Open-mindedness: The most important thing we can teach young people

In a study by Mind UK (2021), 78% of young people said that school had made their mental health worse. 70% of young people who experienced racism in school said that it had negatively impacted their wellbeing. These stats are expected to increase further for minoritised young people. At such a critical age, children are internalising negative beliefs about their differences, and are questioning their place in society. Can we expect young people to achieve top grades and sail through school when the environment is excluding underrepresented groups and shaving their confidence at the very beginning of their journey into adulthood?

Complex data analysis and strategic models have a necessary place in the fight to drive systemic change, but are we overlooking the power of fundamental traits such as curiosity and open-mindedness? Can educational institutions model these traits to drive inclusion, and teach young people to follow suit?

Open-mindedness is the willingness to actively search for a diverse range of information, perspectives, and solutions when navigating through life. It’s the ability to admit that we always have more to learn, and that our experiences shape our perspectives.  

In the education industry, open-mindedness can drive an inclusive environment for young people, whilst also encouraging them to be a catalyst for change themselves. In this sense, open-mindedness is about encouraging individuality whilst forging togetherness in the process.

Open-mindedness and finding identity:

Navigating the education system as a young person can bring about complex emotions. Systemically, individual differences and needs have been left out of the conversation, with a holistic service delivered in the same way to everyone. Young generations have expressed feeling stripped of their individuality and self-expression, making it difficult for students to find out who they really are, and grow confidence in their own identity.

To overcome this, self-exploration must be encouraged and welcomed wherever possible, and students should be given the power to consider what is important to them. When this culture is embedded into schools and colleges, it’s embedded into the outlook that young people have on life, increasing their respect and empathy for those around them. 

An open-minded education system would fuel a culture of acknowledging the positives of our differences, giving young people the tools they need to support one another. 

Open-mindedness can break down the stigma and shame attached to diversity and begin to replace this with pride. However, achieving this culture shift requires commitment from everyone, from industry bodies to individual teachers. 

On one hand, it’s crucial that we take steps to increase the diversity of leaders in the education system so that representation is visible to young people during their childhood. On the other hand, we also need to be working to diversify the content covered in the curriculum so that young people are educated on different cultures and perspectives. Students should be able to learn about their own histories in school, as well as uncovering the histories of people with different identities to themselves.

Open-mindedness and finding purpose: 

A wealth of research highlights the link between happiness, success, and purpose (Harvard Business Review, 2022). Rather than mapping out young people’s lives for them and pushing them to follow a rigid process, students should be taught the importance of finding their own purpose. 

Young people should be supported in finding a purpose that will give meaning to whatever they do. By adopting this mindset, we can encourage students to create their own opportunities, and be ready to explore anything that comes their way. 

With an open-minded outlook, young people are more likely to engage in information from a diverse range of creators, encouraging them to build connections with those who have different backgrounds to themselves, and expanding the opportunities that become available to them. Young people should be encouraged to remain curious and enjoy the journey of growing older. This journey is inevitably more educational and colourful when diversity is embraced. 

Open-mindedness and its impact on others:

Being open-minded not only helps individuals to increase their understanding of the world and access opportunities, but it also helps young people to make more well-rounded and empathetic decisions that support others.

Open-minded young people bring a future of more inclusive friends, colleagues, innovators, and leaders. As the future of the planet and society becomes ever more uncertain, it’s fundamental that we support young people to build a future where everyone can thrive together.

If we look at many of the most widely recognised thought leaders across the world – from storytellers to artists, to activists – a key trait shared amongst them is their own open-mindedness, and their ability to open other minds to new ways of thinking. The most influential art, music, films, books, and speeches are those that stimulate; blurring societal boundaries and questioning norms. 

As younger generations become increasingly more attached to the mission of driving wellbeing and inclusion, they themselves should be empowered in the education system to offer reverse-mentoring and share their ideas for change. Welcoming diverse young perspectives will build the confidence of students and teach them how to find their own power. Opening opportunities for students to be the ‘teachers’ would help to highlight how young people feel, where improvements can be made, and what actions can be taken to drive a more inclusive education system. 


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