Why Most Singaporean Students Can Benefit from a Growth Mindset

The concept of a growth mindset was popularized by the work of Stanford University researcher Dr Carol Dweck. Dweck’s research showed that individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to take risks, try new things, and persist in the face of failure.

According to her, individuals with a fixed mindset are more likely to give up when faced with failure, while individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to persist and use failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.

When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world, as quoted from the book ‘Mindset’ by Dr Carol S Dweck. For thirty years, her research has shown thatthe view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.

In this article, we’ll explore the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset and discuss the benefits of a growth mindset for both primary and secondary school students. We’ll look at the impact of a growth mindset on Singaporean students and strategies for developing a growth mindset.

The Fixed Mindset

Believing that your intelligence and other qualities are limited and unchangeable – the fixed mindset– creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over again i.e. to always look “smart”.If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character – well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them.

To no one’s surprise, there is a strong innate yearning in many Singaporean primary or secondary students to constantly prove themselves, especially in the classroom. Every situation seems to call for a confirmation of their intelligence or talent. Each situation is evaluated. Will I do well in my exams? Will I look smart or dumb? What would my parents or others think if I did badly for my PSLE or the GCE ‘O’-Level? Would my friends look down on me if my test marks were constantly lower than theirs?

To give you a better sense of how the fixed mindset work, imagine – that you are a student having a really bad day:

One day, you go to a class and your teacher returns your mid-year Maths exam papers to you. You barely passed the exam. You’re very disappointed. That same day during a break, you realised that you forgot to bring your lunch money. Being really frustrated, you tell your best friend about your experiences and are sort of brushed off.

What would you think? What would you feel? What would you do? People with a fixed mindset would say: “I’d feel like a reject.” “I’m a total failure.” “I’m an idiot.” “I’d feel worthless and dumb – everyone’s better than me.” “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me.” “Life is unfair and all efforts are useless.”. In short, they see everything that happened to them as an indication of their competence and worth.

So what is their response? “I wouldn’t bother to put so much time and effort into doing anything well in anything.” (So as not to risk someone else judging you again.) “Do nothing.” “Stay in bed.” “Play games all day long.” The fixed mindset created the feeling of utter failure and despair.

The Growth Mindset and its Benefits for Singaporean Students

While many of us are trained albeit unconsciously from a young age to adopt a fixed mindset, Dweck noted that certain people adopt the opposite – what she calls a growth mindset.

A growth mindset is the belief that you can improve and reach higher levels of success with hard work and dedication. It’s based on the idea that “the more you practice, the better you get”. It’s a belief that you can unlock your potential and achieve your goals if you’re willing to put in the effort.

The difference between a fixed and a growth mindset is significant. A fixed mindset can lead to feelings of helplessness and frustration, while a growth mindset can lead to feelings of empowerment and motivation.

Students with a growth mindset are likely to think or say these or similar phrases:

  • This is difficult, but I can improve by putting in the effort.
  • I measure success by the effort I’ve put into achieving the goal.
  • I’m not as good at this as other people…yet.
  • I may not be as talented, but with time, discipline and effort, I can do better.
  • I love to ask questions because it means I can clarify my doubts and grow my knowledge.

A growth mindset can be beneficial for students in several ways. First, as soon as children become able to evaluate themselves, some of them become afraid of challenges. They become afraid of not being smart. Singaporean students who are armed with a growth mindset – the ones who believed that success is about stretching themselves, seized opportunities to learn, even when the learning curve seems steep. They do not give up easily. In the long run, they bring that can-do spirit into their future careers as well.

Second, for students with a fixed mindset, it’s not enough to succeed they have to succeed right away. They pretty much have to be flawless. They have to score A* for every test. For them, it’s about being perfect right now. Anything less deals a blow to their ego and motivation. But students with a growth mindset said: “When it’s really hard, and I try really hard, I manage to do something I couldn’t do before.” For them, it’s not about immediate perfection. It’s about learning something over time: confronting a challenge and making progress. When soliciting applications for astronauts, NASA rejected people with pure histories of success and instead selected people who had had significant failures and bounced back from them. It is an important reminder to our primary and secondary students that failures don’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from.

Finally, a growth mindset can improve the overall mental health of students, especially those preparing for major exams such as the PSLE or GCE ‘O’-Level. Students who believe that their intelligence and other qualities can be expanded, also believe there are many paths to success.

Students with a fixed mindset tend to have higher levels of depression because they have a habit of ruminating over their problems and setbacks, essentially tormenting themselves with the idea that the setbacks meant they were incompetent or unworthy. The more depressed they felt, the more they let things go; the less they took action to solve their problems. On the contrary, the more depressed people with the growth mindset felt(short of severe depression), the more they took action to confront their problems, the more they make sure to keep up with their schoolwork, and the more they kept up with their lives. The worse they felt, the more determined they became!

When students embodied the growth mindset that change and growth are possible and there are still many paths to success, it changed the way they react to their depressed mood. The worse they felt, the more motivated they became and the more they confronted the problems that faced them. This is a truly welcoming benefit of having a growth mindset.

Strategies for Developing a Growth Mindset for Parents and Students

Developing a growth mindset can take some time and effort. Here are some strategies that primary and secondary school students can use to develop a growth mindset:

  1. Acknowledge And Celebrate Your Progress: It’s important to recognise and celebrate the progress, in any aspect of your life, that you make. This will help you to stay motivated and keep striving for more.
  2. Recognise that Failures Don’t Define Us: It’s important to be open to learning and trying new things. Instead of being afraid of failure, it’s important to embrace it and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  3. Don’t Disdain Effort: People with a growth mindset believe that even geniuses have to work hard for their achievements. They admire the effort, for it is what ignites the ability and turns it into accomplishment.

Parents can help their children, especially the younger ones, to recognise the pitfalls of a fixed mindset and embrace the growth mindset strategies above as well.

In the Singapore Context

In Singapore, students are often under immense pressure to do well in their PSLE and GCE ‘O’-Level examinations. This pressure can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and helplessness. With a growth mindset, students can learn to manage their emotions and attitudes, and ultimately become better equipped to face challenges in the future. It is an important skill that provides students with the opportunity to reach their potential and achieve success in life.

To develop this growth mindset, at testpaper.ai, we developed a progress analytical dashboard that focuses on students’ progress instead of emphasising their mistakes. Check out the dashboard on our app.


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