Contemporary education can be roughly divided into two parts – academic and non-academic. Achieving academic prowess is essential. The academic curriculum is mostly delineated by the academic councils of various education institutions. Yet, in the modern borderless world, education is becoming incomplete without obtaining soft skills – the non-academic part of education. Having both academic and soft skill sets empowers students, making it easier for them to manoeuvre their way in workplaces anywhere in the globe. Even employers prefer a fine blend of competencies amongst their resources.
So, what are the non-academic soft skill set that could help students succeed? There are quite a few of these: emotional skills, critical thinking skills, negotiating skills and skills which include being able to interact with others, besides being able to overcome various life-challenges, to name a few.
For students to be able to navigate the environment, apart from the skills mentioned above, they need to acquire sharp people skills; social skills; communication skills; develop character and personality traits; career attributes and a strong emotional intelligence quotient.
These would manifest through personal integrity, flexibility, responsibility and courtesy; clarity in written and oral communication; professionalism through work ethics; belief in teamwork and collaboration; efficient time management and decision-making capabilities by developing critical thinking and problem-solving capacity.
Acquiring them, if not mastering them, will significantly impact a student’s success in life. Learning institutions should not only focus on imparting these to the students, but also institute an ongoing assessment system to be able to monitor its progress and take remedial action well in time.
Incubating such skills, especially teamwork and critical thinking, will boost the self-confidence of students to be able to interact comfortably and confidently with peers and others. In fact, many academically brilliant students often have their prospects stymied due to their lack of soft skills and are dubbed “socially awkward”.
It has been observed that there is a noticeable disconnect amongst students relating to the need to acquiring soft skills – consequently, often students are unprepared to face the real world and they fall short of employer expectations.
While recognising the need to impart soft skills, the challenge lies in imparting them to students. Hence, it is very important that teachers, faculty and professors are adept at soft skills to be able to successfully transmit them amongst their students.
The ability of the faculty to be able to motivate students on teamwork is the most important skill they need to acquire. Communication skills can help teachers introduce creative and effective solutions to student issues. Teachers can play stimulating facilitator roles in the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills by allowing discussions and free thought processes. This will help students appreciate that critical thinking does not necessarily end with a right answer. It exposes them to appropriately respond to conflicting evaluations and opinions.
The role of soft skills in strengthening the education process, both at the national and international level, cannot be discounted. It applies equally to teachers as well as students. In the borderless world we are witnessing, soft skills may well emerge as the differentiator and play a critical role in the success that people achieve.