The benefits of developing softer skills in schools

I read with interest the recently published article, which looked at how educational establishments are selected in the UAE and the role of education in creating the future generations for the workforce. Whilst the Dubai and UAE education system is quite different to the United Kingdom, it is true that we are all striving to achieve the same outcomes. And the issues regarding how the softer skills are taught in education are very similar.

The quality of the curriculum and its educational content is very clear for students in the UK, who all know what qualifications and grades they are working towards until they 18 years of age. Students here are tested formally continuously from 7 years old right through to 18, making it relatively easy to work out how well they are ‘learning’. However it is the non-educational character building that receives a lot less focus on a daily basis; this ‘caught’ curriculum is harder to measure and also harder to embed, and also more challenging for students themselves to understand.

How can we expect young people to be able to build relationships with others if they have never been shown how to? How will they learn to handle the knock backs which will undoubtedly come if nobody has ever shown them how to pick themselves back up and keep trying? Do we truly believe that just because the world is now accessible virtually and physically that character will be built just by learning from the internet or through television?

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I have spent a lot of time working with people in their 20’s and 30’s who have good educational grades but have found it really hard to operate in the world of work, sometimes ending up in very difficult circumstances. They have grown up largely in a world where it is all about grades inside of school and a world of reality TV outside of school. They are lacking the softer skills, the core personal skills that allow them to look people in the eye and not through a screen, to be authentic and comfortable in who they are; skills such as confidence, empowerment, resilience, determination, understanding and self-awareness. And to learn this set of skills is a whole emerging, developing and establishing process that gives the person the values and attitudes that employers are looking for in their staff.

Whilst some schools across the world are excellent at this, there is much scope for every country to be developing the whole child as a standard and measured outcome. The benefits of this will be immense for society; businesses will have a larger pot of candidates to select from and once recruited the individuals will add more value than just through their educational qualifications alone; happiness levels will be improved making a positive impact on living standards and the environmental factors of a community; and educating the more formal aspects of learning should become easier. The challenge for those of us in business who support education outside of the teaching role, is to provide advice, guidance and support in the shape of training and facilitation that will empower teachers and students alike in developing, embedding and flourishing those softer skills.

Character building cannot come from formal grades and testing alone, nor can we rely on what is learned via the internet to help shape our young people; it is the emphasis on building the core skills takes place outside of the set curriculum and also outside of the school gates that really helps a child to develop the skills they need for a world that is so very different to the classroom. Ultimately we will all benefit from this approach.

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