In a fast-changing and uncertain world, we have to equip our youth not only with new skills and skills for the future, but especially those for a lifetime that will enable them to continually learn and adapt to constant changes and potential shocks, like a pandemic, in the society and on the labour market.
The discussions about changes to our educational and administrative institutions have been around for some time and their importance has just gotten more significant during the pandemic. We need to adapt the school’s system and curriculum as well as its connections to the labour market if we want to take into account the youth’s new habits and its needs for the future. How the youth learns and how they are willing to learn today has gone through some substantial transformation. Moreover, we should not neglect all the habits and skills they pick up outside the rigorous education process which in turn affect their ability and motivation to learn. In an information-rich era, certain skills take on more importance than the system has probably been willing to admit so far.
Labour market trends and demands show the growing importance of soft or core skills, applicable to all professions. »Evidence from online job vacancy data reveals that communication, teamwork and organisational skills are among the transversal skills most frequently demanded by employers in a wide variety of occupations. Cognitive skills, such as analytical, problem-solving, digital, leadership and presentation skills are also highly transversal across jobs and work contexts.« (Source: The OECD Skills Outlook 2021 report) Additionally, flexibility, a positive attitude towards lifelong learning and curiosity are among the most vital skills future workers will require to remain competitive and to succeed, due to increases in life expectancy, rapid technological changes, globalisation, migration, environmental changes, digitalisation and other trends. The latter challenges are also reflected in the motivation for the development of The European sustainability competence framework.
According to the OECD report and our experiences during the last two years, these strong foundation skills and positive learning attitudes, the willingness and a habit to learn, are absolutely essential for future resilience of our today’s youth and hence their empowerment which is the goal of the StayOn project. They will allow them to make better choices, sustain their motivation and, most of all, better manage change and successfully navigate the complexity of the world on both professional and personal level. Same goes for metacognitive skills which include critical thinking, reflection, and self-awareness. These are, interestingly, also the skills that might differentiate and put humans in advantage to AI which responds less readily to ambiguity, and is less able to develop and discard its understanding of the world.
The part that learning attitudes plays in education was made apparent when the pandemic disrupted regular schooling and caused a shift to remote schooling which requires even more intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning. Unfortunately, the discrepancies between different social groups were made evident, too, as socio-economically disadvantaged youth is usually less well equipped with these skills. Furthermore: »Differences in skill growth across countries were strongly related to the share of individuals not in education, employment or training (NEET). Reductions in NEET rates resulted in decreased disparities in achievement and intergenerational transmission of educational advantages.« (Source: The OECD Skills Outlook 2021 report)
We must not neglect the consequences school closures could have in the short term, as they could lead to increased number of young people leaving the education system earlier, due to lack of motivation and engagement. It could also affect their lifelong learning ability, as the above report suggests: »In the medium and long term, lower engagement could result in the current generation of students failing to develop positive learning attitudes.« A growing number of NEET population as well as the concern to better equip our youth for the future are without a doubt a strong indication that projects, focused on deprivileged groups, their access to opportunities and re-insertion on the job market, are crucial and will be even more so in the future. Projects like StayOn, whose target group are NEETs in rural areas and at risk of social exclusion, are one way to address the pandemic’s disruptions in education programmes, vocational education and training, and bridge the gap in the moment of transition by offering a connection to the job market.
Admittedly, soft skills (e.g., interpersonal skills, time management, adaptability, creativity, etc.) are certainly more unpredictable and difficult to teach as well as evaluate, especially from a point of view of a traditional educational system which must envision at least a partial, if not complete, re-invention if it aims to include them. They rely much more on the environment than hard skills, so an individual cannot fully learn them only on their own, but for the most part needs other people to master them. Socio-emotional and motivational factors play a key role in developing them. Therefore, positive and inclusive social interactions must be at the core of any education or training as we are well aware at the StayOn project. It is true that the most efficient way to learn them and get beneficial life outcomes is to start early, at a young age when the personality traits are still forming. We, of course, cannot emphasize enough the central role of environmental, parental or teacher’s support at that point, but just as much later on in life which is why our training offers its young participants individual support and coaching.
As the world changes, so do the needs of our youth, which can feel overwhelmed and ill-suited in the rigid educational system. Not finding the connection with the educators and the system is also one of the reasons for youth having a bad experience with the educational process which can result in abandoning the educational system or un-willingness to stay on course of life-long learning after finishing the educational process – both, as we can see from the data above, having damming consequences on people’s lives. The need to adapt the educational system to the needs of the youth and the (future) world is therefore urgent. It calls for increased flexibility, adaptability, relevance and connectivity which would result in increased practical skills youth needs to better prepare for the life in the ever-changing world.
Group projects and play are a great way, to acquire soft skills or further nurture them at any age. Additionally, they positively affect students’ learning abilities and attitudes. Play not only fosters creativity but likewise helps in developing social, emotional, and language skills, improves the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of young people, and undeniably also their individual and social confidence, concentration, attentionand ability to understand different environments. Could we, for example, incorporate more art, telling and listening to stories or moving outdoors in our curriculums? Play is equally decisive for nurturing curiosity, readiness to learn new things, and imagination, embracing new perspectives. In classrooms, students should learn how to think outside the box and express their ideas. Imagination is at the basis of human discovery and innovation, which are both indispensable in creating future solutions.
Einstein’s famous quote rings ever more accurate in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” So, if we aim to equip our youth with all the necessary skills to thrive and to ensure their access to job and life opportunities, we should arm them not only with the knowledge, but more importantly, with curiosity to face the world and imagination to be able to envision a better one. In order to do so, quality and inclusive learning and diversified opportunities must be a fundamental goal, and coordination and partnerships the path which leads us there.
BB Consulting team