The importance of focusing on skills-based education

Uncategorized Apr 11, 2022
Here in Australia we are facing another curriculum reform, with political debates raging over what we should be teaching in our schools. The main debate is regarding the perspectives that we should be focusing on regarding Australian history. In other words, our politicians would like us to teach our students what they should believe or think about Australia's history and identity.
However, the major consensus from education experts world wide is that we should not be focusing on teaching our students WHAT to think, but rather HOW to think. We live in a world where knowledge is easy to come by, and everyone wants to influence how we think and the decisions we make. What we need to be teaching our students is how to properly discern between reliable and unreliable information, how to think critically about what is being presented to us, how to come to a balanced conclusion, how to create new connections between ideas, and how to construct our own knowledge and ideas.
We are preparing our students for an uncertain future. It's predicted that the future workforce will look very different than it does today, due to a variety of factors. More jobs will be outsourced to developing countries, just as manufacturing was done in the past (a current example is how much of the IT industry has been outsourced to India). Artificial intelligence is set to advance rapidly over the next 10 years, meaning that computers will be able to complete many aspects of current knowledge-based professions such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers. Many of today's professions will therefore cease to exist in the future, or there won't be as many people required in them.
In addition, future generations will have many challenges that they will need to overcome. The effects of climate change will be a major challenge, which will require resilience, collaboration, and creative problem solving and innovation, as well as ethical considerations. We may also see political challenges, as technological advances continue to impact upon democratic elections (such as the effects of social media and algorithms on people's decision making in recent elections, or the potential for election results to be hacked). 
The main skills that will be in demand by employers in the future are:
  • Creativity
  • Problem solving and innovation
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Critical thinking
  • Technological skills (use and design)
  • Social and emotional intelligence
  • Adaptability 
Of course, it will continue to be important that everyone has a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy, and learns important life skills such as financial literacy.
Our curriculum does include some of these skills, known as the 'General Capabilities'. However, as they are not required to be assessed, they are not often focused on heavily in the classroom. The dense nature of our curriculum also impedes upon these skills being developed, as teachers have too much content that they are required to cover and assess, leaving little time for anything else. Not to mention the focus on standardised testing such as NAPLAN and ATAR, causing teachers to focus on preparing their students for how to perform well in a test, taking more time away from the development of these important 21st century skills.
There has been talk of 'decluttering' the curriculum during this review, which would be very welcome. However it is feared that it won't be enough. Whilst some content knowledge is important, we need to be looking at content as the vehicle through which we can develop skills, rather than focusing on content knowledge for its own sake. After all, studies have shown that students forget content knowledge soon after a test, and much of what is learnt today might not be relevant to every student, or relevant in the future.
Skills, on the other hand, can be built upon and developed over time, and stay with you for life. With the right skills, you can learn what you need to know, when you need to know it. You can adapt and pivot as circumstances require, and you can overcome the challenges or obstacles that get in your way. This is what will be required in the future. People will have to reinvent themselves again and again in order to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
So how can we as teachers prepare our students for this, despite the curriculum and the education system in general posing barriers for this important skills development?
The answer lies in in our own creativity and imagination. There are ways that you can streamline the curriculum in a way that makes the learning much more meaningful and relevant to students, freeing up space to focus on skills development. This method uses conceptual/ big-picture thinking and story-telling to provide a focused lens through which to teach the curriculum, and utilises strategies such as project based learning and personalisation in order to engage students and incorporate skills development. 
We teach this method within our online professional learning community, Transformational Teachers. You are welcome to join anytime, gaining you access to a wide range of professional development sessions, teaching resources, and group coaching. You can find out more here, and be sure to contact us if you have any questions.
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