Starting from a short review of the current state of society and how we adapt to these complex and uncertain conditions, we will find out how the priorities of the public education system changed over time, why learning soft skills matters, what KIDDIO is, and how it can be helpful to parents — and kids.
Somewhere Between Order and Chaos
Brittle, anxious, non-linear, incomprehensible… B.A.N.I.
These days, we are living in the BANI world, according to Jamais Cascio, historian, researcher, and member of the Institute for the Future.
“I’m a short term pessimist, long term optimist. Things are going to get worse before they get better,” he says — and it seems like most of us can relate to that.
The 2021 American National Family Life Survey results claim that nearly three-quarters of Americans say things in the US are getting worse. This year’s survey from the Pew Research Center states that people name the quality of public K-12 schools among the top-seven biggest issues that the country faces today. Even though problematic, the public education system is still viewed as the force that will have a positive impact on solving future problems, ranked second after science and technologies in an America in 2050 survey — rating higher than the military and the government!
When we peer into the future, we put our trust in progress and our kids’ potential development, but how can we help them build their paths in the present state of our society?
As the author of BANI framework, Jamais Cascio, suggests, effective responses to modern life challenges are to be found on an individual level:
- Brittleness, or fragility, can be overcome by resilience
- Anxiety is diminished by mindfulness and empathy
- Non-linearity requires contextual solutions and flexibility
- Incomprehensibility can be battled with the help of transparency and intuition
As we see, this “surviving-the-present” kit mainly consists of so-called soft skills, which can help our children learn to adapt to, thrive in, and even shape whatever the future holds — becoming antifragile, in Nassim Taleb’s words. Of course, future-ready students will continue to gain disciplinary knowledge as the raw materials from which new knowledge and hard skills are developed, but soft skills’ guidance is needed to apply everything they learned in unknown and ever-changing circumstances.
Stuart Kauffman, theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher, wrote in his book, The Origins of Order, “Living systems exist in the solid regime near the edge of chaos, and natural selection achieves and sustains such a poised state.”
To evolve through altering behavior and accumulating successful adjustment attempts, human beings need islands of stability to preserve what has already been learned, surrounded by the seas of volatility, randomness, and uncertainty where tinkering happens. Do we see this landscape in our educational system?
Schooling: yesterday, today, tomorrow
Some education experts have noted that most 21st-century students are still being taught by teachers using 20th-century pedagogical practices in 19th-century school organizations, and here is why this is an issue for future-proofing kids.
Initially, universal public schooling was modeled to respond to society labor demands after the first Industrial Revolution and integrate the fast growing, diverse American population. Teaching resembled conveyor production: one educator had to introduce as many students as possible to the standardized content. The three Rs curriculum model (reading, writing, arithmetics) was static, linear and strictly regimented. In the mid-19th century, school grades were established to reduce large age disparities in the classrooms. Interesting fact: the first kindergartens were founded on the Froebel system that provided creative, play-based development of a child, but later a formal, teacher-centered approach instilling basic knowledge and skills prevailed.
During the 20th century, education started to be not just about learning for jobs, but about individual fulfillment too. Learning programs began to include non-academic subjects, different types of schooling emerged, early childhood education became available for the masses, but the educational processes remained stiff and teacher-oriented. Assessment through standardized testing to ensure a student’s accountability became a common practice. Educators were obligated to comply with standards and all students were taught more or less equally. Toward the end of the century, curricula underwent countless modifications, but they remained focused on memorization and academic skills with pursuing a degree as an ultimate goal of the whole learning process.
Reflecting on the history of education and how drastically its role changed, it’s easy to see gigantic improvements, except for the loss of flexibility and child-centered learning of the Froebel kindergartens. We can only imagine how our society would look if a froebelian approach remained the mainstream method in the early developmental classrooms all of this time to the present. Unfortunately, our current educational structure transforms in a fast-moving world far too slowly, not keeping up with technological, societal, environmental, and labor market tendencies.
All this time, students used to master ‘technical’ three R skills to become successful in the future. Believe it or not, but more than 100 years ago, Charles Rigborg Mann, in his study on engineering education, discovered that only 20% of job success depends on hard skills; the most job successes are due to what we now call “soft skills”. He wrote that an effective worker is the one who has an ability to perceive relationships clearly, and this ability is essential for liberating the creative energy and developing resourcefulness, judgment, common sense, perspective, and other useful qualities. Quite a list of 21-century skills!
What do we mean by “soft skills” today, and what are their benefits?
Softer, Faster, Higher, Stronger
Obviously, different people can create different meanings — and names! — when referring to soft skills. Twenty-first century skills, life skills, transferable skills, people skills — these have many long and short definitions. One of the most famous interpretations comes from James Heckman, the Nobel-awarded economist, and it can be reduced to, “personal traits and abilities that predict success in life.”
To get into the details of these game-changing “know-hows,” here are the top-10 essential soft skills based on the WHO position paper discussing their importance in the life of our future generations:
Problem solving is a complex process that involves becoming aware of a problem, defining a problemattic matter, analyzing the situation, finding suitable solutions, implementing the chosen solution, and evaluating the results. There are a lot of different factors that contribute to problem-solving skills, from self-confidence and analytical thinking to the ability to define cause-effect relationships and decision making. Good problem-solving skills are associated with higher levels of resiliency; they have a positive influence on innovative behavior as well, thus enabling students to find constructive and unique solutions to the current problems while staying flexible and resilient even in most difficult situations.
Problem-solving should be a very real part of the curriculum, starting with the students’ responsibility for their own learning and taking personal actions to use the newly acquired knowledge in meaningful real-life activities.
Although critical thinking is tightly connected with problem solving, it is considered to be the overlying ability, or meta-thinking, that facilitate each stage of the problem-solving process. Critical thinking can be defined as a set of information and universal intellectual values, used for the purpose of constructing new knowledge, and at the same time as a habit, based on intellectual commitment, guiding the cognitive process. It was proven that critical thinking increases a student’s creativity, teamwork skills, and communication — language and presentation skills. Critical thinking is a crucial skill for mental health in today’s media-saturated world; it helps to shape well-informed, unbiased opinions for being independent citizens and making progress in science.
To form a base for critical thinking beginning in the early developmental years, children must be encouraged to progress in everyday reasoning skills, take part in discussions, recognize their strengths and limitations for a realistic outlook on themselves, and exercise self-control.
Decision making is a cognitive process of making choices and selecting the right course to reach the desired goal. It usually involves gathering internal and external information, identifying the alternatives, weighing the evidence, choosing the path, and taking an action!
While problem solving and decision making can be considered interchangeable or, respectively, whole-part constructs, some researchers see decision making as an action-oriented process compared with the more theoretical nature of problem-solving. Decision-making skills are critical in dealing with everyday risky and uncertain situations; they depend on self-control, emotional application, coping abilities, referential communication, and self-esteem.
It’s important to note that some components of decision-making skills, such as probabilities weighing and interpreting the environmental feedback in a well-rounded way, get partially “unlocked” only in the elementary school age. To support decision-making strategies development, one can start from limiting harmful stress exposure and increasing predictability at home for healthy reward processing, as well as engage a child in family’s decision-making.
An ability to create new or rework existing ideas according to the situational requirements — that’s how creativity can be defined.
According to the Componential Model of Creativity by Theresa M. Amabile, there is an outside component of the surrounding environment and three within-individual components:
- Domain-relevant knowledge and skills, for example in music or math
- Intrinsic task motivation, based on interest, enjoyment, satisfaction or challenge
- Creativity-relevant processes — divergent and convergent thinking, independence, self-discipline, risk taking
It’s considered that young children are naturally creative, and they become less capable of thinking originally as they move through the standardized educational system. Fortunately, their creativity can be stimulated through different experiences, such as arts & crafts making, reading, independent play — or doing nothing!
Self-awareness is an extent to which people understand and reflect on their internal states and their interactions with others. Aspects of self-awareness, such as mindfulness, reflection, and rumination, have a positive influence on mental health; it also encourages persistence, thus ensuring better day-to-day performance. Self-awareness strategies help children grow in their social and emotional lives because such activities literally rearrange the structure of a brain towards greater flexibility and help make thinking processes more manageable and productive.
Mindset exercises, reflective thinking enhancement, and encouraging prosocial behavior can make a significant difference in self-awareness development, when implemented since the preschool age of a child.
Empathy can be described as a set of processes aimed to understand, share, and accept feelings and emotions of others through perspective-taking by directly observing or imagining their emotional states. Evolving from reflexive crying in early infants to active prosocial behavior in older children, empathic abilities are determined by the genes to some extent, but warm and responsive interactions with significant others and diverse learning experiences can also contribute to empathy development.
Reading fiction, labeling emotions, concerning causes and consequences of different types of behavior through roleplaying, practicing active listening can promote a child’s empathy, which, in turn, will help form moral qualities, altruistic behavior, and social competence.
Interpersonal Relationship Skills
This cluster of skills is a very broad one and can be also named as social skills or social intelligence. It includes relationship-building competencies, teamwork skills, emotional intelligence, personality traits, leadership, self-management, and communication skills.
Teaching interpersonal skills to younger children often begins with sharing, taking turns, listening, helping others, and articulating themselves. On a more advanced level, there are tasks on developing clear self-expressions, conducting reciprocal conversation, using non-verbal communication assets in a relevant manner, making and keeping friends, conflict resolution, assertiveness, setting boundaries, negotiating, and cooperating.
Good interpersonal, or social, skills are associated with positive outcomes for mental health and academic achievements. In addition, socially-competent kids have less conduct problems and their stress levels are significantly lower.
Communication as a set of skills can be mixed to some extent with interpersonal abilities, because it is used to convey information from one person to another. Communication grows in importance from infancy for the needs to be met and then throughout the whole life resulting in sophisticated forms of information exchange. According to Children’s Communication Checklist, these skills include structural linguistic competencies, such as vocabulary, syntax, semantics, and pragmatic language skills — namely, understanding and using the context, initiating and sustaining adequate conversations, and expressing own ideas.
As communication skills are the predictors of school readiness, self-regulation, social adjustment, and academic success, they should be mastered from the early years. Using multiple means of self-expression (music, dance, drawing, etc.), collaborating on projects, learning to interview — any age-appropriate activities encouraging kids to talk will be helpful in acquiring this fundamental ability.
Coping with Stress
First of all, a good balance of stress in one’s life can be promoting health and growth in terms of social, emotional, and cognitive development. Coping strategies require both mental and behavioral efforts on tackling stress factors and can be determined by a coping repertoire developed from previous similar experiences. Hundreds of coping strategies exist, effective and adaptive ones are based on problem-solving, emotional regulation, cognitive restructuring, getting social support, and active acceptance. Productive forms of distraction, specifically physical exercises, meditations, and reading a book, can also contribute to stress-releasing.
It’s important to show kids many different types of healthy stress responses so that they could choose some that make a good fit with their personalities. Deep breathing and cognitive reframing exercises can be a simple yet effective addition to a child’s daily experiences significantly reducing tension and negative thoughts.
Emotional management, or regulation, involves efforts to modulate emotional arousal in a way that facilitates adaptive functioning, as defined in research. Children with healthy emotional regulation are able to control negative urges in response to emotional distress, have better mental health, get higher grades, and adjust more successfully to new situations.
In order to help improve emotional regulation, parents and educators should encourage healthy outlets for physical and emotional energy, create consistency, and use routines to help avoid meltdowns, model proper behavior, improve emotional recognition, and create safe and positive environments for self-expression.
If a school or preschool facility doesn’t pay enough attention to promoting the soft skills listed above, then a learning supplement may be required for a bright start from the early years. Here’s one to consider.
Soft Skills-Based Learning to Make Kids Future-Proof
At KIDDIO, we strongly believe that soft skills should be mastered from the preschool age, as early life experiences have a lasting impact on later learning, behavior, mental health, and occupational success.
After more than 9 years of running offline preschool centers with over 3,000 learners, in 2020, our online soft skills-based learning service was launched in the European market.
This year, KIDDIO introduced a range of online learning programs to US parents and children of ages from 3 to 9.
For more information, please visit kiddio.io