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An argument for technical education

We hear them so often: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking, that they can become a slightly redundant refrain, muffled by an already crammed education discourse.

Some organisations, P21 in particular, are determined that teaching and learning 21st century skills (the 4Cs) are the key to a successful future for individuals, as well as society. The P21 site is saturated with idealistic terminology blended with an exhaustive and impressive list of skills they believe students should have in order to “navigate the complexities of the 21st Century”. From mastering what they call “fundamental” subjects such as Math, Science, Geography and English Literacy, students should also be taught: health literacy, environmental literacy, global awareness, financial literacy, media literacy and citizenship to name a few — not to mention of course creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.

Phew! That’s quite a list of learning objectives. To their credit P21 offers a number of guidelines and resources to achieve them.

Will students need soft skills or technical skills?

I have previously questioned the claim that future-proofing students requires this rigorous, interdisciplinary, holistic and exhaustive approach; not because it’s not a good idea to render students macroscopically aware of their world, and their role in it, but because I disagree with the type of future organisations like P21 and others claim lies ahead.

I believe the future — and the future of work in particular — will be more fractured and compartmentalized, I believe that teaching very specific technical skills empowers students far more than a generalized ambition to make them creatures of extraordinary creativity and collaboration.

There is no doubt that the world would be a more peaceful, serene and productive place if we all practiced a bit more communication and critical thinking, but in terms of actual work, productivity, application and survival in the future I think the scope is too broad, and the objectives muddied by an overly liberal ideology. The world’s population is ballooning, the earth’s resources are diminishing, exploitation of unskilled labor is rife and unless there’s some kind of tectonic shift, the fundamentals of a capitalist economy will continue to dominate how the world works.

This future requires not so much collaboration skills as survival skills!

Taking steps towards technical education

One of the most common complaints I have about my own education was that while I knew the difference between differential and integral calculus I had no idea how my local bank worked. There was an extreme lack of real-world application in my own high school curriculum, and I am therefore an enthusiastic proponent of creating curricula that are more practical.

Quite recently the UK government launched a new series of T-Level qualifications, to be offered initially by 52 colleges throughout the UK. T-Levels will carry the same weight as the more academic A-Level matric, and have been developed in partnership with employers and industry. The qualifications can currently be earned in subjects such as construction, digital and education & childcare.

A further set of 22 courses will be introduced from 2020 covering finance & accounting, engineering & manufacturing, and creative & design. From the age of 16, students can choose to be streamed into these technical colleges, earning a technical matric qualification with as much prestige as an A-level.

The theory behind the introduction of the T-Level is that many students are falling in the gap, so to speak, between academic proficiency and unemployment. As the UK Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, said at the launch:

Technology and the world economy are fast-changing, and we need to make sure our young people have the skills they need to get the jobs of tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

You can have no doubt that I am excited by these types of developments in education: technical and skill-specific, and next week I’ll explore some of the best ways to use technology to create and teach skill-specific courses.