Pedagogical analysis around the world is filled with a variety of critiques on the balance between the learning of knowledge and the learning of skills, where polarised views are often pitched against each other. In real terms within our education systems, is it this black and white? Is it one or the other?
The answer is not simple and is a balance between the two which flexes in different contexts and situations. But rather than tackling this directly, let us consider the importance of the skills themselves, what we mean by skills, and then explore how a skills-versus-knowledge balance might work.
Each subject specialism teaches a core skillset that is relevant to that subject matter. In this case, the context of those skills is directly related to the requirements of that specialism. For example, in D&T we teach hand-tooling skills, sketching skills, digital design skills; in Science, we teach skills on practical methodology, dissection, and the safe use of chemicals. These skills have generally existed since those subjects were first established and have evolved alongside the advancement of technologies in the equipment we use.
Without dismissing or diluting those practical, subject-related skills, our industries are calling out for the development of a broader skillset – a skill set that applies to multiple contexts and translates across a variety of subject matters. These skills have been given many names – least of all, the demeaning term “soft skills”, but also known as 21st-century learning skills and workplace readiness skills. Regardless of the term used, they all reflect an ethos of adaptability, accountability, and originality that is required to solve complex, socio-technical problems that we are yet to face.
These skills are often grouped further into collectives, but again, they largely follow the same theme. There has been much written on the 4Cs (Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking – also sometimes extended to 6Cs or 7Cs) and the 3Rs (Risk-Taking, Resilience, and Reflectiveness), but they all tend to include the following key elements: