Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: The skills our students need to succeed

Let’s take a short break from the horrible condition of local school district budgets. This Viewpoint is about skills that our students will need to be successful and thrive in a world of rapid change.

Recently, the Lucia Mar Unified School District hosted the 21st Century Learning Skills Forum during which local participants considered this topic. The Lucia Mar Board of Trustees and Superintendent Jim Hogeboom are to be complimented for not getting so overwhelmed by the current budget problems that they fail to attend to an important issue like this one.

Here are five areas of skills that I think schools need to address in response to the demands of the world that our students will inhabit.

Global and cultural awareness skills. With our global economy and international networking, students will need an understanding of other cultures. This includes mastery of a language, or languages, other than English. Currently, Spanish is the predominate language taught in our schools, but proficiency with Asian languages will also be highly desirable in the future. A speaker at the forum reminded us that there are more people in China who speak English than in the United States! An appreciation of different cultural norms, expectations and traditions will be needed in order to compete successfully and form partnerships in the world marketplace.

Collaboration and team skills. Much of the work of the world is done in small groups or teams. This will only increase, so the ability to work collaboratively with others is very important. Employees who cannot work productively with others will not be successful. Effective communication skills are key to successful collaboration efforts. For schools, this implies moving beyond some of the basic competencies in the language arts area to a higher level of mastery and use of writing, speaking and listening skills.

Critical thinking and problem solving skills. Since access to information and knowledge is now almost universal, it is the ability to define what information is needed, knowing what is useful and what is not and how to search for needed information that will be needed. These skills will require schools and students to go beyond simple mastery of technical skills to a deeper level of understanding and the appropriate use of these skills to solve real problems.

Information and technology skills. The need for these skills is obvious in the rapidly changing technological workplace, both now and in the future. However, this cluster of skills also includes the ability to select the right tools to use and not be distracted just by the appeal of new technology for its own sake. The ability to be selective in the use of technology may be as important as its mastery.

Attitude is still important. Although attitude may be considered a “soft” skill, it still will be very important in the workplace of the future. The future will present challenges and disappointments to our future adults. How a person reacts to such adversity is essential to being able to learn from adversity and continue to grow. Several speakers at the forum stressed that having a positive attitude and being accountable for one’s actions are attitudes still needed in the future.

I am struck by the importance of process skills (the how and why questions) as compared to content skills (the what questions). This means that we have to teach students to think at the higher levels of understanding such as analysis, synthesis and judgment. We will need to move our instruction and assessments beyond mastery of the core competencies in subjects to a more complex use and understanding of these competencies.

Julian D. Crocker is the county superintendent of schools for the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education.