Finding Meaning and Purpose: What Are Our Youth Telling Us?

Project Number
OER 10/13 MAH

Project Duration
March 2014 - June 2017


Educational change scholars in recent years have called for a focus on students as partners in change and leadership (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009). This involves a deeper look into the complexity of students' learning and lives in the design of meaningful educational experiences. Worldwide, the predominant focus is on academic excellence in schools. To prepare students for rapidly-changing, complex and uncertain global societies, researchers argue that we should be asking bigger and more fundamental questions. What are schools doing to help students use the knowledge and skills they learn in school in their own lives and aspirations? This is not about the academic motivation to study hard and get good grades. Rather, this is about the purpose behind why schooling is important in the first place and about why students should care about what they learn. This study will be one of the first studies in Singapore to tackle the question of purpose and meaning head-on to find out from our adolescents what matter and to uncover their tacit sense of meaning and purpose that underlies their learning, school and life experiences. This study aims to investigate a number of urgent questions concerning whether adolescents in Singapore schools have meaningful purposes to commit themselves to, what the nature of adolescent purposes might be that inspire them, how adolescents have developed such purposes and meanings, and what we can do to help more students find clear purpose in life. Using questionnaires, focus group discussions and clinical interviews with adolescents in six case schools, this study goes beyond a description of what adolescents perceive of themselves to explore the meaning-making behind their actions and socio-cultural appropriation of available resources. This study seeks to open up discussions about what is good education, and reconnect with questions of purpose and meaning and what these should look like in our schools. These are questions that educators have valued for a long time but are not sure what to do about it. The findings of this study will be important to teachers, parents and others interested in helping adolescents in Singapore schools and elsewhere develop the ''capacity for connectedness'' with self and others, and engage in the conscious reflective struggle to reconstruct knowledge, skills and identity in ways that are transforming, empowering and self-sustaining. What our youth tell us about purpose and meaning can become much more than a guidepost or inspiration. These indicators tell us about the wellbeing of our children and can become an organising principle for curriculum decisions, educational policy and governance.

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