Students are the future of both humanity and the current generation. Today’s young people in educational institutions need to be instilled with the required skills to function well in society and do their utmost to make the community a better place for tomorrow. Though all skills are necessary, some skills get neglected in favor of others with more face value and appeal. An example of such a skill is the art of decision-making.
What is a decision-making skill?
Simply put, it measures the ability of an individual to assess all possible outcomes and choose the most viable and favorable option out of all those available. This particular ability, the one to select the most feasible path, depends on a myriad of other factors.
The factors can range from the student’s self-esteem to the prior experiences of the student when faced with similar decision-making moments. Dealing with these factors in a way that reinforces, rather than degrades, a student’s decision-making skill can significantly aid them in accurately assessing a situation, analyzing the possible outcomes, and then determining the single most favorable outcome.
However, before dealing with the “how” of reinforcing a student’s decision-making skill, we must first address the “why” extensively. Why should one make an extensive effort in developing a student’s decision-making skills when other skills seem more favorable, such as intelligence and comprehension?
Are Decision-Making Skills Important for Students?
While it’s a well-established fact that decision-making plays a pivotal role in one’s life, regardless of their profession, the same isn’t usually said for students. The widespread perception is that learning and hard work play the most critical part in a student’s life. Their decision-making skills don’t matter as much as other such skills.
However, recent worldwide crises during the times of Covid have proven otherwise. In a time when the world economy was taking hits everywhere, and the educational institutions all faced a significant bump, we saw how students were forced to make critical decisions that would, in turn, shape their future.
The world is changing rapidly, and so is education. We don’t live in the 90s anymore, and students’ lives are much more challenging now. They have a variety of paths they can take, each with a different destination.
The ability to make crucial decisions plays a vital part in a student’s life and can make or break it. Hence, a student’s decision-making skills should be given as much importance as other technical skills, if not less.
While this is just a brief overview of how students should ignore decision-making skills, further on in the article, we will see some concrete reasons why it plays such a huge role.
Reasons Why Decision Making is Important for Students
Let’s move on to see what specific benefits students can enjoy if they work on their decision-making skills as they do on their studies.
The following are some of the few reasons that justify the effort in developing decision-making skills of the students:
1. Prepares Them for The Future
Allowing students to make impactful decisions beyond the menial “Which seat should I sit in today?” enables them to gather experience from their past choices and use that experience to aid them in making better choices. Though no two decisions are the same, some form of similarity may exist. The students may draw parallels between a decision they have yet to make and the decision they’ve already made in the past. With the benefit of hindsight, students can refine their thought processes and make choices and decisions in a way that is beneficial for them and their peers.
While one may argue that students are already presented with decisions multiple times each day, those decisions rarely have a lasting impact on the life of either the student or others. Decisions such as choosing the classes for the current year seem trivial and limited in their scope, as the impact of that decision rarely extends beyond the students’ lives and consequently rarely affects others.
Even when students are faced with situations where their choice might have lasting consequences, the lack of experience with such cases can be devastating to all those involved. Responsible decision-making, if taught earlier and with a particular focus, might have come in handy in tackling the situation. An ideal and optimal solution would have been found after considering all those involved and analyzing all possible outcomes analytically.
2. Core SEL Competency
SEL, which stands for Social-Emotional Learning, is a concept through which all students and young people acquire and exercise the knowledge and skills required to develop as responsible and empathetic human beings who work towards the collective good and not just their personal goals.
Introduced by the CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), this concept is fast gaining popularity and being shown to work by increasing the academic performance of students taught, keeping this model in mind. It consists of 5 main core competencies, each of which must be developed in students to aid in their emotional and social development. The central core competencies are as follows:
- Responsible Decision Making
- Relationship skills
- Social Awareness
Decision-making is a core concept of SEL. It allows individuals to make mature choices, keeping in mind the interest of all parties involved alongside all moral and ethical concerns.
3. Psychological Benefits
Psychology regards decision-making as the cognitive process that results in selecting a possible action out of several possible actions. It classifies the process as a reasoning process and attributes a lack of this skill as a symptom of a person’s immaturity in developing psychosocial capacities. These capacities influence a person’s reaction to external factors such as peer pressure. A lack of development of this skill can lead to emotional “stunting” and a lack of confidence. Indecisiveness may also be introduced in the student, which can have its own set of negative benefits. The linkage between all these can be easily explained via a popular psychological theory known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow Hierarchy!
According to the theory, there exist five primary levels of needs of individuals. A brief introduction and overview of these levels are given below:
- Physiological: These are basic biological needs of humans needed to survive. Examples are food, water, and shelter.
- Safety needs: Once physiological needs have been met, the need for safety and security kicks in. Humans want to experience the comfort that comes with predictability and order. Suitable examples of these needs are financial security (such as security of job) and physical security (presence of law and order)
- Love and Belongingness need: Once safety needs have been satisfied, a human requires a need to “belong,” i.e., to be considered a part of a social group and have connections and affiliations with others. Examples include friendship, intimacy, and acceptance of others.
- Esteem needs: These needs relate to the need for an individual to have accomplishments and respect their peers. This need is considered by many to be the most crucial need for students and young people.
- Self-actualization needs: The fifth and final need in Maslow’s hierarchy is the realization of one’s potential and goals and seeking personal growth.
All these needs are interdependent, and failure to progress in one need automatically results in stunted psychological development. Certain separate skills can aid or hinder this progress too. This is where the decision-making skill comes into play. If undeveloped, a lack of the skill can lead to indecisiveness and hence esteem issues. These issues can then hinder the level of self-accomplishment of a student and lead them to question the level of respect that their peers may have for them. This leads to them being unable to fulfill their self-actualization needs and prevents personal growth.
Consequently, teaching students how to make responsible decisions can aid them in fulfilling their need for accomplishment. Making rationally sound and justified decisions instead of having an irrational or emotional basis will help them gain the respect of their peers, hence fulfilling their need for recognition and respect.
4. Refines Other Important Skills
A vast collection of other skills that a student might need to progress physically, emotionally, and socially to prepare them to deal with the challenges that come with dealing with the real world. Other skills, such as comprehension and analytical thinking, are instrumental in helping a student become more accepting of the other’s point of view and generally being more open-minded and curious about things that seem alien to them.
As is evident from the above section, the art of decision-making has impacts that can ripple into other areas of self-development. Though the positive effects of improving the skill may not positively affect other areas of development, a lack of the skill can undoubtedly hinder a person’s social and emotional development, as demonstrated above multiple times. This can have long-lasting negative consequences that may not necessarily be limited to a person’s academic life.
5. Improves Mental Well-Being
Student life is, as many of us are aware, hectic. Besides the usual stress of acquiring good grades, other issues also lead to students having a high level of stress unique to the current generation.
A significant source of stress for many students is their inability to make decisions. This indecisiveness can lead to considerable stress, especially if the result of the decision to soon be expected. This is unhealthy and can hamper a student’s academic performance and social life. Peer pressure is a perfect example. The indecisiveness of a student may soon then be overcome by an overwhelming need to please others to be accepted.
This can lead to negative consequences, mainly if the peer pressure is directed towards trying out things that may harm the individual’s health. A perfect example of this is drug use. A significant portion of drug users can trace back the start of their journey to being pressured into trying them out by their friends or other individuals.
A properly developed decision-making skill can make students more assertive and quicker in their choices. This eliminates, or at the very least severely diminishes, the indecisiveness that is typical of decision-making. This eliminates a major and recurring source of stress for students and can aid their mental well-being.
It can also improve their academic performance, as proven by research.
How Can Students Improve Their Decision-Making Skills?
An example of how students can improve their decision-making skills is to integrate students into an existing adult-dominated activity. This integration can help them get a taste for analytical analysis and root out unfavorable alternatives when faced with a decision. The adults can prove to be mentors, using their experience to aid students in learning quicker and developing their decision-making skills faster.
Yet another method is to set up a new activity from scratch without adults being a part of it. This can allow students to develop their thinking and decision-making capabilities using their thought processes. As time passes, they will gain valuable experience.
Consequently, students can use that experience to refine their thought processes and be more likely to pick a path that leads to a viable and positive outcome. Though slower due to the lack of guidance and experience from an adult, it can lead to students developing their own unique analytical thinking process without external input.
There are still more ways to explore how a student’s decision-making can be improved, but these are more than enough for the scope of this article. Let’s wrap things up in the next section.
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As is visible, there is a strong argument in favor of teaching responsible decision-making to students in educational institutions. The reasons mentioned above justify the need to make a proper system to facilitate the development of this crucial skill.
Educational institutions should incorporate the system (either stand-alone or as part of an SEL curriculum) at the earliest to prepare their students to be better able to deal with future challenges and develop skills that will carry over with them into adulthood.
Teachers, educators, and parents all can take a hand in enabling the students to make decisions that result in a favorable outcome not just for the students themselves but also for the other people directly related to the decision.
However, the degree of freedom allowed to the student to have a say in a decision should depend upon the student’s age and how impactful the decision might be. Caretakers should be able to intervene when necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of the student. It is up to them to draw the line of when intervention becomes a necessity.