10 Skills for Lifelong Learning


The national curriculum is one big memory test. That's great for people with good memories but is it real learning? How much of what you learned at school can you remember today?

If like me, you answered "no" and "not much" then here's my alternative. Focus less on grades as a route into industry and more on the development of the whole person.

In fact, employers are increasingly looking beyond grades and are choosing their ideal candidate on the skills that set them apart.

This summer, I'll be sharing with you my top 10 personal qualities that I feel should be promoted more in the national curriculum.

Which skills would you like to see your child develop at school? 

#1 Creativity

The Government has been hacking back creativity like a logger with a chainsaw. Yet, the world needs its artists, poets and musicians to add colour and humanity in an otherwise formulaic world.

In subjects such as English, creativity is increasingly being devalued in favour of incessant analysis of rigid rules. This is not only deeply uninteresting but it misses the extraordinary capability that children have for innovation.

Picasso once said that "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." It's this process of unlearning that is truly unforgivable.

An insightful and entertaining TED Talk by educationalist Sir Ken Robinson making the case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

Creativity is simply not seen as a priority, deemed as not useful for industry. This makes the rather illogical assumption that every child will one day be white-collar workers, and ignores that this country has produced some of the greatest musicians, artists and authors in the world.

For education to be successful, we need to embrace the qualities that make us different from the mechanised and robotised workforce that will one day make us redundant. Creativity is the first of my 10 chosen qualities; I'll be sharing the next nine over the next few weeks.

Do you agree? Should creativity be valued more in schools?

#2 Critical Thinking

"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn" - a quote often misattributed to Benjamin Franklin - is an ancient Chinese proverb as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. 

Students are better involved when they are given the freedom to think more deeply about their learning. Providing them with opportunities to ask questions, express their opinions and to problem-solve gives them the potential to do just that. 

Some of my favourite tutoring sessions have allowed students the space and the freedom to share and think critically. Previous sessions have included discussions on crime, race and what they feel makes humans unique. Outside of the classroom, the ability to think, speak and write affords them the power to make positive change for themselves and to the world.

Since Google has placed information right at our fingertips, asking good questions is now much more valued that simply knowing the right answer. Critical thinking, therefore, has become an essential quality for 21st century life. 

This is the second of my 10 chosen qualities; I'll be sharing the next eight each week this summer.

Do you agree? Should critical thinking be valued more in schools?

#3 Curiosity

We all know very young children that ask "why?" as if they were Jeremy Paxman grilling a politician on Newsnight, but why don't we hear more older children and adults asking the same question?

Has curiosity and wonder been untrained out of us? These questions don't easily come from education that tries to fit everybody into the same box and teaches to a test. So how do we bring curiosity back to learning? My latest idea is a Wonder Wall. This is where each student can jot down ideas and questions that they are curious about, and we'll discuss or write about in a future lesson.

Just yesterday, the topic was a real brain-stretcher: "could a robot have written the Harry Potter books?" (The correct answer of course is: "no" to The Chamber of Secrets and "possibly" to The Philosopher's Stone 😉).

Honestly though, it's wonderful to see children giving passionate responses and developing their persuasive and critical thinking skills at the same time.

Einstein said that "One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality," and who would I be to disagree with that?

What do you think? Should curiosity be valued more in schools? 
Could Harry Potter have been written by a robot?

#4 Self-Motivation

Yesterday, one of my learners told me that if she didn't get 80% or more on a test, her teacher would put her put in detention. Is this support or is this coercion?

I've used 'Duolingo' to brush up on my French and this external motivation happened to me too. I was rewarded me with points for making streaks of learning which seemed great at first.

That was until I felt I needed to come back to keep the streaks, even after my initial interest had subsided. It became addictive and when I did eventually break the streak and lose the points, the sense of failure made me less likely to want to carry on learning.

I wonder if, in a society with increasing anxiety, this is doing us any good at all.

I believe finding motivation within ourselves and where our achievement makes us feel confident and happy can have much bigger long-term positive effects on our desire to learn and on our ultimate well-being.

Do you feel self-motivation should be encouraged more in schools?

#4 Empathy

Over a third of children in the UK have witnessed hate speech online. How can we create a more tolerant world with a more open-minded and accepting generation?

I've found open-conversations are great at getting to the root of our biases and stereotypes, through compassionate curiosity. I keep in my back-pocket, questions like: "I wonder why they feel that way?", "I wonder how could they have solved that differently?" and "Can you tell me more about that?"

Books are brilliant for this too. They shine a light on whole worlds of differences and allow the reader to see through the eyes of other people.

Some of my learners have really connected with Malorie Blackman's 'Pig Heart Boy' - a still timely book about a boy who is offered a ground-breaking heart transplant with a pig's heart. It sensitively deals with important ideas of death, discrimination and animal rights. In fact, a BBC adaptation, broadcast when I was a child, has made a big impression on me too.

"Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery." JK Rowling.

How do you like to inspire empathy in young-people?