Soft vs. hard skills
I’ve been thinking a lot about soft and hard skills these days. Staying at home with my one year old in this period of partial lockdown, I had the opportunity to watch with her cartoons and other children’s shows on TV. Watching these shows made me think deeper about the skills I would like to see in her as she grows up. I would like to take this opportunity to really thank the producers of the TV channel ‘Ethio Lijoch’, which is a TV channel dedicated to educating and entertaining Ethiopian children. I say we need more of this kind of channel. Thanks to this channel, my daughter and her generation are not forced to struggle understanding the Arabic language in which the only available children’s TV channels are transmitted.
Coming back to my point, as I think about the skills I would like to see in my daughter, I ask myself, ‘which is more important, hard or soft skills?’. Both of course. I am of the opinion that my generation was particularly made to focus and work hard on hard skills such as math, science and language. Soft skills which include, but are not limited to, communication skills, argumentation skills, socialization skills, creative skills, team skills, public speaking skills, were not in my opinion given the attention that they deserved. I am of the opinion that many parents to my generation just wanted us to become a degree holder in some field of education, preferably science. For them, the degree will do the rest.
Now as a grown up, I usually wonder why many of our highly educated citizens and scientists have failed so miserably at providing long lasting solutions to the economic, political, social, agricultural problems that are plaguing our country. As a person educated in agriculture, or in agricultural economics in particular, I usually wonder why our western trained agricultural scientists have failed to come up with scalable agricultural technologies and other innovations that fit with the Ethiopian context. As we know it, time and time again the rain has remained our savior. Even several projects aimed at developing irrigation schemes in rural areas fail miserably some years after the projects that have financed them have phased out. Problems with mismanagement, failure of instilling a sense of ownership among farmers, extreme dependency on government and donor money for the maintenance of the irrigation schemes, carelessness in choosing the appropriate irrigation technology have together contributed to millions of US dollars being wasted on inefficient and unsustainable projects. And generations to come have to pay the debts that financed these unproductive projects.
Problems of governance, weak management skills, useless bureaucracies, carelessness about common goods and about coming generations , corruption and other behavioral problems are the reasons, in my opinion, why we fail from effectively and efficiently making use of our scarce resources.
Behavioral skills such as honesty, responsibility, accountability, tolerance for differences in opinions are crucial skills our kids need to be taught about at schools. Confidence, thinking outside the box or open mindedness if you like are as important as hard skills. Building their confidence to speak in public, avoid unjustified fear of superiors, learning to debate, argument, think logically are skills that I desperately look for in my daughter as she grows up and becomes her own person. I do not want to dismiss the very important role that I, as a parent, have in instilling these soft skills in her. But parents alone cannot do it all. For me, kids learn from their schools as much as from their parents. I urge schools in the country to critically consider consecrating their resources on the building of their pupils’ soft skills!