Where does fear of making mistakes come from?

At an event last Friday in the Swiss capital Bern about changing how education is done, I was thrilled to learn about great stories of improving how education is done. Two examples:
  1. A young student, who was clearly frustrated about how education was being done and strongly wanted to change the way education is done, explained that with his friends, he initiated and facilitated an innovation workshop at a school. The young people realized that teachers need to be trained to innovate.
  2. A teacher explained that with some young people, he created and published a paper. In the process, they involved more companies. 
During the event I also learned about significant challenges. For example, Jakob Widmer explained that in some Swiss schools, neither teachers nor students are allowed to make mistakes. A teacher I spoke with echoed this point by Widmer and explained that not being allowed to make mistakes and/or being punished for making mistakes creates fear and keeps both students and teachers from trying ideas out. The result: Both teachers and students do only what they must do - and nothing else. That makes them feel safe. A large number of continuous tests and distribution of grades put everyone under external pressure. The problem: Neither initiative, courage nor creativity are trained. Intrinsic motivation hardly exists. 

At this event in Bern, I was deeply sorry to hear about these cultural problems in some Swiss schools and decided to approach Widmer to learn about the sources of this fear that some Swiss teachers apparently have of trying of ideas / new ways of doing education. In fact, I almost shed a tear of this total lack of learning culture and innovation culture in some Swiss school communities. Why are people not allowed to make mistakes in some Swiss schools, I asked Jakob Widmer at the event in Bern. What is blocking teachers and students from trying out ideas? Widmer was very clear in his response: He explained that it has to do with the Swiss social security system which he found is currently not working properly. Much more homework needs to be done here was, as I understood it, the message by Widmer to us all.

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