• Newsletter

  • This blog is written by specialists from the Education Division of the Inter-American Development Bank. Its objective is to provide arguments and ideas that will spark debate about how to transform education in Latin America and the Caribbean. This blog is a call to action for the reader. An idea, a project, or a question can make a difference.

    Educating Haiti


    Las opiniones expresadas en este blog son las del autor y no necesariamente reflejan las opiniones del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, sus directivas, la Asamblea de Gobernadores o sus países miembros.

    The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inter-American Development Bank, its Management, its Board of Executive Directors or its member Governments.

    The Nitty Gritty of Grit

    By - 12 Dec 2013


    Good high school students usually go on to be good college students. But the relationship isn’t perfect. Just being academically prepared isn’t good enough. Research has shown that some kids who persist in college are not necessarily the ones who excelled in high school. Those who persist are resilient, socially agile and emotionally secure – they can pick up and move on after bad news, bad grades or other difficult moments, ask for help when needed, and resist negative peer pressures. Such traits by themselves won’t make kids successful in school but, when combined with sound academic preparation, they are indispensable.

    Particularly for kids who don’t have the safety nets that come with the privileges of class and wealth.

    What puts these kids over the top is grit.

    At its most basic, grit is a character trait that gives kids the umph they need to get the job done, go the extra mile, or stick it out when all the odds are stacked against them. Embedded in it are socio-emotional skills, like motivation, perseverance, responsibility, self-awareness, all of which can be taught and learned, practiced, honed, and applied.

    Grit equips people to pursue particularly challenging goals over years and decades. It is different than self-control, which operates at a lower timescale to battle hourly temptations and cravings which bring pleasure in the moment followed by immediate regret (see more: here). Measured on a straight forward, easy to score 12 point scale (see more: here), grit reliably predicts who prevails when the going gets tough, whether tough is surviving grueling cadet induction at West Point, making it to the final round of a spelling bee, or being the first in your family to graduate from college.

    Grit is universal. It obeys no credence, ideology or moral or ethical barrier. In practice, however, attempts to teach and define it often collide with such constraints. Grit falls hostage to political and/or religious persuasions of character, values, virtues or any other myriad attribute that categorically defines your essence: good-bad, strong-weak, deserving-not, and so on.

    In helping kids acquire the grit they need to be successful, it is important to be future-oriented but grounded in reality. Getting where you want to be down the line is never a straight and narrow path. Obstacles come in all shapes and sizes. Kids must be able to see them and create strategies for overcoming them.

    Creating a set of personalized if-then rules to guide them when trouble lurks can help: if I do my homework, then I can watch TV. In doing this, we engage the prefrontal cortex of the brain – exactly that area that works against reflexive and appetite-driven parts of the brain. Seen in this light, the ideological baggage disappears. Virtues are nothing more than simple habits, and “good”– goal-enhancing – responses become the default option.

    Comment on the post