2.1 What is taught and what skills are required?
Today, knowledge and skills in mathematics, science and English are still important, and they should be. However, the Industrial Revolution required learners with these skills because the focus of employment during this period was to expand mechanically, technically and scientifically and this required the knowledge and skills required from these subjects.
To make learning and assessment easier, where assessment of learning was concerned, learning was standardised. Additionally, academic ability in several key areas became the focus of attention – mathematics, science and English were among these subjects. This was because success and employment were predicated upon a society where ‘the idea of academic ability’ formed the basis for most types of learning as well as a measure of intelligence.
Currently, society offers a wider range of employment opportunities that are not exclusively focused on key areas of the education curriculum. Further, how learners are assessed on what they have learned may not be reflective of how they will demonstrate these skills in working life. So, what skills are required in today’s society?
Sir Ken Robinson talks about how it is difficult to predict the skills needed for education in the future. His comments are as relevant now as they were in 2006 when the TED Talk you watched in Activity 1 was filmed. They are relevant because the current education system still values the skills and competencies that were important during the Industrial Revolution. Even today, learners are directed towards university education. For instance, The Office for National Statistics (2017) state ‘in 2017, 21.7% of those who graduated before 1992 were overeducated, whereas the corresponding figure for those who graduated in 2007 or later was 34.2%’. These figures indicate that the population is becoming educated to a higher level as time progresses.
Henseke et al. (2018) indicate that, since 2006, in Britain generic work-based skills such as using a computer and complex problem-solving skills have increased continually whereas literacy and numeracy skills have stagnated. Further, from 1986 to 2017 jobs that required no qualification upon entry moved from 38% to 23% and jobs requiring higher level qualifications moved from 20% to 38% in the same period (Henseke et al., 2018). The implication for this is that as more people become better educated the requirements to enter the workplace have changed. This is something Robinson (2006) discusses when he notes that ‘a process of academic inflation’ is present. Here, the prevalence of people with a certain qualification reduces its significance. This results in employers raising entry level requirements to apply for jobs. This practice is also evident at universities where entry requirements can be increased or reduced to ensure places on degree courses are not over or under-subscribed.
Table 1, from data first published in 2016, presents the difference between skills and competencies required from the work force in 2015 and 2020.
Table 1 Top 10 skills required from the work force
|In 2020||In 2015|
|1. Complex problem solving||1. Complex problem solving|
|2. Critical thinking||2. Coordinating with others|
|3. Creativity||3. People management|
|4. People management||4. Critical thinking|
|5. Coordinating with others||5. Negotiation|
|6. Emotional intelligence||6. Quality control|
|7. Judgment and decision making||7. Service orientation|
|8. Service orientation||8. Judgment and decision making|
|9. Negotiation||9. Active listening|
|10. Cognitive flexibility||10. Creativity|
Now complete Activity 2.
Activity 2 Your own experience of education and learning
There is no suggestion above that the education system is flawed but neither that is it perfect. Reflect on the following questions and make some notes. Click save in order to be able to view all your activity answers together at the end of the course.
- How often do you use what you learned during your GCSEs, A-levels, BTEC, degree or other formal qualification, in your job?
- Are you more likely to use the skills, competencies and dispositions you acquired during your education as opposed to the knowledge/content of the subject, itself?
Do you think the assessments you completed as part of your education:
- reflected how you learned in class?
- allowed you to demonstrate the depth and breadth of your knowledge?
- provided you with skills needed to be successful in your current career?
In order to ensure a ‘level playing field’ for all learners, assessment of learning was standardised. This meant all learners could be assessed against certain learning outcomes required to pass an assessment or progress onto to a higher level of education.
Sometimes, how learners are assessed is disconnected from the way that they are taught. Also, from time to time how learners are assessed isn’t a true reflection of what they will be required to do if they progress onto higher education or employment. For instance, if a learner acquires the information that they need to achieve the learning outcomes of the course by reading a book, would using an oral presentation to assess their understanding of the book and its contents be appropriate?
It is perfectly conceivable that it is appropriate. However, consider this:
- imagine that a learner is asked to articulate their understanding of the book or a chapter in the book as part of a presentation to a class (formative assessment)
- following this they would then be assessed on their understanding in a separate oral examination (summative assessment).
In this process, the link between how the learner will be assessed and how they learned and demonstrated that learning is more closely aligned. Further, within employment is it more likely that the learner will be required to demonstrate their understanding using verbal skills or written skills? The answer to this question may also determine if changing the assessment method to a written exam is appropriate.
It is important to remember that it is not suggested that all current methods of assessment are inappropriate. A learner learning to write an essay at A-level is acquiring an important skill. Whilst essay writing may not be required for employment it will more than likely be required for assessments at university, should they move onto a university course. Further, the ability to communicate ideas and thoughts in writing is an important skill in employment, such as writing an email.