Skills for work and for life
The province has asked for input on how we can “prepare Ontario students for success, improve their academic achievement and equip them with the tools needed to enter the working world.” Three components of the consultation focus on skills – in science, technology, engineering and math; for jobs such as skilled trades and coding; and for life, such as financial literacy.
Vital skills for the future
There is no doubt that Ontario’s curriculum and policy needs comprehensive change.
As society’s needs, economic trends, and environmental challenges evolve, public education must also adapt, in order to ensure that young people are fully prepared for the world they will enter upon graduation.
However, according to organizations like the Rand Corporation, RBC, and the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada (CMEC) it is equally important that we not focus too much on the skills of the past, but instead on the competencies for the future. These “global competencies” (also referred to as 21st century, or “transferable” skills), according to CMEC, are “overarching sets of attitudes, skills, and knowledge that can be interdependent, interdisciplinary, and leveraged in a variety of situations both locally and globally.”
There is no doubt that for future success, students must have a toolbox of skills and competencies that extend well beyond the 3Rs.
Preparing for a changing workforce
Over the course of the next 10 years, millions of young Canadians will enter a workforce dramatically different from the one we know today (for more on this, see Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in an age of disruption. RBC, 2018).
The big question that needs to be answered: Will our young people be prepared to respond to challenges, to innovate, and to thrive?
The automation of jobs, the growth of information technology, and the reality of a global economy have heightened the necessity of preparing students for success in a knowledge economy, for job flexibility, and for frequent career re-orientation.
“There are compelling economic and civic reasons for education systems to develop students’ 21st century skills. The economic rationale is that computers and machines can cost-effectively do the sorts of jobs that people with only routine knowledge and skills can do, which means that the workplace needs fewer people with only basic skill sets and more people with higher-order thinking skills…[Students] also need to learn how and why to be engaged citizens who think critically—so that they can, for example, analyze news items, identify biases, and vote in an educated way.”
The Rand Corporation
A 2016 report by the Foundation for Young Australians analyzed more than four million job ads over a three year period to determine the demand for skills such as digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and communication skills.
The study found that employers are requesting more transferable skills (global competencies) than technical (industry-specific) skills of young candidates. The study also found that average salaries are higher for job postings that request global competencies, when compared to similar job postings without those skills.
Identifying what matters
Over the last five years, People for Education has been working with experts from across Canada to define the skills and competencies in creativity, citizenship, health and social-emotional learning that are key for long-term success. We also spent time testing the work with teachers in classrooms. There was widespread agreement that these skills can’t be “add-ons” but must be both embedded in curriculum and supported by a range of resources and programs in classrooms and schools. (For more information, visit People for Education’s website.
Skills and competencies shifts happening across Canada and internationally
A number of education systems are moving to embed global competencies into curricula, outcome expectations, and assessment strategies:
BC’s curriculum is structured around core communication, thinking, and personal and social competencies. These competencies are embedded throughout all levels and subjects, so that by the time a student graduates, they will have developed competence in these areas as well as academic knowledge.
New Zealand has embraced five key competencies that are embedded throughout compulsory schooling:
- Relating to others
- Using language, symbols, and texts
- Managing self
- Participating and contributing
Singapore has developed a two-part 21st century competency framework that is applied across the curriculum. The framework includes overall competencies “necessary for the globalized world”:
- Civic literacy, global awareness, and cross-cultural skills
- Critical and inventive thinking
- Communication, collaboration, and information skills
Alberta has defined a core set of competencies, and embedded each one in every area of the curriculum. The core competencies are:
- Critical thinking
- Managing information
- Cultural and global citizenship
- Creativity and innovations
- Personal growth and well-being
Curriculum changes needed
If Ontario is to keep up with other jurisdictions, it will need to rationalize, and embed in revised curriculum, its many policies that cover global competencies and skills, and preparation for work, including 21st Century Competencies, Learning Skills and Work Habits, Creating Pathways to Success, and Ontario’s Well-Being strategy for Education. In order to ensure that any changes are part of an overall coherent strategy, it will also be necessary to examine current practices and policy that compel students to make course choices for secondary school in grade 8. These choices can limit students’ options in high school and post-secondary education.