International

Technical skills blended with socio-emotional competencies are crucial for employability and success in the rapidly evolving digital age

Mithun Kamath
Technical skills blended with socio-emotional competencies are crucial for employability and success in the rapidly evolving digital age

Mithun Kamath, CEO of Arc Skills, emphasizes the importance of implementing a combination of new age technical skills blended with socio emotional competencies, crucial for employability and success in the rapidly evolving Digital Age.

For a young person, the current times are the most exciting and challenging in human history. The world around them is disrupting and changing rapidly.  The scale and pace is phenomenal. According to a recent EY report, the trends shaping our world are technology, globalization and demographics. 

Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Quantum computing, the Internet of Everything are dramatically changing industries. Technology enabled advances in genomics, agriculture, aviation and transportation, ocean mining, deep space exploration, advertising, automobiles, medical technology etc. will spawn new industries creating new jobs requiring an entirely new set of skills.

According to IATA, 3.6 billion people took a flight in 2016! This is almost half the people on the planet who travelled outside their base locations and discovered new things. World trade doubled from 2005 to 2015. Global citizenship is being adopted by many education systems as a key foundational pillar of learning. Never has our world been more integrated than it is today.  

Millennials have become a customer segment! Birth rates in India and Africa are creating a demographic dividend. Some of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Asia and Africa. While urbanization is increasingly rapidly, we are also witnessing massive migrations. The demographics of the world is undergoing tectonic shifts.

The world is changing in fundamental ways.  So what does the above have to do with our young today? 

Everything! 65% of the jobs of the future don’t exist today. In the hyper connected and integrated world of tomorrow, the ability to adapt, innovate and think critically will be crucial. Communicating ideas, speaking multiple languages, working collaboratively and solving problems will be the most important skills. This combination of new age technical skills blended with socio emotional competencies, are broadly defined as 21st century skills – crucial for employability and success in the rapidly evolving Digital Age. And these are the skills our young people need to thrive in the future. 

There has been increasing awareness amongst parents and students about the importance of these skills. In a recent survey conducted amongst 3040 parents on what children need to be employed in the future, confidence, communication, leadership, responsibility and problem solving were rated the highest. Of that number, 2427 students in the same survey entirely agreed. This is very encouraging.  An increasing awareness and demand for inculcating 21st century skills will spur institutions to create provision.  

Recent years have also seen significant effort around the world in defining a new agenda for education. The World Economic Forum, OECD, Skills for Employment initiative, ILO, UNESCO etc. have published various reports outlining issues, frameworks and possible solutions. The sustainable development goals now emphasize quality of education besides attainment. 

Almost all the frameworks equally emphasize the importance of socio emotional learning. Some early studies, on the benefits of social emotional based learning, report excellent news. One breakthrough study found that upon implementing programs that focused on building social, emotional and character skills for one hour each week, Hawaiian elementary schools reported “fewer suspensions, lower absenteeism and better reading and math scores on standardized tests.” According to Oregon State University researcher Brian Flay, “these outcomes make sense, because improved social and character skills leave more time for teachers to teach, and students to learn and be more motivated.”

A meta-analysis of 213 studies by the World Economic Forum showed that students who received socio emotional learning (SEL) instruction had achievement scores that averaged 11 percentile points higher than those who did not. SEL potentially leads to long term benefits such as higher rates of employment and educational attainment.

As the benefits are getting reinforced, pedagogical methods of teaching these skills in scalable and cost effective ways are being explored. Recent innovations are integrating technology with gamification and immersive learning. Gamification and immersion allow students to explore and get emotionally connected to learning. According to MIT, “Game players regularly exhibit persistence, risk taking, attention to detail, and problem solving, all behaviours that ideally would be regularly demonstrated in school”. Daphne Bavelier (professor at the University of Geneva, who studies cognitive neuroscience) gives a TED Talk on the effect of gaming on the brain, and she stresses that different games have different effects on the brain. Puzzles improve strategic thinking, problem solving, analysis and memory in gamers. Action games teach kids quick-thinking, accuracy, memory, and many other skills. It was even discovered that surgeons who play video games are faster and more accurate in surgeries. In fact, she states that gamers are four times quicker at making decisions and executing them! People who played action based games are reported to take decisions 25% faster without compromising accuracy and scored higher on standardized tests of creativity. 

Progressive schools and education regulators are encouraging activities to develop these skills. Efforts range from embedding them into curriculum to offering them as extracurricular programs.   

While we have started moving in the right direction, the pace of implementation is slow and sporadic. All our educational metrics still revolve around academic achievements. The pace is also hindered by significant challenges, most important of them being curriculum and teacher training. Already overstressed students need to be taught such skills in an engaging and fun manner requiring significant innovations in curriculum, pedagogy and delivery. Teachers need to be trained in these skills and the pedagogy to deliver them. 

The scale of implementation is also staggering. For instance in India, just at the primary level, there are more than 1.4 million schools with 7.7 million teachers! Getting this implemented at such a wide scale requires enormous systemic “will”, resources and innovation. The solutions would lie in blending technology with innovative solutions.

But implementation challenges cannot be allowed to be our “excuses”. Traditionally in India, academic achievement is emphasized and celebrated, sometimes at the cost of socio emotional development. The fact remains that these skills are absolutely crucial and need to be taught urgently. We also cannot be selective in teaching these skills. Every academic institution, irrespective of its resources, needs to teach these skills.  Moreover, the consequences of not teaching these skills far outweigh the resources needed to teach them.

So while there is direction and effort, we are not preparing our young for the future. We will need to pick the pace, create the will, find the resources and start!  We owe it to our young…

About the Author:

Mithun Kamath is the CEO of Arc Skills, an international skills development organization. His twenty plus years of skills implementation experience spans 24 countries across four continents. He actively works with educators, businesses and governments to promote implementation of crucial skills for the digital age. A firm believer in integrating technology, pedagogy and contemporary skills, he has pioneered innovative ways of teaching skills to children and adults alike. 

This article was originally published in the June 2017 issue of ScooNews magazine. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month. 

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