Character Skills Should Be Highlighted in the Human Resource Development Revolution

TSURU Kotaro
Faculty Fellow, RIETI

The government adopted a new economic policy package on December 8, 2017. The policy package includes the "human resource development revolution" initiative, which is one of the Shinzo Abe administration's policy pillars. Among the items to be studied under this initiative, "free provision of education" has dominated attention. However, the key elements of human resource development, such as human capital, capabilities, and skills, have not been highlighted in this initiative. That is regrettable although further specifics of the initiative have yet to be studied.

Development of character skills as the critical factor

I believe that developing character skills is critical in the era of the 100-year life. In the fields of psychology and economics, character skills are known as non-cognitive skills—skills related to individuals' traits—as opposed to cognitive skills, which can be measured by achievement test scores (for further details, see Seikaku Sukiru wo Kimeru Itsutsu no Noryoku (Five Capabilities that Determine Character Skills), my forthcoming book that comprehensively discusses character skills in detail).

In the field of psychology, the general consensus is that character skills (=non-cognitive skills) can be divided into five factors (Big Five). A person's character is presumed to represent a combination of these factors. The five factors are "openness" (curiosity and aesthetic sensitivity), "conscientiousness" (perseverance to strive toward goals with discipline), "extroversion" (sociability and positive emotionality), "agreeableness" (sympathy and kindness), and "emotional stability" (a lack of nervousness and impulsiveness). Concerning the impact of the Big Five factors on people's lives, various empirical studies have been conducted, mainly in the United States. In particular, conscientiousness has been found to have a significant impact on vocational life. We focus our attention on character skills because not only are they equally important for all types of jobs but also it is known that they can be developed during adulthood.

On the other hand, cognitive skills, which represent academic performance, are known to be more important for complicated jobs, such as those performed by professionals. What is interesting about character skills is that developing them not only has a favorable impact on people's performance in life but also is effective in enhancing cognitive skills. In other words, developing character skills is doubly beneficial for people's lives.

Conscientiousness' strong correlation with classroom performance and achievement test scores

Let's look at the relationship between character skills and classroom performance. A meta-analysis summarizing existing studies (Note 1) shows that of the Big Five factors, conscientiousness has an outstandingly strong correlation with GPA (Grade Point Average: students' academic performance scores calculated through a prescribed formula on the basis of their performance in individual subjects). This correlation was similar in strength to the correlation between intellect and GPA. In short, conscientiousness is as likely to affect academic performance as does intellect.

In the same analysis, the correlation between the Big Five factors and GPA was examined at each of the primary, secondary, and higher education levels. At the primary education level, the correlation between intellect and GPA is far stronger than that between character skills and GPA. However, at the secondary and higher education levels, the strength of correlation between intellect and academic performance is less than half of that at the primary education level. On the other hand, the strength of the correlation between conscientiousness and GPA remains unchanged at the secondary and higher education levels, and it is as strong as that between intellect and the GPA at those levels. In short, the correlation between conscientiousness and classroom performance remains consistent throughout the academic cycle, while the correlation between intellect and classroom performance weakens in later years.

Concerning nationwide standardized tests, existing studies showed that some traits related to conscientiousness are important predictive factors of test scores. What is interesting is that conscientiousness may have somewhat different impacts on classroom performance and achievement test scores. One analysis showed that behavior related to conscientiousness has a stronger impact on classroom performance than on test scores (Note 2).

To sum up, among character skills, conscientiousness is particularly important for improving academic performance. Even though children may achieve successful academic performance in their early years by relying on their intellect alone, the possession of conscientiousness to patiently strive toward goals also becomes important as they advance to higher education levels. Even so, conscientiousness alone may be insufficient to achieve high scores in standardized tests although this trait may make significant contributions. In any case, developing conscientiousness is important for improving academic performance.

The studies mentioned above are only a few of the many that indicate the importance of character skills. I hope that awareness about the need to develop character skills grows at various education stages, including recurrent education, and that specific initiatives to promote the development of those skills will be considered.

January 18, 2018
  1. ^ Poropat, A. (2009) "A Meta-Analysis of the Five-Factor Model of Personality and Academic Performance," Psychological Bulletin 135(2), pp.322-338.
  2. ^ Willingham, W., J. Pollack, and C. Lewis (2002) "Grades and Test Scores: Accounting for Observed Differences," Journal of Educational Measurement 39(1), pp.1-37.

February 23, 2018

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