Future demand for social skills will be big, says new report

Report says kids must learn to think like a human in an increasingly digital world

The kids are coding. They’re building websites and apps and closing the digital skills gap. Now policymakers need to look to the next skills shortage – the ability to solve problems together. 

New evidence in a report published by Nesta shows that complex human traits, like problem-solving and social skills, will be the hardest to automate and so will be the most in demand in the future workplace.

‘Solved! Making the case for collaborative problem solving’, produced in partnership with UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and UCL Knowledge Lab, calls for policymakers, educators and innovators to adapt to equip young people with skills needed for the future.

The education system, the report shows, has barriers that stifle such skills: individual assessment prevails and concerns over behaviour management and lack of training for teachers means that most education systems remain focused on memory and knowledge tasks that are the easiest to automate. 

The report shows that giving children well-structured problems to solve together can reinforce knowledge and improve attainment, as well as prepare them for the future workplace. Knowledge remains important but students must also be able to apply this knowledge, to explain it clearly to others, to combine it with knowledge from other subjects, and be able to use it to solve problems collaboratively. 

Geoff Mulgan, chief executive at Nesta says, “Education needs to be about more than the transmission of knowledge, important as this is. Schooling models should also give young people experience of agency, empowering them to make and shape the world around them, rather than just observing it. The ability to create ideas and solve problems with others will be important to their chances of getting a good job, and to their prospects of living well and being good citizens. But policy makers and teachers need help in integrating this into their work.”

Nesta releases the report as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) prepares to launch the first country rankings for collaborative problem solving to come out in November 2017, showing international recognition for the need to broaden tests to measure ‘21st- century skills.’ As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recognises, these subtler skills are becoming more important and so national policymakers must follow.

The more interdependent the world becomes, the more we need great collaborators and orchestrators – Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills

Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills says, “In today’s schools, students typically learn individually and at the end of the school year, we certify their individual achievements. But the more interdependent the world becomes, the more we need great collaborators and orchestrators. Innovation today is rarely the product of individuals working in isolation but an outcome of how we mobilise, share and link knowledge. This is why collaborative problem-solving skills have become key to the success of individuals and nations.”

Taking into account a range of literature and evaluations, such as that conducted by the OECD and reports from organisations such as the World Economic Forum and UK Government departments and select committees, the report puts forwards recommendations on how collaborative problem solving can be incorporated into the education system.  

Report recommendations

  • Training and resources must be made available for teachers from primary onwards via subject associations and teacher training providers. Emerging classroom practice should be shared through key-stage-specific innovation prizes and awards for action research.
  • Funding should be provided for the best existing programmes to grow and assess their impact, including grant funding for pilots or evaluation of promising projects.
  • The responsibility shouldn’t fall only on schools. Peer and volunteer powered projects should call on the large employers which value these skills to support them through CSR and volunteer programmes.
  • Smarter collaborative problem solving assessment methods need to be developed. These could build on the OECD’s collaborative problem-solving rankings this year, with the government beginning  small-scale, annual assessment trials, to systematically learn what can be measured to show student progress.

Rose Luckin, co-author of the report from UCL Knowledge Lab says,  ‘The knowledge construction process has never been more important for learners of all ages. The ability to understand something sufficiently to satisfy standardised assessments is no longer enough. Learners must now also be able to explain, synthesise with the knowledge of others, justify and revise their understanding, and apply their knowledge to solve problems. 

“Collaborative problem solving has huge potential to improve student attainment, but its future is not as bright as it should be. This is why Nesta’s role in helping organisations to embrace and reap the potential of collaborative problem solving is so important.”

As we look at a future of great complexity, collaborative problem solving skills will be less a “nice-to-have” and more a “must-have.”  – David Pallash, Senior Manager, Child Engagement at LEGO

David Pallash, Senior Manager, Child Engagement at LEGO, who spoke at the launch of the report says, “As we look at a future of great complexity, collaborative problem solving skills will be less a “nice-to-have” and more a “must-have.”  Finding solutions together unites, empowers and brings with it greater potential for innovation.” 

Oliver Quinlan, Senior Research Manager at Raspberry Pi foundation, who spoke at the launch of the report says, “Digital technology can make our lives easier, but creating tools that solve problems takes many skills and perspectives. Understanding and growing the skills for collaborative problem solving is an important area for STEM and computing education to create young people who can solve the problems we face now and in the future together.”

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