The Secret to Success is Character Not IQ

Some pupils of Lusaka Primary School Arthur Wina
File: Some pupils of Lusaka Primary School Arthur Wina
Some pupils of Lusaka Primary School Arthur Wina

When most parents and caregivers receive their children’s report cards, what they care about is whether or not their child got an A or 95% in Mathematics, Science, and English. They may also be curious about their child’s ranking in class, “are you the first, second, or 25th in class?!” However, what if schools also measured and reported on a student’s character strengths and weaknesses? These are the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual, and can include factors like, how resilient is the student? How empathetic are they to other students? Do they demonstrate purpose and determination in school?

Many African countries, including Zambia, are facing challenges in the education sector. Schools often have poor infrastructure and lack the resources (including books, desks, trained teachers) needed for children to effectively learn. Teachers are overwhelmed with large class sizes and low salaries. Poverty is also a hindrance to learning, as many school children are often under-fed and neglected at home. Well, numerous studies have shown that teaching children to build character strengths like grit, purpose, and curiosity can help them achieve academic success even if their life circumstances are difficult.

In fact, even top-performing institutions in the U.S. like Riverdale Country School in New York City have started to teach and assess kids on character strengths like curiosity, grit, and growth mindset, in addition to regular grading, as they believe that these qualities are as important as IQ and economic status to a child’s success in school and life.

Building character strength in children can help us find solutions to our biggest problems.

It’s vital that we start to teach kids to build character because Africa’s future is more dependent on people who are problem solvers, rather than book smart. Think of the William Kamkwamba, who provided electricity to his village by building a windmill out of garbage when he was just 14. No math equation can teach kids to do that, instead, it’s a combination of knowledge, a curious mind, and determination.

The new educational cartoon show, Ubongo Kids on ZNBC, teaches children math and science skills while also developing character strengths that build a love of learning. Produced by Ubongo Learning, a Tanzania-based edutainment company, Ubongo Kids shows children that basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work, rather than just brains and talent. Airing on Saturdays at 10 am, the African-made cartoon show aims to help children in Zambia do well in school, as well as prepare them to take risks, learn from their failures, and positively contribute to society as a whole.

The future belongs to the young, but especially in Africa where nearly 50% of the population is under the age of 15, making it the world’s most youthful continent. It’s not uncommon for government officials, African parents and even foreign experts to say that “the youth of Africa will solve some of the continent’s most challenging problems”. But this can only be true if we invest in educating African children to be curious learners who aren’t afraid to fail and are resilient in the pursuit of their goals.


  1. Good points and explains why we’re still complaining against lack of jobs and foreigners owning businesses in Zambia. We lack character.

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