Should soft skills be developed at home or in school?

Should soft skills be developed at home or in school?

(Ore.) Employers, teachers and parents tend to agree that children who develop better communication skills or character traits are more likely to lead successful lives, but results from a new survey show disagreement regarding where K-12 students should cultivate those abilities.

A Gallup poll of more than 4,000 parents, teachers, principals and superintendents found a majority agree that skills like creativity, problem solving and grit–known as soft skills–are just as crucial to success as academics. Yet in a report detailing the survey results, authors also found that many respondents said that responsibility should fall on the family.

“Although a majority of stakeholders believe it is very important for schools to measure non-academic skills, many interview respondents said that those skills should be developed at home,” researchers wrote. “Furthermore, interview respondents who disagreed with the need to assess non-academic skills maintained that it was simply not within a school’s scope of responsibility to teach these skills.”

Studies have also shown that internship programs can provide students a chance to further develop soft skills–including effective communication, adaptability, perseverance, curiosity and dependability–necessary to succeed in the workforce. Throughout the U.S., industry leaders have reported gaps in the number of young people coming into the workforce with those skills.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, in addition to states being required to adopt “challenging academic content standards,” they must also show that skills important to in-demand occupations or industries are being promoted.

Local and state chambers of commerce in California, Georgia and a handful of other states have begun promoting worked-based learning opportunities for students in recent years with the goal of connecting them to local high-demand fields and helping them develop soft skills.

The latest Gallup poll was conducted on behalf of NWEA, a non-profit assessment organization based in Oregon. More than 1,000 parents and 1,000 teachers spanning all 50 states and the District of Columbia were interviewed over the phone by Gallup researchers. Nearly 850 school principals and 1,220 superintendents participated in online surveys.

In some ways, the results showed the different groups were on the same page – 82 percent of parents and superintendents said it was equally important to assess both academic skills and soft skills. Eighty-three percent of teachers and principals responded the same.

When asked to describe what type of soft skills schools should teach, however, researchers said interview respondents replied with “a wide variety of life skills ranging from character development attributes to interpersonal soft skills to functional life skills.”

Even when looking at the results only related to different soft skills, respondents don’t appear to have come to a consensus on which skills would be most beneficial to students.

A student’s ability to apply what they’ve learned in school to real-world situations was considered “very important” by 83 percent of principals and 80 percent of superintendents, compared to just 66 percent of parents and 75 percent of teachers.

The ability to view issues or problems from different perspectives had the smallest gap. Sixty percent of teachers responded that it was very important for students to develop that soft skill–as did 63 percent of parents, 70 percent of superintendents and 73 percent of principals.

Only 50 percent of teachers responded that the ability to work well with others was very important, compared to 58 percent of parents, 71 percent of superintendents and 75 percent of principals.

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