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Hard message for Australians debating soft skills

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Creativity, critical thinking, digital literacy, problem-solving and adaptability all fall under the umbrella of ‘capabilities’ but no matter what term is used there are increasingly louder calls for renewed focus on the area in education.

The future of work is looking decidedly different and it’s those soft skills that will give kids the ability to adapt and navigate through muddied waters.

Bill Lucas is Professor of Learning and Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester and an international adviser to the Mitchell Institute. He was recently appointed by the OECD as co-chair of the strategy group advising on the new PISA 2021 test of Creative Thinking.

Prof Lucas, says, “Capabilities are useful in education and in life, so need to be treated with the same respect that is applied to general subjects.”

“Many Australian educators have recognised capabilities for decades but the recent spotlight on this area, particularly in the wake of the Gonski Review, has caused capabilities to seem, to some, like a trending fad.

“The truth is, education has a long and wide-reaching history of growing capabilities and character in young people. They have conquered the tests of time and distance because they are incredibly valuable.

“Capabilities not only help students engage with learning, they can be the difference between simply knowing a fact or a skill and being able to use that in a job or a social setting.

“As Australia is experiencing increasing interest in this area, it is worth highlighting that there are a lot of frameworks out there addressing capabilities, and many – including Australia’s – have common features.”

While there has been growing interest in capabilities in recent years, discussions have peaked following the recent Gonski Review, which explicitly recommended for Australia to ‘strengthen the development of the general capabilities, and raise their status within curriculum delivery.’

Lucas is looking closely at how Australia’s education system can best cultivate capabilities in students of all ages to inform a Mitchell policy report that will be published later this year.


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