In the process, we have had wide-ranging debates and discussions about what academic proficiencies and personal attributes will do our students in their best stead as they pursue a broad array of academic, work-related, and practical life skills. To this end, we have combined our Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum with some of the key ideas in the Ontario Skills Passport programme to order build individual plans based on the strengths and needs of our students.
One resource that has been of great help to us in our thinking is the 2006 report Are they Ready to Work? Employers' Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century Us Workforce produced in partnership among the Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the Society for Human Resource Management in the United States.
Now, before you roll your eyes, say to yourself "not another study where employers want us to do their training for them", and close this link, this study actually provides a very revealing (and actually not surprising) look at where we need to go as a society. The project asked the usual questions about Fundamental Skills (literacy, numeracy, scientific understanding, political/economic awareness, etc.) and got the expected responses. However, what is more intriguing were the top priorities for "Applied skills" (the ability of a graduate to apply the academic skills that they have learned to new situations) and the extent to which we are preparing them successfully.
Desired job entry attributes were ranked depending upon whether the person had graduated from high school; a two year college or technical school; or a four year university programme. Interestingly in each educational category (although in differing orders) the top five were consistently: Professionalism/work ethic; Oral/Written Communications; Teamwork/Collaboration; Critical Thinking/Problem Solving; and, Ethics/Social responsibility. So, if the expectations are generally the same no matter what the entry level, how well prepared is each group when compared to the others?
The answer for secondary educators is discouraging. The preparation level of each group was as follows:
University: Excellent 24%; Adequate 65%; Deficient 9%
College: Excellent 11%; Adequate 70%; Deficient 11%
High School: Excellent 0.2%; Adequate 47%; Deficient 43%
Even if we rationalize to ourselves that our "best" students are those reflected by the University results, the reality is that the raw score for those students who have depended upon us alone to get them ready for the outside world are pretty dismal. Part of the problem is that many high schools see themselves as "university preparatory" in mission. The focus is on academics with only limited attention paid to the applied skills that will be critically important to them in later life. That approach does a disservice to a large number of our students and may result in them being unable to secure or hold on to a good job as an adult.
The students that we hope to graduate over the next decade, need to be prepared for what awaits them. It may very well be that mastering advanced calculus is far less important than developing a positive work ethic; understanding the power of teamwork; and having a strong sense of social responsibility. Educators can continue to talk about personal grit and perseverance or obsess about individual grade point averages but the reality is that those of us who grew up in the 20th century need to realize that the self-absorbed, data-driven, competitive environment we know is rapidly being replaced by the need for people who are more creative, collaborative and flexible problem-solvers.
That's our mission at Maplewood.