The New Black Hat is Knowledge
Finding the balance between hard vs soft skills in education is so needed today!
In the 21st century, teaching and developing soft skills, like cooperation, emotional intelligence and team-working, has become all the rage…often at the sacrifice of hard skills. A community member recently told me of an employee, a recent high school graduate, that he hired who thought we live on the Pacific Ocean (I live in New Hampshire!).
While it can be argued that he didn't need to know his basic geography to do his job, that same employer went on to tell me about the gaps this young person had in basic math and english…no, this is not a person with English as a second language!
First, let me say this is not this young person's fault…This is a shortcoming on the part of the education he was given.
My grandfather grew up in some very challenging economic times. His father passed away, and he left his schooling in the eighth grade to help support his mother and siblings. His education was cut short.
Even so, he had the language and math skills to become a builder and became one of the preeminent designers and developers in his upstate New York community.
When this is not even the case for our young employee, the question has to be asked,
Are We Shortchanging Our Next Generation
in their Education Today?
What are they learning?
With the trendy emphasis on soft skills, presumably they know how to get along, how to communicate with one another, and how to collaborate. These are important skills to have, for life and for work.
What is missing if there is a lack of balance between hard vs soft skills in education is having the knowledge base of what to talk about, and how to grow and develop.
This teetering lack of balance is worldwide, not just US-based, according to a paper I read recently from Dr Deborah M. Netolicky Le Penseur for the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development as OECD prepares for its 2018 PISA 2018 Global Competence assessment. This assessment is being designed to address and recommend rebalancing (my words) for the best outcomes for children worldwide.
She seems to argue concern over more soft vs hard skills and ability being promulgated in continuation of the trend.
She does not discount the value of the soft skills…she advocates instead for preserving the acquisition of knowledge in addition to the soft skills now so in vogue in education.
She cites the need for
She quoted Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel saying that of all the many meetings he as had over the years with the people who do the actual hiring of recent graduates, he has never heard, “ gosh, we don’t have enough people who know how to collaborate”.
What he finds is that they can't find enough who know their stuff… who can do math and software engineering fluently without using up time, pulling out calculators.
He said the need is for lots of knowledge in long-term memory
so that short-term memory can be used for creating, thinking and problem-solving
Balance of Hard vs Soft Skills in Education is Not Easy
Balance can be very difficult to achieve…in life and in education.
How do teachers decide on a day-to-day basis what to put foremost when they are planning and teaching? Teacher-led instruction or student-led exploration?
The research seems clear that the best outcomes for student knowledge gains comes from knowledgeable teachers who are experts at transferring that knowledge. And, students also have to develop the skills to gain knowledge for themselves in order to become lifelong learners. The balance of finding the balance in hard vs soft skills in education is a daily challenge for teaching.
There's also politics involved…people have their viewpoints and advocacy gets on a plane of defending that point of view, instead of being open to those of others sometimes…
WAIT, isn't listening openly one of the soft skills we want children to learn?
“The only way to make humans more capable in their thinking is to expand the store of things that they have to think with—in other words, to have more knowledge in long-term memory…”
Dylan William from new book
Creating the Schools Our Children Need
Mr. William draws an analogy in his book of the contrast of hard vs soft skills in education to those used by a PhD: the student draws upon an extensive store of knowledge gained in the discipline of study, and combines it with the thesis of original thought.creative thinking, critical thinking, communication and collaboration to produce the end result of the thesis.
The next generation in international standardized testing is being developed at least in part at the OECD PISA 2018 Global Competence assessment conference. To inform the work being done, Harvard University's Graduate School of Education has a Ground Zero project going on. You can read more about it here…
What Parents & Grandparents Can Do to Help Their Kids Get Education
What can parents and grandparents do to make sure their kids get the best education, to prepare them with a proper base of knowledge and with the communication and collaboration skills they need for life, career and further education readiness?
I am a big advocate of both knowledge-based learning and for creativity in putting knowledge into action. If you agree, then you, too, want a balance between hard vs soft skills in education for your kids.
What can you do?
- Acknowledge you're not the education professional (unless you are!)
- Ask lots of questions, and hold out for answers that make sense…talk to your local educators.
- Make sure your kids do their assignments and understand what they're doing
- Get involved in your schools at the local level…PTO's, PTA's, School Board
- Don't drink the Kool-Aid!
Trends in education come and go. There is always a new flavour du jour. Keep in mind that your children gaining knowledge with both soft and hard skills is the end goal of what you want. Be their advocate, and be respectful of the educators who provide for them on a day to day basis…
What am I advocating here? Oh, yes, balance! And getting involved in solutions!