Friday, 15 April 2016

Is it time to base education around skills?

So if you, like me, have kids in education these days the likelihood is there’s some core subjects they cover and the likelihood is that these haven’t changed in the last 10, 20 or 50 years.  Maths, English, Science and then a combo of bits and pieces that make up the modern curriculum, but are we missing the point?  I’m not suggesting that the need for English or Maths has disappeared from modern life, but perhaps the emphasis has - or at least the context.  Before we get into the what, let’s start a little with the why.  Why do you need maths as a core skill for operating in today’s society - yes, money, yes bills, but beyond the very rudimentary side of maths, how much long-division do you need, let alone complex algebra or calculus.  So if I’m going to radically re-shape the education system and bring in a ‘new core’ of subjects, what are the key candidates? 

Investigation.  My key core subject that should fill every high-school curriculum front-page is investigation.  What I want from tomorrow’s workforce is the ability to move beyond face value and look, search, research and discover for themselves.  Such a skill isn’t above regurgitating anything but in finding things out.  It’s really more a skill than a subject I guess, but I want the next generation to be focussed less on knowledge and more on discovery.  This also means not just the what, but also the how and the why.  If we can get them to have enquiring minds then that’s an instantly employable trait.  You can also find some of your traditional subjects wrapped in here, this is what it really means to have a scientific approach.

Communication.  Seriously what skill could rate higher than the ability to effectively communicate with those around them.  This could take a large number of forms, from written, to electronic, face to face and through social media.  This isn’t your classical study of English literature through the ages but a key skill focussing on how to get the most from communications, how to express yourself clearly, how to speak and present to others. 

Empathy.  If there’s one thing that was definitely missing from my childhood education through a traditional European schooling system it was an almost total absence of empathy.  Empathy for those around you, family, friends, neighbours, distant relatives, local community, wider community, country, world and environment.  Maybe empathy isn’t the right word, maybe I’m trying to find the opposite of what I consider to be one of the hardest traits to reverse in the workforce today; apathy.  So take empathy as a sort of contraction of anti-apathy and you’ll get where I’m going with this I hope.  What I want from the next generation is a better ability to be able to put themselves in the shoes of others and walk around in them.  I nearly called this Politics believe it or not.  Not the kind of charade that the US politics has descended into, but the ability to be able to see things from more than one perspective - politics means the many faces or sides of an issue - a vital skill.

Teamwork.  I don’t care if it’s through sports or games, work groups or social groupings, but I want better working together as a direct output.  When we look for new employees we’re often after someone we think will fit in with the current group.  The ability to work as a part of a team is often an indirect output of schooling, but surely something so critical should be one of our primary concerns? 

Lifeskills.  This maybe a bit of cop-out on my side, but we need to teach kids how to be adults beyond communication and empathy.  How are you going to be able to pay your bills, work out money, ensure cloud systems remain in operation?  Who’s going to programme your ### system (insert relevant system here in the future once the ### is known).  This includes a level of digital fluency to keep up with the modern world, a view on what’s going on and a curriculum that moves as things change and is not set in a musty old text-book.  Maybe I should have called it ‘User skills’? The essence is so that you can do all the functions you need to exist in the modern world.

Creativity/Problem solving/Critical thinking - somewhere in here there's another area we need to focus on... is it critical thinking? Is it a problem solving skill or the use of creativity to solve issues?  I'm not sure, maybe it's an extension of 'Investigation' skill that I put right at the top.  Maybe that's the core and the rest are options...

What about those options now? You still want to go with religious education, food technology and French?  Not me, give me some options that I think will really be useful.

Leadership.  Sure, not everyone is going to excel at this one and that’s okay, but I want to know if they do, or at least if they have good potential in this area.  If you’re going to be a good leader then we should start you as young as possible with the why and how to lead so we don’t end up with the sort of managers that plague us today.

Engineering.  I don’t care what era you’re in there’s going to be a need for engineers of all shapes and kinds.  Maths is also a key part of this, not the core type maths you need to work out your bills and living, but the high-end maths required to really work out shizzle that’s important.

Science, maths, languages could all be here as advanced forms of investigation and communication and great options for those who really want to take things to the next level.

Creativity.  I'm not sure you can make everyone creative, but that doesn't mean creativity is limited to 'artistic types' either.  This type of skill would be a great complement to scientific subjects as much as artistic and could be used in the business world too.

I've not covered it all here, there's plenty missing and probably some of my ideas aren't right or at least not fully formed.  I think that the important thing is that we realise the core of education should be much more about skills and approaches than 'subjects'.  What do you think??