Re-thinking education for equality

Re-thinking education for equality

Barrier Breakers Foundation believes we must re-think our education system for equality to become a reality. We need to move away from the mechanistic ‘teaching to the test’ approach and towards an education system where soft skills are embedded in every learning experience.

Soft skills are the traits and abilities of attitude and behaviour rather than knowledge or technical aptitude.

Soft skills – such as communication, leadership, confidence, motivation, self-awareness, creativity, and teamwork – are increasingly recognised as key to enterprise, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

‘Soft skills are an asset that neither employers nor employees can ignore.’ James Caan CBE

Soft skills are becoming critical determinants of survival in the face of current challenges.  They are the skills we need to adapt successfully to a globalised, rapidly changing, unpredictable environment.

However, there’s a massive soft skills gap, particularly affecting young people.

While soft skills are essential to workplace success and personal wellbeing, their value extends even further.

Do we want an education system that develops the individual, encourages questioning, reflection, and a curious mind, creating a lust for lifelong learning and bringing about social mobility and equality? If so, then education policy needs to recognise and prioritise soft skills fully.

Soft skills open our eyes to reality. They give us the strength to change things for the better, and they provide us with the resilience that making change demands.

There is evidence that this new kind of education would have dramatic benefits, not only for the young people concerned but also for society.

Graham Allen’s report, Early Intervention: The Next Steps, detailed “the immense penalties to society and to the individual of failing to provide a strong foundation of social and emotional capabilities early in life.”

If we care about equality, we must support all young people by putting soft skills at the heart of education.

Are our young people prepared with the best skills for today’s world?

Are our young people prepared with the best skills for today’s world?

Education is still relentlessly focused on preparing young people to pass exams. But this approach ignores the skills employers are now looking for, the skills that allow young people to navigate rapid, constant change effectively, the skills that encourage imagination, creativity, and innovation, and the skills that will develop an individual’s wellbeing and success.

Back in 2015, Dr Anthony Seldon spoke out about his belief that state schools have much to learn from the private sector, which is far better at preparing students not just with good grades but with “a grounding in soft skills.”

He recognised that state schools are “the victim of forces that compel them to focus on a narrow range of exam teaching.”

We’ve worked in soft skills development for almost 20 years, from when businesses saw them as nice-to-have, fluffy add-ons – and were consequently they were never addressed. Things have changed! But while awareness has grown, the problems produced by a lack of soft skills are becoming ever more apparent and pressing.

Is enough being done at a government policy level?

Not in our opinion.

Young people are setting off into the world of work without the necessary skills.

And they may not even be aware of this – not until they try to find a job!

Does the past get in the way of your future potential?

Does the past get in the way of your future potential?

Every culture is full of ‘boxes’ that precede us and into which we may or may not fit easily. So it’s not just your past that might get in the way of your future potential…but the past.

Different cultures, different boxes.

For some, the boxes of their culture work well; for many, they don’t.

And this pre-determined past that we’re born into can get in the way of our potential, our future, our life.

Often, we get trapped in boxes without even realising it.

We mistake them for the truth.

Often the most aggressive jailer, keeping us in a box, is our own inner voice. It has absorbed all the boxes of our culture and pushes us into them at every opportunity:

“Women can’t…”

“I’m too old to…”

“When I’ve lost a few more pounds, I’ll…”

“My religion says I mustn’t…”

“I’m not intelligent enough to…”

When you hear yourself thinking about limiting judgements such as these, do a double-check.

Make sure it’s what you really believe.

Or whether it’s just a box that you – or that jailer – are putting yourself into.

Don’t let the past dictate your future.

Get mindful…with a simple ‘no-time-a-day’ stress-buster

Get mindful…with a simple ‘no-time-a-day’ stress-buster

Are you stressed?

One ancient antidote to stress that’s now gaining mainstream recognition is mindfulness.

So what does it mean to be mindful?

Here’s a straightforward introductory exercise that you can add to your day, and that takes no time:

  • Choose a habit – something you do on your own every day, like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or drinking morning coffee
  • Pay close attention to what’s happening while you do it
  • Be fully aware of how it feels, smells, sounds, tastes and so on
  • If your mind wanders, notice where it went to, and guide it back gently to the present moment

Reducing stress lowers the likelihood of burnout, stroke, heart attack and depression.

Isn’t it worth including some no-time-a-day activity in your life to avoid these and other health risks? And it will increase your happiness too!

Fancy a bit of conflict? Go on, it’s good for you!

Fancy a bit of conflict? Go on, it’s good for you!

Nobody likes conflict, right! Well, other than people who are into ‘drama’, who stir up trouble for the thrill of it, or who use conflict as a means of control. But most sane people don’t like conflict. And why should they? It’s upsetting; it’s risky; it’s challenging.

However, sometimes conflict is essential. And in our desire to avoid it, we can unwittingly make matters worse.

1. We let the bully rule

People become bystanders to bullying behaviour because they don’t want to cause trouble, be called a snitch, or get involved.

If they themselves are being bullied, people often allow it to continue to keep the peace, because it’s ‘more trouble than it’s worth’, or because they don’t know how to resolve it.

In other words, people keep quiet to avoid conflict. But by doing so, the bullying behaviour will not only continue…it will escalate.

2. We wait until a smoulder becomes a flame

Firefighting is a familiar sight in organisations. It usually occurs not because something is unforeseen but because something has been ignored. Only when the smouldering situation has finally erupted into flames is it dealt with…causing a lot more damage and mayhem – a lot more conflict – than if it had been dealt with the moment smoke was detected.

Of course, this doesn’t only happen in organisations. Our aversion to conflict affects our personal lives too. Hoping a problem will magically disappear seems preferable to having one of those difficult conversations!

‘What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.’ Dwight D. Eisenhower

3. We don’t learn how to use conflict creatively

We need to be nudged out of our ruts if we’re going to keep growing and be creative. Great leaders know that they have to use ‘provocations’ to shake things up. And yes, this can cause conflict. For example, Miles Davis repeatedly disbanded his jazz groups and formed new ones; Tim Smit, CEO of the Eden Project, takes similar action by regularly moving employees out of a role, so they don’t get stuck in routines. Does this produce conflict? Of course! It disrupts the status quo, and that will always ruffle feathers.

Very few people are good at dealing with conflict…they don’t really harness the creative potential.

‘Good’ conflict is good for you – don’t shy away from it.”

Peter Senge

Get practising!