Education is an enlightening experience; a process of learning from known to unknown. There are generally two types of education: formal education and informal education. Formal education is institution-based, like school, college, university; and informal is usually outside the classroom, in the community.
A successful system of education prepares the student for the future by inculcating both hard and soft skills. Hard skills are the skills which are measurable specific teachable abilities, such as reading, writing, mathematical skills, computer skills, and so on. Hard skill development in early years is at its best in the Montessori Method of teaching. The system provides the learner with a set of exercises called ‘exercise of practical life’: sensory education and mathematical exercises dealing purely with hard skill development.
Soft skills are abilities that pertain to personality, attitude, and behaviour, rather than the formal technical knowledge. Successful blending of hard and soft skills result in a balanced, composed, mature, tolerant, confident and self-aware generation beneficial for the society. The difference is that hard skills can be measured, but soft skills can’t.
We know of different of parallel systems of education in Pakistan. Since public schools couldn’t cater to the needs of growing number of students, and for parental concerns of individual attention for their child, the advent of the idea of child-friendly education – the private school systems – are still filling up the vacuum. Parents, though mostly a product of these schools themselves, are more concerned about the quality of education and individual attention for their child.
When we examine the three main streams of education, the public school in general is mainly focusing on development of hard skills like reading, writing, rewriting, mathematical skills, etc. In contrast, the private schools promoting conceptual learning are more attuned towards soft skill development. The Madrassa students are also more focused towards hard skills, with very little space for soft skills. The most developed nations of the world are following schemes of studies which drive students to master both hard and soft skills.
The two most important soft skills are communication and personal skills. Communication skills consist of verbal communication, written communication, listening, public speaking, and non-verbal communication. Personal skills consist of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, emotion management, tolerance of change and uncertainty, handling criticism, self-confidence, adaptability, enthusiasm, friendliness and empathy.
We have recently had interactions with various students from different institutions: and it was surprising to see that even university students – particularly Bachelors level students – would find it hard to share their views in a presentation, or in individual question-answer sessions. It could be clearly observed that the key communication skill with the aforementioned ingredients were not nurtured the way they should have been. At which level of education was the missing link; that remains to be diagnosed.
Communication is the key soft skill that is considered equally important for all professions and fields: in most cases, “excellent communication skills” are a requirement posted by many job advertisers. The teachers involved in teaching at public schools are hardly aware of the fact that they are in the classroom not to just make the ‘reading writing machines’, but they also have to integrate the taught lessons with personal skill development.
Integration is the concept of blending in two or three different subjects: the teacher has to find the connection between two subjects, and then the journey of interactive learning from known to unknown takes place. Integration can be done in various styles and with different methodologies. Integration of subjects is a very rare phenomenon as far as our public schools are concerned. For the student, each subject is a separate and different entity which needs to be understood from A to Z within its domain; plus the skill to rewrite the memorized stuff within a given time is perfected. In this scenario, there are hardly moments to inculcate these skills among the students; the result is that even a student attaining a higher degree is unable to express him or herself clearly whenever it comes to an interview or writing an application or résumé in most of the cases.
The teachers in public schools are hardly aware of the fact that they are in the classroom not just to teach reading and writing skills; they also have to integrate taught lessons with personal skill development and ensure real life application of the material taught
Since the teacher is the main source of information and – due to time constraints -the only objective is to finish the lessons, so that is it. The schools that focus on conceptual learning are vice versa; their main focus is on verbal communication, presentation skills, etc. It’s a race against time in both systems. The self-confidence and self-awareness which gives the feeling of self respect to an individual is the missing link in the parallel running systems. The practical implications are visible neither in society nor in educational institutions, at any level. The result is visible: an impatient generation trying to prove its point as correct by any means necessary.
Education reforms are an ongoing process. As per international standards, each national curriculum is to be reviewed after five years. Our national curriculum needs to be reviewed after the amendments and changes introduced in 2006. Designing and including soft skills learning material based on communication skills and personal skills as a component of the curriculum is desperately needed. And when we say communication, it means verbal, non-verbal, written, and all aspects that are to be inculcated with balance given the utmost importance.
The human resource engaged in teaching and learning must be well trained on the importance of these skills, and must have clarity on these concepts with reference to the methodologies and techniques applicable in a classroom environment. Provincial governments must engage civil society organisations or relevant private institutions for the capacity building of teachers. Informal educational activities can also be supported in this regard. The aim has to be a broader one; towards a generation equipped with the skills that can lead the society towards peaceful coexistence with itself, and with the world.
The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector