School: a change is due?

By Maksim Peshev. As published in "School of Psychology Newsletter: Conversations in Psychology", February Issue.

School is a considerable part of most of the individuals’ life, a place where a child spends most of their childhood. Thus, it is only reasonable for parents to be worried if they’re making the right choice sending their child to one or the other. After all, ten years later you expect to see an adolescent with at least an outline of a plan on how they expect to succeed in life.

Accordingly, children experience immense pressure from their parents and the school system to perform well academically, which is a known contributor to students’ poor well-being (Rutherford 2015; Ma et al., 2018). It is, perhaps, in everyone’s interest to instead focus on exploring students’ interest and gaining skills they will use later in life.

Because that age is the perfect time for a person to decide what they like and what they enjoy spending time doing. Looking at the five-factor model of personality (Judge, Rodell, Klinger, Simon, & Crawford, 2013), it’s self-evident that we all differ on the scale; and the main idea is that everyone’s set of personal traits also dictates the aptitude towards a certain profession (Barrick et al., 2013).

Since schools are mostly focused on theoretical learning rather than application of skills, we can see that good grades only demonstrate a decent learning ability, which is not, in any way, predictive of success in life. In their study of successful people, Duckworth et al (2012) notes that success often correlates with conscientiousness and concludes that it’s resourceful to “anticipate and accommodate, rather than remediate, domain-specific deficits in conscientious behaviour”, meaning that if any assistance is to be provided for one’s future accomplishment, it should be done as early as possible. As per the JD-R model (Demerouti et al.,2001), each profession comes with a set of demands, to which every person may be more or less aligned simply by their design or upbringing. Thus, the best way to use the time spent in school– is to allow the students to grow, develop and, most importantly, understand themselves and their tendencies. Curious in nature, people need to try different things and choose what’s best for them. That’s why it’s difficult to decide on your major, and, ultimately, your career. And that’s exactly why we need to treat school more like a “buffet” kind of setting – when it’s time to go wild and explore your options and learn about the concepts that attract you the most.

So, do we need a change in our school system?

Not really. A change is needed in how we see the “good” and “bad” grades: they are not “success” vs “failure”, rather “interest/alignment” vs “indifference”.

Therefore, instead of measuring a child’s success by their academic performance, it is more suitable to pay attention to what really matters – the skills that will prepare them to face the future.

In conclusion I’d like to share my vision with you: a world where the focus isn’t placed on a child’s academic achievements and where every person is happy at their workplace; happy because they are great at what they do and it fulfills them in every way. It’s a world where everyone is proud of what they do, regulating work-related conflict and stress. That world is merely a generation away from us, and the key to it is simply allowing and helping our children to choose their own path.


Barrick, M. R., Mount, M. K., & Li, N. (2013). The theory of purposeful work behavior: The role of personality, higher-order goals, and job characteristics. Academy of Management Review, 38, 132–153. Doi: 10.5465/amr.2010.0479

Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Nachreiner, F., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2001). The job demands-resources model of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 499–512. Doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.86.3.499

Duckworth, A., Weir, D., Tsukayama, E., Kwok, D. (2012). Who Does Well in Life? Conscientious Adults Excel in Both Objective and Subjective Success. Frontiers in Psychology, 3. 356. Doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00356

Judge, T. A., Rodell, J. B., Klinger, R. L., Simon, L. S., & Crawford, E. R. (2013). Hierarchical representations of the five-factor model of personality in predicting job performance: Integrating three organizing frameworks with two theoretical perspectives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98, 875–925. Doi: 10.1037/a0033901

Ma, Y., Siu, A., & Tse, W. S. (2018). The Role of High Parental Expectations in Adolescents’ Academic Performance and Depression in Hong Kong. Journal of Family Issues, 39(9), 2505–2522. Doi: 10.1177/0192513X18755194

Rutherford, T., (2015) Emotional well-being and discrepancies between child and parent educational expectations and aspirations in middle and high school. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 20(1), 69-85. DOI: 10.1080/02673843.2013.767742

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