find out things for themselves.
– not good enough to get work done to a reasonable timetable.
– not good enough to pass and move on to the next level.

Just – not good enough!

One quite amazing aspect of our so-called “can do” educational culture is that many of these students are pushed, squeezed and manipulated across the achievement threshold, courtesy of the league table and target based culture that pervades all educational institutions – and they don’t realise that they actually should not have achieved at all.  They think they have succeeded.

It really is about time we started to make it clear that they can get these qualifications, but they have to push themselves hard to get them – and if they choose not to make the effort, then they will fail.

But to fail is not to fail permanently.  Education is meant to be hard work – if we want to move to the next level, then we have to work for it.

A failure should show us that we have not worked hard enough this time and should also show us what we need to do in order to make it to the next level.

In the right environment, failure should be a motivating tool.  It is our responsibility to make the most of that tool.

So what about those students who enter a course, but in the end cannot achieve?  Of course, the ideal is that such students will not be given places on courses for which they have no obvious ability or potential for achievement.   It is often the case, however, that such students often are given places – despite having “no obvious ability or potential for achievement”.

Probably the optimum scenario in this case is one, where course managers will have in place a rigorous and strictly imposed screening instrument that will catch these students before they plunge beyond the point of no return and thus further into the swampy marshland of failure that lies before them.  If they are caught in this safety net, then they have a chance to settle into a new and more appropriate course, more suited to their ability and circumstances.

Categories: Politics, UKEducation

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