Comment: Teaching for the 21st centuryJanuary 14, 2018, 3:45 pm GMT
To succeed in today's fast-changing work environment, all the evidence points in one direction students need to develop those vital intrinsic and personality skills from an early age. The challenge that schools face is that these attributes, such as problem solving or decision making, are not taught as part of the official curriculum or certainly not in a structured way. In this article, I'll be offering some tips for both schools and teachers so that they can facilitate the learning of our children, helping them to flourish in their careers and lives.
The great news is that the education sector has realised that there must be a radical overhaul in the curriculum. Calling them 'soft' skills has never been a particularly favourable description yet we know they deliver hard results. In recognition of their importance to student development, the Australian curriculum for example now includes several 'capabilities', adding ethical and intercultural learning to the three 'R's (writing, reading and arithmetic). Interestingly, they will focus on critical and creative thinking, developing children's talents in terms of how they approach and solve problems.
However, while assessing someone's proficiency in Maths or English is relatively straightforward we gain our qualifications based on exam results it's not so easy to score a child's capacity to solve problems.
Therefore, to be truly effective in delivering these new courses, schools must start with this end goal in mind it's all very well to acknowledge the importance of teaching these skills, but if they are to have any true meaning, they must pay careful attention to the metrics.
Academic institutions need to look at what businesses are doing and adapt the learning models they provide for their employees think of the plethora of psychometric and personality tests that are used to assess a candidate's suitability for the job they're recruiting for. These are very effective in finding out what makes a person tick, how they deal with pressure, whether they are team players, how they approach business scenarios and the type of organisational culture they thrive in. They paint a very thorough picture of the person's personality and core values.
But no scalable solution is possible without the buy-in of teachers themselves, who must not only adapt their methods but also receive the instruction they might not have had during their years of teacher training. There are, of course, practicalities to consider as well, such as class numbers, and what the assessments will consist of, for example a blend of e-learning and more formal exam-style tests.
Learning curve for schools and teachers
There are many factors to consider and I want to pick out the four that I feel are the most important for teachers to succeed in delivering 21st century learning. The first is ownership – do teachers believe in what is trying to be achieved vis-à-vis the development of soft skills? Have they volunteered to be involved in the shaping of the curriculum? Is there enthusiasm or a general indifference? If the latter is the case, then schools will need to generate awareness, so schools might need to arrange meetings or training sessions emphasising the importance of teaching these skills and fostering pupil independence.
The second key point is knowledge. Do teachers understand what 21st century skills are, why they are so important to the development of children and hence the rationale for including them in the curriculum? Economists, psychologists and employers will all tell you that the case for teaching intrinsic qualities such as self-reflection, empathy, courage and compassion ('who we are') alongside personality competencies, like conflict management and negotiation, is beyond question. But for these capabilities to be assessed, they must be precisely defined and appropriate pedagogical methods selected. Critical and creative thinking can't be taught in the same way as say as a scientific discipline.
Just as employers now use a wide range of techniques that are shaping the next generation of online assessments typically involving blended, digital solutions so too must teachers be comfortable with technology as they will have to offer students choices when delivering the training. With e-learning and so many new platforms, teachers need to be aware of all the latest resources to make learning both fun and rewarding, but if they themselves aren't adept at maximising all available resources, then that will pose a problem and hamper the child's learning and progress.
Teachers must also be recognised and rewarded. Being recognised for their efforts is critical, not just from a motivation perspective but from a quality standpoint so that pupils and parents alike can appreciate the incredible work that's being done. Teacher awards, assembly announcements or even using social media are all ways to celebrate the talent of our teachers. And while teaching may well be a vocation, they must be financially compensated too, so it's important to have a salary and bonus structure that reflects extra responsibilities and rewards high performance.
I must also mention parents and the role that they play in the holistic development of their children. Attitudes and skills are influenced and practised in the comfort of the child's home setting and parents can help in mentoring their children, working with teachers to help measure and assess these key skills. They must also encourage them to pursue internships and apprenticeships, for example during school holidays. These experiences are invaluable even in short bursts, as they expose children to real life work scenarios that equip them with both the soft and the hard skills needed to succeed in their careers. Student exchanges are another fantastic way of learning about different perspectives and cultures.
Even though we've reached a universal consensus about providing our children with the right skills, there's still a lot of work to be done. School curricula must not only improve to include the teaching of soft skills but also clearly define how to put it all into practice. There are clear implications for teachers who need to be supported and trained so that they are well versed in all the new learning technologies. And clearly investment will be needed to produce high-quality assessments that can evaluate and measure these skills effectively.
While we may not have all the answers, there is a concerted effort by educators, governments and businesses alike to address the skills debate and ensure that our future generations are equipped with the 21st century skills they need to succeed. And the four steps I've outlined above will help them on that journey.
Mithun Kamath, CEO, Arc Skills