How Covid-19 is highlighting the importance of ‘real skills’

No alt text provided for this imageIs it time to re-name ‘soft skills’ as Core Skills? Or as Seth Godin prefers, ‘real skills’. As more and more students face the prospect of managing their learning in isolation, perhaps one major reality coming to light, is that schools have been over-reliant on the easy-to-measure skills. Sitting outside the familiar teaching and learning environment with no physical authoritative infrastructure to guide students from class to class, teacher to teacher, it is painfully obvious that many of our young people may not have spent enough time engaged in education which produces skills that are now, in the reality of remote learning, essential.

Let’s call them real skills, not soft. Yes, they’re interpersonal skills. Leadership skills. The skills of charisma and diligence and contribution. But these modifiers, while accurate, somehow edge them away from the vocational skills, the skills that we actually hire for, the skills we measure a graduate degree on. Seth Godin

Outside of the traditional school environment, even if it is a tad more modernised with open spaces, nooks and..gulp..breakout rooms…students are not psychologically prepared to focus on academic style learning. As the centuries rolled by, humans have seen fit to always compartmentalise academia into old or formal looking buildings with hallways and rooms filled with rows of desks. Yes, there now may be an abundance of bean bags and tech trollies but it is still a specific place students must leave their house and get to, in order to suddenly be able to learn.

How then, have students been conditioned to view the world outside of the classroom? What mindset is automatically engaged once a student is away from the place of learning? The basis for most schools is operant conditioning which means students feel a sense of freedom when they don’t have to attend school, or if there is a school closure for some reason… See where I am going with this?

In order to foster skills which transfer and are automatically engaged when, in the “real world”, students must feel motivated to employ their learning when faced with life outside school. However, this is not what the majority of time in school is spent on. Unfortunately, for many students around the world, much of their focus while in school, especially at the secondary level, is how to maximise their performance in the next assessment.

No alt text provided for this imageNow, as students are asked to sit in an environment they associate with relaxation, play, comfort and hopefully creativity, they are being asked to conjure this same focus. Those who have been taught self-reliance, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, organisational skills, time management, and collaboration skills will likely make the most out of the situation. However, those driven to be overly focused on test results or who have been demotivated by a lack of success in said tests, may not be easy to motivate from a distance.

So what can we do?

Perhaps now is the time to harness the efficacy of parents as our teaching partners. Through their influence and example, parents can motivate their children to re-consider how teaching and learning works, especially when it needs to work in a new environment. It may be challenging to engage with students remotely but we can also support their parents around the curriculum and content which should be covered. Building this relationship in a time where we might actually have the time to do so, might be a huge change agent in these unusual times.

One of the few silver linings betwixt this viral madness may be that millions of parents around the world will re-connect with their teens and realise how much they can impact their learning progress. As teachers, we dream of a more invested and cohesive learning community. That is to say, we dream of a world where we, the parents and the community all work together to ensure that our young people are always being educated. Learning can happen everywhere and at all times. I guess for a few centuries there, maybe we narrowed the definition of education a little too much.

No alt text provided for this imageNow, as we sit uncomfortably in the sticky sanctums of our teenager’s bedrooms, crowding around a laptop to help them interpret the online lessons which are so conveniently available in 2020, we might find pleasure and satisfaction in our ability as a society to educate our youth. As parents and teachers work together to develop those ‘real skills’ in our youth we have an opportunity to place an emphasis on creativity, emotional intelligence, conversation skills, critical thinking, and collaboration. This will support our youth in building their self-reliance during this time in isolation and help form that bedrock for the independence and confidence they are certainly going to need in the future.

There is no shortage of serious re-thinking to do in the wake of this global crisis. The paradigm shift will certainly accelerate now. Teaching and learning has transcended the brick and mortar model we have all been too afraid to let go of. Sure, schools are not going away any time soon, but what we do with them, and more importantly, what we do outside of them is certainly going to change.

While we wait for Covid-19 to do the rounds of humanity, we can all marvel in how effective remote learning can be given the extraordinary online tools and resources available. There are plenty of ways students can be assessed and measured on knowledge using the latest educational technology. What is more important, however, is how this technology can amplify the role of teachers. How can teachers use new educational resources to maximise their efficacy? When certain workflows can be appropriately automated how can we ensure the human energy and potential remaining is being invested productively? Perhaps, relationships and real skills will receive a renewed focus.

Many teachers are recording videos of themselves and paying close attention to how they speak to students. Knowing that the confines of the classroom are no longer a factor, how do we communicate meaningfully with students? There are so many ways we can engage with, inspire and motivate students to be creative, driven and satisfied with their learning endeavours. This is an opportunity to teach the way we know is best. Hopefully, at the other end, the real skills will rise to the top.