By John Mary Vianney
Investment in education has traditionally been justified by optimistic assumptions, the first being that an educated population contributes to the socio-economic development of the society as a whole, and the second, that education contributes to the well-being of individuals within the society. Questions about these assumptions have been on the increase, especially in Uganda and fellow developing countries in which the social and economic returns from formal education seem to be minimal. Parents and school/university graduates claim that there are limited job opportunities which implicitly alludes to the idea that investing in formal education is not as rewarding as it used to be in the past.
Employers also claim that it is increasingly becoming difficult to hire school/university graduates because they lack the required skills and competencies to take on the available jobs. Moreover, the employers’ dissatisfaction tends to increase at a time when Uganda has proudly registered the highest number of schools and Universities since the inception of formal education, by the Christian Missionaries.
Studies have demonstrated that the worst crime to humanity in the current century is the advancement of test-scores, grades and certificates at the expense of social and emotional skills/soft skills and competencies. Soft skills have been referred to as the competences, beyond the academic or technical skills that one requires to navigate the environment, work well with others to achieve personal and social goals. These skills include emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, communication, resilience, assertiveness, optimism, integrity, patience, critical and reflective thinking, creativity and innovation, imagination, problem-solving, self-awareness, cooperation and collaboration and citizenship.
Soft-skills are not just something that one needs to develop for the sake of getting a job, but, they are skills one needs to live well with the self and others as human beings. What we are seeing in Uganda in form of corruption, intolerance, laziness especially among the youth, environmental degradation and insecurity are all rooted in the fact that we lack soft-skills – in a way, we have sacrificed what is human in us at the altar of technology and academic advancement. Academic advancement and technology enable us to gain knowledge while soft-skills enable us to gain wisdom so that we are able to use the knowledge acquired overtime in a more humane manner.
It is for this reason that at times soft-skills are termed as character skills. A question may, therefore, arise as to why a deficiency in soft-skills is more pronounced today than before. I give two suggestions for the answer to the question: In the first place, due to information technology, the world has become a global village with a lot of information at the disposal of a student. This means that without soft-skills in form of high order thinking abilities such as critical thinking, reflective thinking, judgement, self-awareness and decision making, one might make grievous mistakes and be easily swept away by the wave of unsorted information.
For example, there are many religious sects coming up each and every day. The youths and adolescents who are not well prepared to critically and personally reflect on the new proposals given by the new religious sects, will always be moving from one sect to another and the consequence will always be dissatisfaction because what they are looking for is within their hearts but they cannot see or get to terms with it without inner reflection. Secondly, because information is constantly changing, a student who clings to the concepts learnt in the classroom will soon find it difficult to get a job or even apply the knowledge learnt in the classroom. It requires a lot of creativity and innovation to do something that one did not study in class but yet it is part of his/her job assignment. It is for this reason that many school/university graduates fail to find jobs or even survive in employment once they have the jobs. This may necessitate learning from one’s challenges, be their juniors. Humility and ability to learn and relearn are critical skills that one needs in the 21st century.
The question is: How do we nurture these soft-skills among our students? Although these soft-skills might not be explicitly taught in a classroom, they can be nurtured through a conducive school culture and family atmosphere. Children and adolescents learn better these soft-skills when they are in the company of adults who model the same skills through behaviour. For example, when an adult continuously attempts to correct children’s misbehaviour by rebuking (raising one’s voice), the children start to adopt such behaviour as the correct way of doing things. In this regard, the nurturing of soft-skills ought to start from the family and community and then fine-tuned in the school.
However, some of the soft-skills can barely be nurtured in the family because the modern family has become a “mess”.
Traditionally, a family is expected to pray and eat together. By praying together, children are able to learn at an early age, to reflect, forgive and live together with faith and trust. These are not just spiritual values but every human being requires them to fully live as a human being. Many employers allege that an increasing number of school/university graduates are unable to reflectively and critically think about their job. This is because there seems to be no particular point in life when a child is introduced to this culture of reflection. At home, there seems no time for silence and reflection. People are silent only when asleep. Consequently, at the school level, students are only silent in the presence of a teacher – but the teacher also never keeps quiet to listen to what students have to say.
Surprisingly, no one seems to see the negative effects of lack of reflection and silence. Some youth and adolescents are leaving the Catholic church for “modern churches” because they are looking for “noise” since they have been accustomed to talking and they greatly lack the skill of silent reflection.
Praying, eating and working together whether at home or school helps the young to value their colleagues’ efforts and to understand the meaning of unity and trust. Our current society lacks these two values – employers may call them teamwork or collaboration and optimism and integrity respectively.
All in all, nurturing soft-skills starts in the family. Since parents are the primary educators of their children, it is their first duty to ensure that children are brought up with the right values and skills needed to navigate the environment and work well with others to achieve personal and social goals. The schools too, need to build up a conducive culture in which students are able to develop human values on which soft-skills are built. Parents, teachers and school administrators are required to model these skills in order for the students to learn and apply them. This could be done by praying, working, eating and doing more thing together as long as the operating culture allows.
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