The Report: life skills and workplace preparation

Google’s Future of the Classroom Report reveals life skills and workplace preparation as key education trends for 2019, but what does that really look like? Charley Rogers investigates...

The Breakdown

  Google’s Future of the Classroom Report identifies ‘life skills and workplace preparation’ as a key education trend.

  The report also shows that 91% of CEOs say they need to strengthen their organisation’s soft skills to sit alongside digital skills.

  Dr Yuhyun Park, founder of the DQ Institute, defines digital intelligence, or DQ, as “a comprehensive set of competencies that enables individuals to thrive in the digital age”.

  Key skills and approaches include digital literacy, vocational education, flexibility, and reformed assessment.

  81% of report respondents in the UK want their school or college to expand vocational qualification offerings.

  I believe that education is absolutely for more than just getting us through work. It’s the base of who you are as a person.” – Jos Dirkx, CEO and co-founder, Beenova AI

  “We are rushing into looking at what’s going to change and how we can adapt. But I think a smarter strategy is to look at what is not going to be changed, and what we really have to cherish.” – Dr Yuhyun Park


What’s the issue?

Google has recently released its Future of the Classroom report, which identifies eight global trends for education in 2019. The report also includes breakdowns by country, and one of the top three trends identified for the UK was ‘life skills and workplace preparation’.

The report showed that “Ninety-one per cent of CEOs globally say that they need to strengthen their organisation’s soft skills to sit alongside digital skills.” The term ‘soft skills’ is one that has garnered a lot of attention in recent months, especially in relation to the STEM skills gap.

Ninety-one per cent of CEOs globally say that they need to strengthen their organisation’s soft skills to sit alongside digital skills.
– Future of the Classroom, Google

Soft skills are also often referred to as 21st-century skills, or as EQ (emotional quotient) and include creativity, resilience, collaboration and adaptability. But where do they sit in relation to the current education system, and why are they such an important partner to technical skills?

EQ and DQ

Jos Dirkx, co-founder and CEO of edtech startup Beenova AI, defines EQ or ‘soft skills’ as “a framework that looks at how to prepare students to be 21st-century learners, citizens and engaged aware human beings”. This goes beyond technical understanding to incorporate a wider set of skills that are are far more ‘human’. Research from Harvard University breaks down EQ into five essential categories:

Self-awareness

Self-regulation

Motivation

Empathy

Social skills

DQ, a term coined by Dr Yuhyun Park, refers to a ‘digital quotient’. Speaking to ET, Dr Park says: “I define the digital intelligences as a comprehensive set of competencies that enables individuals to thrive in the digital age.” However, she says, there is a widespread “lack of understanding” around what these digital skills actually are.

The first thing that needs to happen, says Park, is for “nations to adopt a systemic way to bring digital skills into the curriculum as well as in the workforce”. It is for this reason that through the DQ Institute, an organisation that Park founded, she and her team have released a global framework for digital skills.

 I think just like we test English now, very soon we’re going to have a period where everybody has to take a digital skills test.
Dr Yuhyun Park

What skills are needed?

Anyone in the education sector will have heard the terms ‘21st-century skills’, ‘soft skills’ and others increasingly over the past year. But what do they actually mean, and what specific skills fall into these categories?

Digital literacy

Digital literacy is a key foundation of the skills that are expected to be most useful for a future workforce. The DQ framework in fact rests on a basis of digital literacy, or ‘citizenship’. Park says: “Digital citizenship is the first level [of the framework] because basically everybody needs to know how to use technology safely, responsibly and legally.”

The DQ framework can also be used in schools to help focus digital literacy training, says Park: “We are talking with a few ministries to help them develop the digital literacy frameworks in their schools. In order to create a curriculum and programmes within the public education system, the first thing you want is to have a macro-understanding of how all this leads into the workforce.”

However, Park also cautions that the framework is exactly that, rather than a fully formed cure-all. She says: “We’re not saying the framework is one-size-fits-all, this is more of a framework of benchmarking or referencing. It gives the principles of thinking, ‘what is it we want to put in order to help individuals progress?’”

Eight global education trends – From Google’s Future of the Classroom report

Vocational education

The expansion of practical and on-the-job learning is also an area of workplace preparation that is growing in popularity throughout the sector. Todd Thibodeaux, CEO of CompTIA, spoke to ET about the myths surrounding the tech sector, and why going to university is not necessarily a must for a digital career. He said: “The myth that universities have perpetrated in schools is that you need three or four years of [university] to work in the industry. This is not true.”

The Future of the Classroom Report also showed that 81% of young people in the UK want their school or college to expand vocational qualification offerings.

Graham Hunter, CompTIA’s VP for EMEA, suggests that vocational qualifications such as apprenticeships are much more valuable in many areas of tech: “Apprenticeships have been a good step in that direction,” he says. “Again, because tuition fees [for university] are putting their value into sharp focus. There is probably a lot more value in something like a cybersecurity apprenticeship.”

Flexibility and reacting to global trends

Because we aren’t sure exactly what the future of work will hold, agility, adaptability and flexibility are key to navigating a world that requires innovation and creativity. This has an impact on how education works. Dirkx says: “Certain reports show that there’s a lack of innovation and a lack of creativity in countries where the education system has remained quite rigid and structured. I think it’s about looking at the [industry] trends in the country, and then being agile and adaptive enough, while paying attention to what’s happening on a global scale, to be able to respond to those trends.”

Certain reports show that there’s a lack of innovation and a lack of creativity in countries where the education system has remained quite rigid and structured.
– Jos Dirkx, Beenova AI

Hunter agrees that flexibility is essential. He says: “There is a McKinsey report which basically says that a third of the European workforce is going to have to re-skill by 2030. And so to have a very defined set of skills, and only stay with those for your entire career, is just not going to happen.”

Assessment

Google’s report also shows that both parents and educators want education that “goes beyond standardised testing”. Assessment is an ongoing battle for the education sector, and the introduction of competency-based assessment over traditional ‘learn and repeat’ exams is gaining traction.

The stress placed on teachers to maintain high testing scores for their pupils is also a part of the current problem, says Thibodeaux: “Both here and in the US, standardised testing being such a prevalent part of the way teachers are scored, as opposed to being able to track the lifetime achievement of kids, is not how the real-world works.”

Regurgitation of knowledge is no longer helpful to those entering the workforce, adds Thibodeaux. Skills such as research and information literacy in a world where information is available at our fingertips are much more valuable. He says: “How many times does somebody say ‘I couldn’t find [this piece of information]’? And being a better searcher, you go online and find it within like two seconds? That is a valuable skill, and we’re not testing for it at all.”

DQ digital framework wheel – Created by the DQ Institute

How can skills work within formal education?

So how can all of these skills and methodologies be used within our existing education system? Phil Richards, chief innovation officer at Jisc, believes that learning is “fundamentally a social, human activity”.

A move towards more social and collaborative learning is already gaining some traction in the higher education sector. He says: “We are already seeing universities such as Ulster move towards a curriculum as a series of ‘learning events’, still including some didactic lectures, but also greater group work and self-study as part of a blended timetable, and with specs to support all those activities.”

Richards also emphasises that context is important for these ‘new’ skills: “In our Jisc digital capability framework, we embed such skills within a wider construct, including literacy, creativity, identity and wellbeing, thereby enabling the digital citizen to live, learn and work in the new society.”

What about life beyond education and employment? Is that being overlooked?

As well as essential workplace skills, the Google report also includes ‘life skills’ as a key trend. So is education focusing too narrowly on career prep and not enough on the consideration of pupils as well-rounded citizens?

Generally, it depends on what you think education is really for. Dirkx says: “I believe that education is absolutely for more than just getting us through work. It’s the base of who you are as a person, whether it’s school or street, private or public, formal or informal. It is who you are and how you turn up in the world.”

Park agrees, noting that ‘21st-century skills’ are not really a homogenous set of digital abilities, but rather a much more holistic, varied approach to development: “This is not one set of skills, it’s actually the accumulated competencies which include not just knowledge skills, but is heavily focused on attitudes and values.”

We are rushing into looking at what’s going to change and how we can adapt. But I think a smarter strategy is to look at what is not going to be changed, and what we really have to cherish.
– Dr Yuhyun Park, DQ Institute

What next?

So, how will these skills develop through education? Park thinks we will see a shift away from specific ‘digital’ skills such as coding or engineering towards “more of an intangible ability, which shows the competencies needed for the AI age”.

Whereas before, Park says, skills and testing were about more basic knowledge retention, now an application of analysis and contextual understanding is required: “Before, we would ask kids to know that A+B=C. But now, we need them to know why A+B=C, and how you are going to use [this information].”

The most important thing, Park says, is for educational institutions and governments to understand where industry is headed, and to “really, really empower individuals. Lifelong training is much more important now.”

Digital skills and their accompanying competencies will also become mandatory, she predicts: “Like before, in order for you to go to university you needed to take an English test. But I think within 10 years, we won’t need an English test anymore. AI will help us to translate everything. But I think just like we test English now, very soon we’re going to have a period where everybody has to take a digital skills test.”

Another interesting point Park raises is the need to understand what doesn’t need to be changed within our current system. She says: “We are rushing into looking at what’s going to change and how we can adapt. But I think a smarter strategy is to look at what is not going to be changed, and what we really have to cherish.”

A key underlying approach in all of this, says Dirkx, is understanding that freedom to pursue personal interests and strengths is far more likely to lead to success than prescribing a fixed set of skills: “We all have our personality, we all have our preferences, and we all have our passions. So what it most important I believe, is creating a safe space for the pursuit of any of these, rather than saying ‘OK, this what you have to learn right now’.”


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