A survey from London University Institute of Education (1) asked more than 11,000 seven-year-olds what they wanted to be when they grew up. They found that more ambitious children from poorer homes had fewer behavioural problems than those with lesser dreams.
It seems that, even at such a young age, ambitions (in terms of jobs and career) can influence emotional strength and resilience and could well be a driving force for attitude and behaviour all the way through school.
This ties in with very common anecdotal findings in secondary schools that those students with clearer career plans are often more highly motivated to learn and also better behaved.
Link to Good Behaviour
The researchers cross-referenced the results of the survey with data on the same children’s emotional state, drawn from questionnaires on their strengths and difficulties filled in by their mothers. They also factored in details of family income.
“Early aspirations may therefore be a very good indicator of a cluster of characteristics associated with resilience – or the lack of it – such as self-perception of competence or a feeling of hopelessness,” said Prof Eirini Flouri, the lead author. Her team tend to think that these early ambitions help to create a sense of hope for the future, and this translates into positive attitude and good behaviour.
This present study was based on data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which has been following more than 19,000 children from all over the UK since they were born in 2000-1. The aim is to continue to follow them into adulthood. The study is run by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education.
Tom ‘The Engineer’
This ties in with evidence I heard recently from my son who had been working in a primary school in South Korea. He described the practice in the infant schools there of teachers always referring to pupils by their first name and their career ambition. So, children were not just called Tom or Julie (or the equivalent South Korean names) but ‘Tom the engineer’, and ‘Julie the doctor’. And this wasn’t a rigid stereotyping or inflexible pigeon-holing; the career ambition could change regularly. The point was: each child was expected to have one.
(1) “Do primary school children’s career aspirations matter? The relationship between family poverty, career aspirations, and emotional and behavioural problems”, by Eirini Flouri and Constantina Panourgia, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, IoE.
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