Vail Daily column: Survival skills for college
August 4, 2015
"College and career readiness" has been a term tossed around as a goal quite frequently in education for the past few years. The term, at its core, draws on the academic and economic purposes of education for our young people. More specifically, it connotes that graduates of our schools should be able to handle college level academic work and hold down a job.
While we don't disagree with "college and career readiness" as an outcome for graduates, here in Eagle County Schools we are working to set an even higher bar. In his 2008 work, "The Global Achievement Gap," Harvard professor Tony Wagner made the case for a set of skills graduating students would need. Wagner called these the "seven survival skills" and called on schools to reorganize in a way that delivered students who were competent in these skills. These skills are:
• Critical thinking and problem solving
• Collaboration and leadership
• Agility and adaptability
• Initiative and entrepreneurialism
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• Effective oral and written communication
• Accessing and analyzing information
• Curiosity and imagination
Perhaps not surprisingly, when employers were recently asked what aspects are most needed in today's workforce, it was these sorts of skills that emerged high on their lists. In the context of our focus on international benchmarking and being a world-class educational organization, we agree on the importance of developing these types of skills for all of our students. We have, however, redefined them as "global-ready" skills to remain laser focused on our goals.
The term "global ready" is borrowed from mobile phone technology and it basically means that you can turn on a global-ready phone most anywhere in the world and it will work. Similarly, we are working to turn out global-ready graduates, who can compete and work at a high level, for any job in the global economy, anywhere in the world.
This shift from a content-based education to a skills-based education is profound and not without its controversy. "School" for most adults — myself included — involved a great deal of memorization (think of all those worksheets and bubble tests) and the practicing of redundant procedures with little context (think of all those algebra problems).
Through this experience, many adults have come to equate "rigor" in education to be more of this low level work. Some believe our children are receiving a challenging education if they are being asked to memorize even more facts and master more disconnected routines.
But the applicability of these facts and routines are not very useful in the world in which we live and it will be even less so as we look to the future our children will inherit. Facts are easy to obtain; the ability to scrutinize and draw meaning from them is the challenge. Routines are easy to master; learning which routine to use, under what conditions and to solve what problem is the challenge.
The work ahead for our schools, our educators and (most importantly) our students will be the large scale transition from an education based on the acquisition of facts and routines to one based on a set of skills that can be adapted to a variety of contexts and situations. We are redesigning our curricular systems to provide students with the opportunity to practice and master these "global ready" skills, as opposed to fact-based memorization or other routine tasks.
Not to worry, students will still learn about the American Revolution, the periodic table of elements and about calculating slopes. But they will learn this content by being asked to do things like solving meaningful and complex problems, working together in teams, adapting to changing conditions, taking risks outside their comfort zones, communicating their thoughts and learning in a variety of ways, discerning important information and dreaming about what could be.
I don't know about you, but these sorts of high level tasks look and feel a lot more like the "real world" to me. These "global-ready" skills are exactly what our kids are going to need as they step out into a world that becomes more complex and competitive by the second.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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