Soft skills that should be on the curriculum

21 feb. 2018 |

Soft skills that should be on the curriculum

It takes more than subject knowledge to get on in life – the modern world requires children to develop strong social skills as workplaces are transformed by technology.

As a result, talents like innovation and creativity are increasingly prized by employers.

But early development of these and other “soft skills” – such as critical thinking and decision making – also improves student performance, a report by US think-tank The Hamilton Project says.

The report suggests (PDF document) such skills are now more highly prized by recruiters than mathematics: “fewer than 20% of hiring managers said that recent graduates lacked the math skills needed for the work, [but] more than half said that recent graduates lacked attention to detail”.

It also cites data that shows a teacher’s ability to improve soft skills has more effect on high school graduation rates than raising test scores.

So should we giving more weight to soft skills on the curriculum?

Active listening

One question is whether today’s students are losing the art of listening. Research shows(PDF document) undergraduates using laptops have a worse understanding of lectures than those who take handwritten notes.

Other studies show laptops cause “visual pollution”, distracting not only the user, but those around them. However, despite young people in the developed world increasingly using computers in school, comprehension skills are still important.

In particular, ‘active listening’ – defined as “giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times” – was identified by one report as the most important soft skill needed in US school curriculums.

Hanover Research’s Incorporating Soft Skills into the K-12 Curriculum (PDF document) also suggests a range of ways that listening can be encouraged in the classroom, including placing an emphasis on learning how to think rather than collecting information, and asking students questions that encourage deeper thinking and more than one answer.

Critical thinking


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Critical thinking – loosely defined as critically evaluating the validity and relevance of information – is frequently cited as a core skill for young people.

Educators and employers promote it as one of the “Four Cs” vital for success in the 21stcentury, alongside communication, creativity and collaboration.

Hanover Research suggests there is a range of teaching strategies for encouraging critical thinking, including cooperative learning, case study discussion, conference‐style learning and written assessments.

“Each of these strategies is designed to force students to think about the situation they are presented with and to discuss the various components of the situation,” says the report.

Thinking critically also improves other important abilities, such as complex problem solving and decision making.


In education, the term self-monitoring describes (PDF document) how students “deepen, monitor, manipulate, and improve their own learning” and it is vital in both in the classroom and workplace.

Hanover Research says self-monitoring and assessment are connected to the ability to monitor and assess others and are crucial for working in a team. They are also linked to good time management.

Hanover’s report recommends regular goal-setting and feedback, which encourages self-monitoring development, so students begin to understand how they are learning.

This approach is a key pillar of what some of the biggest names in the tech world say should be the future of education: personalised or adaptive learning.

This combines elements of online and classroom tuition that allow students to learn at their own pace while providing real-time data so lecturers can give regular feedback on their individual progression.


One of the most important future skills may well have more to do with health performance: resilience.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is the main cause of ill health and disability: more than 300 million people globally live with the condition, a rise of over 18% between 2005 and 2015.

A World Economic Forum and Harvard School of Public Health study estimated the global cost of all mental health conditions at $2.5 trillion, a sum projected to reach $6 trillion by 2030.

Much depression is linked to stress and researchers say increased personal resilience is vital to decrease the suffering from conditions like anxiety and depression.

Teachers can promote resilience, says neurologist Dr Judy Willis, by focusing on a child’s competence, their tolerance to mistakes and their ability to set goals.

Breaking down big tasks into easy steps and emphasising the importance of mistakes in achieving success can be help children to avoid being overwhelmed by work or fearing failure.

Another bonus is that improved resilience not only helps with people’s social and emotional wellbeing throughout life, studies have shown it improves academic performance – all the more reason for it to be in the curriculum.

The Global Education and Skills Forum is taking place on 17th and 18th March 2018 in Dubai, UAE, with the theme of “How do we prepare young people for the world of 2030 and beyond?” Register your interest here.