For the past 20 years, employers have stated that they want employees who are able to display the 4 Cs – critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication skills. Secondary schools have a significant role in helping students develop these skills to prepare them for the world of work.
In this blog post, we have listed four areas that need to be improved to ensure that students are better prepared for the world of work.
Less Focus on Rote Learning
Many Leaving Certificate exams have been described by students as a regurgitation of facts. Facts and data are useful but they are located at the bottom of the critical thinking skills hierarchy. Rote learning can provide the basis to deeper understanding and interpretation. However, students need to go beyond just learning facts, they need to know how to comprehend, interpret and critique these facts and apply them in different scenarios.
In order to understand how schools can teach critical thinking, we have to define what critical thinking is. Critical thinking can be defined as the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement or make a decision. In order to think critically, students have to be encouraged to question conclusions and arguments. It involves asking what evidence supports particular arguments and whether that evidence is robust. Our second level curriculum are much more effective at imparting facts and information than it is in teaching students the ability to logically question assumptions, arguments and conclusions.
More Emphasis on Soft-Skills and Life Skills
According to the Head of Education and Skills for the OECD, Andreas Schleicher, “Success in today’s world puts a higher premium on character qualities. Most employers tell you how important collaborative skills are becoming at the workplace and that is also what we are seeing in our data. But then you still see most students sitting behind individual desks and learning to take their individual exam”.
However,an ESRI study from 2014 indicates that students from Irish secondary schools were quite positive about how school had enhanced their communication skills and their social development. However, there is so much emphasis on individual exams that it can be difficult for schools to dedicate resources to collaborative and team-based projects. Many projects in workplaces are collaborative and team-based and more experience working in group projects could help students develop these soft-skills in scenarios that are relevant to workplace performance.
Partnerships with Business
Businesses and schools have a vested interest in working together. Businesses want a deep pool of local talent and an educated workforce that is productive enough to afford their products/use their services. In the short-run, these partnerships can also help a business’s brand image within the community. Schools benefit from these partnerships by providing students the opportunity to be more prepared for the world of work.
While Richard Bruton’s announcement that The Schools Business Partnership will be expanded to cater to new schools included in the School Support Programme is welcome, schools can’t solely rely on the government to drive these initiatives. However, it can be difficult for schools to know where to begin. To start, schools can dedicate P.T.A. resources or other resources to establishing partnerships and reaching out to local businesses. The key to establishing these partnerships is to start small by asking businesses to provide opportunities for students that aren’t too time intensive or expensive (e.g. ask a local recruitment agency to provide a CV Writing workshop).
Matching Careers with Abilities and Interests
From our 35 years of experience in providing career guidance to people of all ages, we have seen that people are much more likely to experience success and satisfaction in jobs that are suitable for their unique mix of interests and abilities. The role of the school and the Career Guidance Counsellor in particular is to help students translate their interests and abilities into career paths that they can make a good living from. This can be a challenging process but validated psychometric assessments that match interests and abilities with careers can help one achieve this.
What Gets Measured Gets Managed
There’s a famous business proverb “What gets measured gets managed”. This means that simply measuring an activity leads you to focus on that activity. The metrics that much of the media coverage around school performance is dedicated to include the average of number of points your students secured and the percentage of students who continue on to higher education. This coverage can lead schools to be overly focused on these metrics at the expense of other activities that are much harder to measure such as developing effective business partnerships or the development of soft-skills. This leads to a situation where although schools may want to put more emphasis on business partnerships, critical thinking, soft-skills and career guidance, the incentives are not strong enough to force the leadership to focus on these areas. That is why although many schools are taking very positive steps to prepare students for the real-world, it is likely that these areas won’t be a more significant priority for schools unless there are more incentives for schools to focus on these areas.