It’s hard to say which jobs will be available when today’s students become part of the workforce, but there are skills that all students can learn to help them succeed in any workplace and become responsible citizens.
To better prepare students for their futures, schools are integrating the teaching of problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking into STEM instruction. Some are doing it in creative and relevant ways, such as teaching high school students how to fly planes and drones or ditching elementary school math worksheets in favor of real-world problem solving.
In a June 22 Education Week K-12 Essentials Forum, global director of Amazon’s philanthropic education initiatives Victor Reinoso and director of Adobe Global Head of University Talent Vaishali Sabhahit shared what they think are the most important problem-solving skills students need to learn to be successful and what companies are looking for when today’s students become their workers.
“We don’t want [students] to think about just getting the job,” Sabhahit said during the discussion. “The idea is not to just survive. The idea is to thrive. The idea is to create a career in a space that speaks to your values.”
Don’t forget about the ‘soft skills’
Both Sabhahit and Reinoso agree that while hard skills—or job-specific knowledge—are important, soft skills—or interpersonal attributes—are arguably more important.
“Hard skills will get you in. Soft skills will get you far,” Sabhahit said.
Sabhahit said students need to be innovative and creative problem-solvers, they need to take risks, they need to fail and learn from their failures, they need to be confident, and they need to be collaborative.
There’s nothing that can be solved individually.
In the real world, the problems that companies and employees need to answer are often “ambiguous,” she said, and the workforce needs to be able to “think out of the box.”
And perhaps, what’s even more critical, is being able to understand and articulate the problem itself, Sabhahit said. Schools should step back and let students define the problems and the questions that they want to answer, she said.
Too often, the problems that students try to solve in classrooms are defined by the teacher. Sabhahit said students should be encouraged to ask the “big ‘what if?’ questions” so they can learn to connect the dots themselves.
For Reinoso, analytical and computational thinking skills are important. Students should be able to analyze data and break down problems into discreet parts.
But interpersonal skills are vital, too, because they teach you how to contribute to teams, he said. Everyone needs to learn how to collaborate and work together to solve problems.
“There’s nothing that can be solved individually,” he added.
It’s important to start teaching these skills early, preferably in elementary school, when there isn’t a division between subject areas and students have the same teacher the whole day, Reinoso said. Doing so makes it easier for students to understand that these skills cut across subject areas: problem solving isn’t just for math or science; it can also be used in history and language arts, he said.
The role of K-12 education
When asked whether the role of K-12 education is to prepare students to succeed in the workplace or to prepare them to be well-informed, responsible citizens, both Reinoso and Sabhahit said those two goals are not mutually exclusive.
“You can’t really succeed in one without the other,” Reinoso said. And schools still have a lot of work to do when it comes to achieving both goals, he added.
Sabhahit said schools should “ensure that your students grow up to work in companies that align with their value systems, so they can feel like they can give back to their communities.”