I read with interest a recently published article, which looked at how educational establishments are selected in the UAE and the role of education in preparing the future generations for the workforce. Whilst the UAE’s 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 general, who should all know what qualifications and grades they are working towards until they are 18 years of age. Students are tested formally continuously from 7 years old right through to 18 years old, making it relatively easy to work out how well they are doing academically. However, it is the informal 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. It is also more challenging for the 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? How will they learn to handle the knock backs, which will undoubtedly come if no one has ever shown them how to pick themselves 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?
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 challenging to operate in the world of work, sometimes ending up in very difficult circumstances. They grew up in a world where a lot of emphasis was on academic grades and too much focus on reality TV outside of school. They lack the softer skills; the core personal skills that would allow them to look people in the eye and to be authentic and comfortable in who they are. They lack skills such as confidence, empowerment, resilience, determination, understanding and self-awareness. And to learn this set of skills is not very straightforward, however developing these skills makes a person more employable and able to cope better in the world of work.
While some schools across the world are excellent at this, there is much scope for every country to develop the whole child. The benefits of this will be immense for society. Additionally, businesses will have a larger base 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 creating a positive impact on living standards. The challenge for those of us in businesses that support education outside of the classroom, 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, 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 that takes place outside of the set curriculum and outside of the school gates that really helps a child to develop the skills they need for a world that is changing rapidly. Ultimately, we will all benefit from this approach.