Should Student Education Encompass “Life Skills”?

There is no denying that discussions on Common Core and standardized testing, which have nearly monopolized education news in recent months, are warranted and in need of special consideration. But in the midst of these extensive debates have we overlooked other critical aspects of education, specifically the teaching of non academic skills?

While there is not yet a concrete name for these skills, they are commonly referred to as “non cognitive skills” or “skills for success”. They include abilities such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, self-control, grit, persistence, emotional competence, punctuality, and numerous others. These skills cannot be measured by standardized testing, yet are essential for students to learn in order to be successful in higher education and the work force.

There has been an increase in support for teaching these types of non academic skills to students as studies have shown that a number of employers are growing more and more discontent with new employee skill sets. Particularly in a number of key areas such as oral communication, written communication, critical thinking, and being creative, students are more than twice as likely as employers to think that students are being well-prepared. This demonstrates a weakness in how we educate and prepare our students for the future. Students are not being taught the necessary skills that are vital for success and have thus created a gap between them and the workplace.

The implementation of these skills into school curriculums has gained momentum through avenues such as the 84.215H grant which is a Skills for Success Program that “supports Local Educational Agencies 1 (LEAs) and their partners in implementing, evaluating, and refining tools and approaches for developing the non-cognitive skills of middle-grades students in order to increase student success.” While programs and grants like the aforementioned have been implemented with success, there is still a looming barrier preventing progress for expanding the teaching of these skills — there is no widely accepted name for them. Because of this, policies have been hard to write and enact since the wording and intent are often vague and broadly interpreted. This has resulted in a lack of student preparation as well as the loss of time and resources — all because of simple terminology. So while it is still important to address educational issues such as standardized testing, maybe it’s time we dedicate more attention to defining and teaching these non cognitive skills. Skills that can provide a foundation for all other academic learning.

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