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Skills can be divided into two types:
- Hard skills
- Soft skills
These are measurable skills that can be learned relatively easily at school or in courses. Mastering these competences is sometimes confirmed by a certificate or a test/exam result.
Examples of such competences are the use of computer applications (e.g., Microsoft Office, PowerPoint, Photoshop), a command of foreign languages, or the ability to use online platforms (Zoom, Microsoft Teams), email, instant messaging, and social media.
Until recently, soft skills were considered less important than hard skills. Currently, however, their importance in education and later at work is widely acknowledged.
Soft skills may be more difficult to measure, but are essential to the overall development of the student.
The Bloomberg report (“Building Tomorrow's Talent: Collaboration Can Close Emerging Skills Gap”) points out that educational institutions focus on equipping students with the knowledge and hard skills needed for their future careers, while employers emphasize new employees aren’t properly prepared to function in the workplace. They lack the soft skills necessary to perform high-quality work. Employers pay attention to these types of skills even more than to hard skills, because it’s often easier to teach an employee hard skills than to invest in the development of their soft skills.
While hard skills are easy to measure, soft skills aren’t measurable. There are many of them and they play an important role not only in the workplace, but also in everyday life outside of work, enabling an individual to adapt and succeed.
Soft skills include a variety of interpersonal and self-control skills—here are some examples:
- resistance to stress,
- ability to work in a team,
- good manners,
- care for a good atmosphere and communication in the team,
- conflict resolution,
- achieving compromises,
- logical thinking,
- innovative thinking,
- ease of carrying out tasks and focusing on the goal,
- delegating tasks and effective enforcement,
- kindness and positive attitude towards people,
- time-management and timeliness,
- good work organization,
- ability to work under time pressure and resistance to stress,
- willingness and readiness to learn and continue self- development,
- ease of adaptation to a new environment.
Soft skills in practice
Here are examples of how some soft skills are essential in practice:
Communication skills are very important for students to be successful in school and later in life. Effective communication in the workplace is essential, both with colleagues and in relations with clients.
Therefore, to achieve this, schools should teach students to ask questions, listen carefully, and have respectful and productive conversations.
Many students now have mastered electronic communication skills—they know how to use email, instant messaging, and social media. But this is not everything. They need to learn how to communicate on the phone, in video conferencing, and in face-to-face interactions.
Ability to work in a team/group
The ability to collaborate with others in a group or team is very important. It involves following others, leading when needed, receiving and giving constructive feedback, and more. Students who can only be successful by working alone may experience many difficulties later in life, and they may not be able to find their place in a professional environment where they need to work in a team.
Each activity—study or work, regardless of the field, is associated with challenges. That’s why it’s so important that school prepares students to solve problems, which is facilitated by soft skills such as creativity, and critical and logical thinking.
The learning process is not always simple and predictable as in tasks such as memorizing a chemical formula, solving a math problem, or passing a multiple-choice test. Most school and life tasks are much more complex and require more than just mastery of knowledge. The lack of adequate soft skills makes it impossible to deal with such challenges.
Private schools and soft skills
While many public schools focus on students' acquisition of knowledge and passing tests and examinations, private schools have long pointed out that students need much more to succeed in their studies and in life. Following the example of curricula in other countries, these schools ensure they develop soft skills in their students.
This is confirmed by the results of our own nationwide survey "Why do parents choose private schools?," which was part of the second edition of the Our Kids "Report on non-public education - 2019" (available in Polish here). It showed that parents value a safe, student-centred environment offered by private schools, where children are treated individually, with good interaction with teachers and the school, and giving children the opportunity to acquire soft skills, not only knowledge.
The most important features of private schools emphasized by parents are: emotional safety of the child, individualized approach, the development of soft skills, good opportunities and conditions for learning foreign languages, and smaller classes.
The fact that private schools pay a lot of attention to soft skills is a highly valued feature.
As one of the mothers-a respondent to our survey said:
“A private school is primarily a community of teachers, students, and parents, which not only teaches but also shapes young people and helps them to develop as open-minded individuals. It respects everyone, is open to discussions and projects, as well as supports and motivates students in all they do."
The study included in the Our Kids report was carried out in 2019, i.e., before the pandemic, but in a series of our articles we also showed how well private schools have done in both waves of the pandemic. The students’ and parents’ positive assessment of the work of private schools in the difficult and challenging times of COVID-19 confirms the quality and value of private education and its increasing advantage over public education in the eyes of students and parents. Private schools have proved their worth in times of crisis and this is the direct cause of the systematically growing interest in them.
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