From Success to Failure

From Success to Failure

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Media Type
TODAY, Pg 21

[By Asst Prof Noel Chia Kok Hwee from NIE's Early CHildhood and Special Education Academic Group]

I refer to the letter "Failure is not a lack of talent, but a lack of perseverance" (July 11) on Mr James Dyson's commentary "Engineering success through failure" (July 9).

While I agree that perseverance and skill are essential traits to attaining academic success, the writer may have missed the essence of Mr Dyson's article.

Success and failure are two poles on the same continuum of learning. Between them are many erratic errors (or mistakes), possibly due to sheer ignorance, and systematic errors, which can be a result of inadequate knowledge or poor teaching.

Over the past decades, there has been a shift in pedagogical focus from preventing failure to learning from it.

Failure can be a result of unconscious skill incompetence. For instance, a pupil may unknowingly over-generalise the use of the suffix "-ed" for all verbs in past tense, such as "eat" becomes "eated" rather than "ate". Once corrected, he realises his grammatical error and moves into the phase of conscious skill incompetence.

Given sufficient examples and exercises, he practices the correct use of "-ed" and attains what is known as conscious skill competence. He keeps using the rule correctly until it becomes an automatic application. This final phase of learning is the attainment of unconscious skill competence.

Learning involves a series of steps, working from failure towards success. To use Mr Dyson's words, in "engineering success through failure", two principal steps are taken.

The first step is to learn from errors, by observing and practising the right model a number of times. The second is to overcome errors, that is, to shorten the time between the incorrect response and the presentation once more of the correct model.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in learning from failure is to not continue learning it such that one could become totally discouraged. More importantly, we must determine the causes of failure and discover appropriate solutions.

With every failure comes a positive, fresh experience, if we learn from its errors, engineering failure into a highway to success.

Source: TODAY, Pg 21, mediacorp