Robin Booth
Robin Booth

Personality development: The schooling of our future?

This comment was shared with me last night: “With the ever-increasing amount of graduates coming out of university and the shortage of jobs to be filled, we are faced with many people with the same qualifications competing for very few positions.”

So what will differentiate the candidates from each other in such a way that will give them the edge or make them more “valuable” to the employer?

And although there is much comment and debate on this topic, there is still consensus that although the core academic skills are essential, the “other” emotional, personal and interpersonal skills are becoming increasingly valued as integral to the success of any business or career.

“Content” skills and knowledge are being replaced by “conceptual” skills in reasoning, logic and application. The “purpose” of mathematics is not only about trigonometry but about skills in logic, reasoning, problem-solving and sequencing. These “conceptual” skills learnt in this area can now be applied to any other area.

And the core skills in interpersonal relationships, team work and co-operation, are increasingly being valued as not only the cutting edge from one company to another, but as absolutely necessary for staying in the game of future competition.

In the foundation phase (from grade 1 to 3) of current traditional schooling, teachers spend about 75% of the child’s school day teaching them the content of how to read and write. As the children get older the focus shifts to more specific content.

And although there is a slow shift in changing this paradigm of schooling, the shift reflects only that of moving away from “academic content” to that of “academic concepts”. The core elements of personality development and social and emotional skills are sidelined for the perceived belief that mainly academics will lead you to a successful life.

My personal belief is that the schooling of the future will include “subjects” that emphasise communication, relationship learning, conflict resolution and personal mastery. Core academic skills will not be sidelined for these other skills, but will not dominate the school curriculum (for example, a teacher who says, “stop crying John, we have to finish reading the book by the end of the period or else its homework, or teachers who teach to a test/exam because that is how “learning” is measured — the emphasis being the test and not what the children are actually learning and integrating as a process).

Schooling will be a place to experience, grapple with and integrate our ability to work with others, leverage off each other’s strength, work with (and not be threatened by) each other’s differences, manage our own social and emotional well-being and know who we are as individuals and who we are in relation to each other. On top of this is the scaffold of the academic content and conceptual skills that support children to create empowered lives and contribute to society in extremely useful ways.

And then, perhaps, we may have a situation where many children and graduates have the same dynamic knowledge, skills and competencies competing for a limited number of jobs. But the difference this time is that they will have the confidence and skills of entrepreneurs who will not be limited to what the world gives them but have the courage and skills to go out and mould their lives the way they want to.

  • GS van Zyl

    I suggest you try to implement this at a school with class sizes of between 35-50, with no running water or heating and teachers that are already left confused and frustrated with the OBE system.

    We should rather look at a system that will work in ALL schools in South Africa, not just well funded schools.

    Education in South Africa needs to go back to basics.

  • Kit

    And about time. When I first went to university, it was a source of great amusement to us that some of the most sought-after grads for careers from education to investment banking were…philosophy graduates. Strangely, I never knew an unemployed maths graduate nor an unemployed philosophy graduate. Plenty of pretty much everybody else other than a couple of vocations.

    There’s probably a lesson in that somewhere. Or not.

  • john Bond

    Could the value our qualifications have little to do with learning. Could they just be a mechanism to signal to other people our natural abilities? Could the acquisition of a degree just indicate that a person is more evolved? Could it just be a system that we’ve developed to signal “I’m much better than the others…” so as to beat the competition?

    Frightening thought!!!

    But there is some interesting research coming from economists, psychologists and geneticists. It all started when Spence asked why employers consider people who have succeeded in other, unrelated fields. Consider the rugby players employed by financial institutuons…

    So maybe it’s just how effectively we differentiate ourselves.

  • feanor

    The critical thinking and logic required in mathematics and the systematic method of thought along with doubt taught in philosophy is immensely powerful when combined into practice. Effectively combining them with problem solving skills required in computer programming produces a very well-equipped individual.

    If it is at all possible, adding some psychology or behavioral finance into the mix also useful.

    Lastly however, regardless of the skill an individual has, if they cannot communicate their ideas or influence others, they are somewhat stunted. Intelligence and skills are important, but emotional ability and maturity is also required.

  • brigs

    Well you might as well develop your personality, at school, since the current school system doesn’t really seem to develop your brain, and if you go to university it will still be, 20 years before you can actually afford to bye a flat in Hillbrow. Thanks to the number of graduate in the market for the ever increasingly fewer jobs around.

  • ian shaw

    Graduates?”The critical thinking and logic required in mathematics and the systematic method of thought” quotyed earlier I came across only in engineeering where complex mathematical models, mostly linear, are used to predict results which can be fine-tuned in practice.To my surprise, I learned much later that even some natural sciences like for example biochemistry and medicine are solely based on experimentation and rote learning rather than mathematics.That is, an expected outcome cannot be predicted and one must perform an experiment to see if the result conforms to expectations. If pure science itself is like that, then what about the pseudo “sciences” like psychology, political “science”, business “science”? What are such graduates really worth?

  • john Bond

    @ Ian

    I found the same thing. Few B Com Graduates understand pure science. Economic modelling is primitive compared with the modelling of a car’s combustion chamber or an aircraft wing.

    A better example is psychology, there is little understanding of the mathematics involved. Take bipolar depression. They’ve suddenly discovered that a comparatively old counselling technique called CBT is a third more effective than medication. That the older medication (lithium) has generally better results than the more modern drugs. That some modern drugs may actually intensify the symptoms when one ceases taking them (a good feature if one wishes to keep selling!). Combine CBT and lithium to get even better results. It is now occurring to these eminent people that depression may be several disorders, all with similar symptoms. Each will need a unique intervention. Remember that the first clinical study of depression took place the same time the IC engine was invented and 50 years before the Wright Brothers first flew.

    I have often found quite pedestrian engineers who keep a “black book” to record their observations and try to relate them to science as they understand it. When next they encounter the same problem, they page through the old books to refresh their memory. Economists do look back at history, but not with the same attention to detail. Have you ever met a doctor who has kept records of his successes and failures in curing diseases…

    In psychology, we’re still flying a cloth and string wooden biplane.

  • feanor

    You are right regarding general level required in economic modeling, however it must be noted that several pre-eminent physicists did become involved in modeling behavior of the stock markets. Their models are extremely complex – easily rivaling that of aerodynamics of computational flow dynamics, yet the predicting accuracy was not high.

    The problem is the predictability of the underlying variable people are trying to model. The behavior of a wing during flight is relatively well understood. The behavior of a person or groups of people are not. *

    The fundamental question is whether human behavior, on personal or group level, can be accurately modeled? Free will was a very popular concept until the movement of particles were better understood. During the 19th and early 20th century, determinism became very popular.

    “everyone acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity…[and] that a man can do as he wills, but he cannot will as he wills.”

    Recently however quantum uncertainty readmitted the question of whether man have free will.

    The general issue when it comes to the simplicity of economic modeling is more due to the assumption that the collective behavior of people in large groups cannot be modeled with sufficient accuracy so more simple and general models must suffice.

    That said, I still feel some cross-pollination between various disciplines will be beneficial.

    *Read a science fiction book by Isaac Asimov called Foundation. It deals with the question of the predictability of human behavior.

  • john Bond

    Some stock market models, particularly those that include a substantial component of macro variables give us interesting insights. The trouble is the investors learn the new techniques, the variability shifts and the model doesn’t work so well.

    To build these models, some factors are identified, tested and the outcome evaluated.

    150 years ago, Mendelssohn recorded genetic attributes and showed one could chart the future descendants of a living organism. There was no further research for the next 120 years…

    Depression developes as as part of our character – YES? Almost certainly not! Scientists have identified 7 genes linked to depression symptoms. These genetic markers identify 60% of all depressed people with certainty. Ouch!!! If for example you have say three specific genes, you will suffer mania and depression to some degree.

    Same for ADHD and Dyslexia.

    Creative people includes some of the depression and ADHD genes and several others. So creativity is genetically pre-ordained!

    And male homosexuality – it also has a strong genetic link.

    This in addition to genes controlling our build, skin colour and intelligence.

    So, how much of our life is free will and how much is written in our genes and our circumstances (circumstances also play a big role). And if there are markers to help chart how each individual will respond, shouldn’t we do it.

    Unfortunately, this flies in the face of our cherished belief that man has total free will. Don’t tell humanity that their lives can be predicted.

    Asimov made us think!

  • john Bond

    In the 1930’s someone researched suicides in the US, it may have been one of the police forces. They found that if a family had an attempted suicide on the father’s side in the previous three generations there was one chance in five that it would occur in his children. If both the father and mother came from families with a record of suicide, the odds rose to one in three. (In 2009, these figures are still roughly correct)

    The researcher also noted that people from families with a history of suicide married into families with a history of suicide.

    When I was a voluntary suicide counsellor in the 80’s. No one told me this!!! I feel the oversight of the psycologists training us of such essential information was close to criminal! I believe I was successful at preventing suicides because I knew so little. I did what any engineer would do, I just asked questions. This is now the de-facto response for depressed people with a death wish. It also forms the basis of the most effective counselling for depression, CBT.

    How can we do so little propper scientific research in an aspect of humanity that is so important? Why do we discard the little research that is available? Why do we stupidly claim humanity is all about variability? How can we claim we can’t predict human nature?

    My latest post hijacks the thread – Sorry Robin

  • feanor

    This has gotten pretty interesting.

    I think humanity has several deeply held cherished beliefs. Free will is a very big one. People love to believe that they can do whatever they want. That they are limited purely by their choices and that anyone can achieve anything. This ties in closely with another belief “that all men are created equal.” What most people pertains to rights, not abilities.

    Unfortunately people are not gifted in the same (or even equal) way. You get people who are vastly gifted in a wide array of areas. In the same way you get people who struggle with many aspects in life. This could be due to genetics and/or cultural effect – regardless it doesn’t matter, you do not have control over either.

    That you can predetermine a person’s abilities and weaknesses from their genes is currently a gauche topic of conversation. Around the turn of the century, it was not. WW2 and the accompanying holocaust cast any conversation of this type in a negative light. Yet I think the refusal of society to discuss this topic sufficiently is shortsighted.

    As John noted, the lack of research and disclosure into genetic predispositions is very costly to society.

    Genetics is a burgeoning field and the choice blindness of society is dangerous.

  • feanor

    I briefly mentioned genetics earlier. (Sorry Robin for the divergence)

    Genetics and genetic engineering is currently a pretty hot topic. Many people when asked, will state that they would not change their child if given the chance. I think this is a naïve view.

    If humans had the ability, and I think we soon will, to screen and select embryos to minimize the risk of cancer and other defects, it would be a very cruel parent that decides not to do so.

    Following on this will come the ability to select for improved abilities (athletic, mental, looks etc). Given that people already tamper with the unborn to select for health, why would selecting for “success” be such a leap? Some countries will allow this, even if all do not. The question becomes, is it fair to your child for you to handicap them just to satisfy your moral inclination?

    I am pretty sure this will be on the horizon – probably sooner than people realize. The current trend to refuse to discuss genetic issues, regardless of whether they relate to gender, race or any other genetic predisposition hampers society’s ability to deal with the issues.

    I realize this is a classical slippery slope argument and that it may not turn out this way. What I do know, is that if the technology becomes available to “improve” ourselves, it will be used eventually.

  • john Bond

    @ feanor

    Your last posts are food for thought…

    As you can see, you and I share beliefs that are along the road less travelled.

    Ever thought of writing a piece and asking M&G to publish it?

    And hey Robin – no more apologising because in many ways, this is the underlying question on which your blog was based. To what extent can an individual change who he is. How much can he learn? How much can he change?

    I will give you a quick example.
    A boy is expelled from school because he is a useless student and is a passive aggressive, impossible to teach. The head master announces at assembly that this “stupid”student has no chance of matric. The head master was right. This guy now has numerous prestigious qualification including a masters degree. He got a bursary for scholastic excellence to study honours – age 49 and was elected to the SRC in the same year… but still no matric.

    Wow, he’s changed beyond recognition. He has grown, he has learned… or has he?

    By the way, “He” is “Me”.

    When I look back at my immense family tree, going back on both sides of the family and with almost a thousand short biographies, I find a dozen similar stories. If anything, my story is below average.

    Did I achieve more than could be expected of me? or less? – I think it’s about what would be expected from someone from my personal circumstances…

  • Robin Booth

    As the original author of the article, the thread has gone through interesting curves. To add to this then, the one and only difference between an empowered person and a disempowered person is that the one “believes that s/he can” and the other doesn’t. Out of this then, one’s attitude and self perception lay the foundation of whether you believe you can create your life, or have life happen to you. Whether in real terms you are predetermined or not is irrelevant as there is no such thing as objective reality, but the reality you believe you are living, and that becomes your truth. So can schooling support people in viewing these dynamics in such a way that actually empowers them to understand who they are, how they make meaning of them world, and what attitudes and skills can support them in re-scripting what before they thought was cast in stone.

  • john Bond

    So Robin

    One person has the genetic makeup and circumstances to “think he can”. We believe he has succeeded, even in spite of circumstances. One must ask – what is his full potential and has he reached it?

    Another has different genetics and circumstances and thinks he is a failure. He will not meet what we believe is his potential. Here we ask – are our expectations for him justified?

    AH! You say, but we just need to change the schooling of these two individuals.

    But educators carry out the schooling, each educator covering the spectrum, from complete self-belief to feelings of total incompetence. Each of these educators will have an individual response to each student, reinforcing the student’s self-concept of success and failure. The educator has influenced the student’s future, for better or worse.

    And what of the parents, friends and every other individual who interacts with our two individuals. They too have determined the destiny of our two people.

    Then we praise those we perceive have succeeded and punish those who haven’t…

    I ask you two questions:-
    – How much control does any individual really have over his own destiny? Is he in control or was he preordained to struggle to succeed or to give up in failure?
    – Is creation playing out to some master plan? Are each of us just pawns in man’s evolution, living out our pre-ordained lives in accordance with this master plan?

    FRIGHTENING THOUGHT!!! – but the arguments supporting it are powerful…

  • feanor

    You ask two difficult questions.

    I have to say I dislike the use of the word “preordained” or “fate”. It draws forth images of a planner and an external will imposed on the world. This is not a idea I share. I see no evidence of a benevolent imposition of will, but an argument could be made for a malevolent one (or that benevolent & malevolent are equal and opposite and competing on earth – why they would though is another issue.)

    In my life and from my experience I know I have free will, or at least the perception thereof. I do however agree that we have much less control over the eventual direction of our lives and even less control over our eventual potential. Studies have shown that remarkably few variables (e.g. IQ) have a very high success rate in explaining the eventual success in our lives.

    Our lives are mostly shaped by our experiences up to a certain age (call it 6,12 or 16 – it doesn’t matter) and our inherent abilities. We have very little control over one and no control over the other.

    Life is not fair in that way.

  • john Bond

    Feanor – You’re right, we do have some free will. Currently we believe that life all free will, and I am arguing the contrary to make the point that it’s not a big influence.

    Did Alexander Graham Bell invent the telephone through free will or was it his love for a deaf woman and his attempt to come to terms with this? Circumstance seems to have played a big part here.

    Are South Africa’s cricket teams peppered with Smiths and Pollocks because they chose cricket or because these families have a natural ability. Genetics seem to have had a huge influence here.

    Explaining those decisions are easy but why did Hitler countermand General Manfred in the Belgium lowlands allowing the British to escape at Dunkirk. Why did he countermand at Kursk in Russia again 2 years later enabling the Soviet troops to decimate the German Army (and win the war). Experience and genetics do not explain his actions. Carl Jung argued that we are all connected at some deep subconscious level. Jung called this the collective subconscious, claiming that one person’s beliefs can influence another’s actions. Did this happen with Hitler fateful decisions at Dunkirk and Kursk?

    We know so little for sure but what we do know is that reality and our subjective view of reality are vastly different and the closer we can get our subjective view to what actually happened, the better. To propose we move away from this is disingenuous.