22 November, 2008

Softskills as a Vantage Point

Whom do I call educated? First, those who manage well the circumstances they encounter day by day. Next, those who are decent and honorable in their intercourse with all men, bearing easily and good naturedly what is offensive in others and being as agreeable and reasonable to their associates as is humanly possible to be... those who hold their pleasures always under control and are not ultimately overcome by their misfortunes... those who are not spoiled by their successes, who do not desert their true selves but hold their ground steadfastly as wise and sober -- minded men.

- Socrates BC 469-399, Greek Philosopher of Athens

It is strange but true that this quote by the greatest wise person this world has ever witnessed, sums up the dilemma that the contemporary teaching scenario is currently facing. Undoubtedly, today , there is a thorough need for soul searching , by the teaching fraternity to identify the scourges plaguing the brass tacks on the education imparted in our schools, colleges and universities. The words of Socrates comes to us in the form of the ancient wisdom that has stood the test of time and is seriously sounding a wake up call..

There is a lot of energy channelized by the thinkers in our country to galvanize the society on how to match the global economies, stride by stride in achieving economic progress. Undoubtedly it is the populace of the country that puts it on top. It is the human resource and the intellectual capital that a country can proudly claim to have, that propels it on a map of glory. There is no question that the education moulds and shapes the individual to meet the crunch in life and also face failures with fortitude and dignity.

So is it safe enough for the academic circles to rest on its past laurels of having produced innumerable count of brilliant brains and intelligence in the form of gold medalists and toppers or is there a need for a change in the thinking on how to re-channelise the classroom pedagogy and curriculum to meet the ever changing demands of the globalized business requirements. Or rather is it safe to assume that academic brilliance alone can be a measuring rod for success in life? If we look at the changes occurring in the society due to the advent of science and technology and the other ills that progress can bring with it, there is no doubt that the youths of today have changed radically and to some extent the changes are good but the flip side of this change is a startling one.

Knowledge cannot be equated with wisdom and wisdom necessarily need not come within the manifolds of knowledge. So are we producing knowledgeable young sophomores sans the ancient wisdom that Socrates professes? I am afraid that we are nimbly moving towards that direction. Presently the need of the hour lies in developing a steadfast and a resolute willpower to re navigate our thoughts in refining and refueling our cache with some improved techniques in training our present generation for a bring and promising career.

It is at this juncture that the significance of softskills comes to the fore. How can we educate our youth with necessary skills and the right attitude to become successful in their ventures ?. As we usher into the knowledge economy the traditional education that equips the students with a paper of degree is becoming redundant and null. Moreover what distinguishes the skilled talent from the raw talent is the presence of "softskills" which helps it to face challenges, pressures and demands of the workplace with considerable élan. So what are these softskills that everyone is so excited about? These skills set includes corporeal skills like communication skills, listening skills and subtle skills like creativity, flexibility, leadership skills, problem solving skills , team building skills etc. Now comes the question on why are they so important?

Personality is the sum of one's social, physical, emotional characteristics that are formed and developed during the lifetime of the person. Needless to add the share of personal values, beliefs, attitude and habits too generously contributes to the final product that emerges in the form of personality. But the surprising factor that springs out in this debate is that that these skills which we necessarily call " softskills" is existing in everyone, but may be lying dormant, unexplored and untapped for want of an opportunity. This is where the pedagogy comes into play. Can we teach these skills necessarily in the classroom? This is a nagging question that any adept teacher used to a conformist teaching style might ask and encounter endlessly. Like I said, at some point in our life, the above mentioned skills have emerged sporadically in childhood, may be in solving a conflict between two friends or in giving an out of the box suggestion to solve a problem, or displayed traits of leadership which might have gradually got slipped into the dark abyss of time due to the mundane grinds of the daily life .

While imparting knowledge the teacher should stress on interactive methods, that can enormously boost the confidence levels of the student. Further encouraging students to think freely and motivating them to speak freely within the precincts of the classroom would be an excellent step towards forging a deep bond with the students. The teacher could be a friend in the class who gently nudges and prods the students towards achieving knowledge. But in this process there is dialogue or a give and take which nourishes the young mind and enriches them with a deep desire to know more. It is to be borne in mind that theoretical concepts can only strengthen the domain knowledge of the student. However the challenges that life can throw at anybody has no boundaries or realms. Instilling these qualities in the roots can nurture healthy human beings who will have the ability to get along with diversity and appreciate diversity, for this world is very complex and diverse by nature.

There is a feeling that education teaches far too much, but most of it is useless. Further the understanding that education is completed once a student is in ownership of a paper which is proudly referred to as certificate that proclaims him to be bachelor or master in a certain stream, this stance is completely false as the education of a man is never complete until he dies. An educational system isn't worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn't teach them how to make a life.

Even in the IT language there is a reference to softskills, but there the terminology refers to the operating system that becomes superseded every now and then, if not upgraded and updated. When someone proudly says that his is an MBA or an MA or an M.Com specialized in Finance or Marketing or History or Accounts from a reputed college, this operating system is being used . So, no matter what applications you choose to specialize or run, the success or failure of the same will depend upon the sound background of your softskills. The same holds true about softskills (not as referred to in Information Technology). It already exists in us, however we need to upgrade and update it constantly and continuously to keep up with the changing times.

With the changing phase and pace of the world, these skills in bounty can help an aspiring young person to surge and savour the challenges and invariably conquer them. There is no substitute for knowledge and there is no easy gateway to success unless one masters or tries to master sufficient knowledge in an area of his choice. But to survive in a job or a career, more skills are mandatory. Like a Chinese proverb that proclaims- wisdom is as the moon rises, perceptible not in the progress but in result. As our knowledge is converted to wisdom, the door to opportunity is unlocked.