Are we teaching the right skills?

I hold a high school degree, a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s Degree, and a Specialist’s degree. I hold countless certifications.

On paper, I meet the educational requirements of most jobs I desire. However, that assumes that those degrees and certifications are teaching the skills the job needs.

I have been out of the classroom for six years now, but this year, I’m going back. I’ll be teaching high school English again in addition to a cutting-edge, Makerspace course at a college preparatory 6-12 grade school. As I prepare to teach ninth grade English, I’m reminiscent of my own schooling. On paper, these students meet the requirements of most major colleges. In the classroom, they excel.

Yet, we continue to have thousands and thousands of jobs in the U.S. that our students are not qualified to fill. And, it isn’t because their paper resumes don’t fit. It’s because they lack the actual skills to do the job.

I read an article in the Harvard Business Review recently about the skills gap that I’ve become familiar with. In the graphic design industry, schools teach the current skills necessary to be successful on the job. They don’t teach the “future” skills because they don’t know them. However, we shouldn’t focus on the actual content skill, but the learning skill necessary to be a successful employee. Why don’t we focus on teaching students how to “learn on the job,” how to search and evaluate? We need to redefine the skills we want students to learn. The major skills employers say students lack? Soft skills. Yes, soft skills, followed by leadership and computing skills.

Not content.

It’s a way of thinking. It’s a way of innovating.

As I prepare to teach The Odyssey to freshmen in a pre-made curriculum, I question what skills we are engineering in students. What is the end goal? What job do we hope this will prepare them for?

Check out this school that is functioning as a business. Students leave with skills – of all kinds – to start work.

I don’t think the education system has failed. I refuse to call it a failure. But, I don’t think it’s working as well as it needs to be.

It’s time to step back and assess where are our jobs? What skills are our students lacking? Do we all need to go to a four-year university? Do all jobs require a four-year university? Is there anything wrong with going to technical school instead of a four-year university?

Right now, I hear speeches on making college free for all, but nothing to change the effectiveness of college. If you went to college, did the four-year university prepare you more for your job than a technical school would have? Where did you learn most? For me, it was on the job. I loved my time at college, but I’m the first to admit that it could have been done in less time (and I even got out in half the time) with more time spent tinkering, exploring, innovating.

What do we need more of in this world? What problems do we need to solve?

That’s what we want to teach.

Jobs are changing fast. I feel it is impossible to keep up with the content changes. But, it is possible to keep up with the learning changes. It is possible to recognize that our students need to learn differently to be successful.

Imagine a world where we could fill the jobs that are open. Imagine the economic boost. Imagine the impact it would have on families, on innovation, on communities.

Education won’t solve it all, but it is certainly a great starting place.

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