In a survey performed by the Stanford Research Institute and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation of over 500 CEO's, it was found that 75% of long term job success depends on soft skills and only 25% on technical skills. Most parents and teachers would agree that one of the primary purposes of a high quality education is to prepare students for their future. Thus is could be presumed that a great education would teach students the skills that they need to secure a job and hold on to it. This begs the question, by making standards, testing, memorization, and benchmarks the current focus of education, are we mistaking the trees for the forest, focusing on the details instead of the big picture?
Many times, our current system of education seems to be designed to have students memorize huge amounts of information then regurgitate it on an end of the year state test. This sends students the wrong message about the purpose and function of education. As Michigan's teacher of the year, Gary Abud states, "Students often approach the classroom as they might a bank transaction." They look at the teacher as the bank of knowledge and they are there to make a withdrawal that they can then apply towards their standardized test. They collect facts, write them down, and memorize them. The problem is that in the real world, it's not about how many facts you have memorized; it is about whether or not you can use them.
When we do not equip our students with the tools to gather, synthesize, evaluate, and apply the information that we are giving them, then it is useless in the real world. It seems that to truly prepare students for their future, we would have to switch our focus from endless memorization and mastery of certain "important" facts to an emphasis on critical thinking skills, growth, and problem-solving. After all, as educational guru Karl Fisch said, "We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented, in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet." Many of the facts that we learn in school may become irrelevant, as a lot of the information that students will need to know for their future occupation does not even exist yet. What will not become irrelevant, you ask, the ability to acquire that information. Students must learn how to learn. This is where soft skills come in.
Soft skills, usually called study skills or emotional intelligence in school are often the programs that are looked at as extra or expendable, and therefore the first to go when budget cuts roll around. They are impossible to measure but immeasurably useful in real life. Skills such as how to work with others, read critically with comprehension, take notes, organize information, manage your time, communicate effectively, and seek out and apply new information are essential to both school and job success. In fact, according to a 2009 study by Ohio State University, students are 600% more likely to graduate from college if they have taken a study skills class. After all, what good are facts if you have no method to store them, do not know how to use them, and cannot learn new ones once the current ones become obsolete? In our current job market, where hundreds of new college graduates may compete and interview for one job opening, everyone will know facts. Companies will be hiring the students that know how to apply them.
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Parrish Learning Zone, LLC
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