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Hard and soft skills

Dr Sakul Kundra And Bhawna Kundra
Thursday, December 07, 2017

What are the qualities of a great teacher? Teaching at school, college, university or any other institution requires achieving professional or technical qualifications to fulfil the prerequisite, also known as "hard skills or discipline related or content specific".

As getting a diploma, master's degree, masters in philosophy, doctorate, post-doctoral with number of years' experience and research publications are the necessary traits to qualify the minimum qualification required.

Therefore, the institutions of teacher education play a pivotal role in producing quality human capital of teachers, which can be an asset to a nation to produce academic leaders with intellectual scholarship.

Beyond these necessary requirements to deliver quality and excellence, there are other factors which are not taught in any institution to be a best teacher i.e. soft skills. These skills are applicable to all workplaces and can be transferred across all disciplines.

Soft skills are hard to observe, qualify or measure in comparison with hard skills as soft skills cannot be read out of books in the classroom but the teachers setting up an example for students can nurture such skills to their students — soft skills are an intrinsic part of successful leadership.

This article elaborates on some features of soft skills essential for the quality of teaching and effective learning.

The "knowledge vs skills" debate is the burning question in the 21st century. Joan Marques's article "Understanding the strength of gentleness: soft-skilled leadership on the rise" stated in past decades there was over-emphasis on hard/tough skills and restraining the soft skills that has led to the widespread notion that leadership should be all about boldness, charisma and superior knowledge, and nothing about inter-human sensitivity.

As per Tess Martin's and et al., article Reality check: Teaching practices in Fijian secondary schools, it has been found "teachers were skilled and knowledgeable in pedagogy, however, some of their teaching practices are ineffective … and suggestions for teachers to develop adaptive and innovative skills that enable them to meet the changing role of teaching include a range of initiatives related to continuous professional development".

Further the article showed that many researchers have argued that "changing socioeconomic and political contexts before and after independence and political upheavals since the late 1980s have contributed to the slow development of education in Fiji".

Another research titled "Quality teachers and teacher education in Fiji: Identities, challenges and priorities" showed in relation to Fiji and wider Pacific that "there remain widely held assumptions about the general lack of professionalism and competency of teachers, with questions regarding the ability of teachers to generate positive learning experiences and student academic success".

What are the soft skills?

Tang Keow Ngang's et al article Soft skills integration in teaching professional training: Novice teachers' perspectives define soft skills as "incorporating aspects of generic skills which include non-academic skills such as communicative, critical thinking and problem solving, team work, life-long learning and information, entrepreneurship, ethic and professional moral and leadership".

These are mostly associated with behaviours and personality traits of an individual whereas Digvijay Pachauri and Aruna Yadav's article "Importance of soft skills in teacher education program" has divided all these soft skills into two sub-categories which every individual "must have" and others are "good to have". They stated:

* In relation to communicative skills, the "must have elements" are the ability to deliver idea clearly, effectively and with confidence either orally or in writing, ability to practice active listening skill and respond, ability to present clearly and confidently to the audience;

* "Good to have" are ability to use technology during presentation, ability to discuss and arrive at a consensus, ability to communicate with individuals from different cultural backgrounds and ability to expand one's own communicative skill;

* In regard to critical thinking and problem solving skills, the "must have elements" are ability to identify and analyse problems in difficult situation and make justifiable evaluation, ability to expand and improve thinking skills such as explanation, analysis and evaluate discussion, ability to find ideas and look for alternative solutions;

* "Good to have" category includes the ability to think beyond, ability to make conclusion based on valid proof, ability to withstand and give full responsibility, ability to understand and accommodate oneself to the varied working environment;

* In the category of teamwork, the "must have elements" are ability to build a good rapport, interact and work effectively with others, ability to understand and play the role of a leader and follower alternatively, ability to recognise and respect other's attitude, behaviour and beliefs whereas "good to have elements" are the ability to give contribution to the planning and co-ordinate group work, and being responsible towards group decision;

* In respect to life-long learning and information management skill, the "must have elements" are ability to find and manage relevant information from various sources, ability to receive new ideas performs autonomy learning, and "good to have elements" includes the ability to develop and inquiry mind and seek knowledge;

* In relation to entrepreneurship skills, the "must have elements" are ability to identify job opportunities whereas "good to have elements" consist of the ability to propose business opportunity, ability to build, explore and seek business opportunities and job, and ability to be self-employed;

* The ethics, moral and professional category, the "must have elements" are the ability to understand the economy crisis, environment and social cultural aspects professionally, and ability to analyse make problem-solving decisions related to ethics whereas "good to have elements" include the ability to practise ethical attitudes besides having the responsibility towards society; and

* In leadership skills, "must have elements" include knowledge of the basic theories of leadership and ability to lead a project whereas "good to have elements" consist of the ability to understand and take turns as a leader and follower alternatively, and the ability to supervise members of a group.

How can the soft skills be taught?

Digvijay Pachauri and Aruna Yadav suggested two models of teaching soft skills that are interpersonal and human relation skills. Firstly, "stand alone" by providing special course to develop soft skills among students; secondly, "embedded" one to teach soft skills in the formal teaching and learning activities across the curriculum without going for doing special courses.

I shall conclude with the research finding of "Quality teachers and teacher education in Fiji" which stated the "ideal Fijian teacher" should have eight attributes such as guided by expectation of national policies, standards and curricula; have strong sense of teacher identity and is guided by professional ethics and moral standards; have a passion for teaching and facilitating student learning; should be cognisant of cultural, social and learning contexts in the classroom; well versed with subject content knowledge; should keep up to date with pedagogical developments, is innovative and applies a wide range of teaching strategies to enhance student learning; should priorities student learning needs and safety ; and should see a value for education beyond the schooling experience.

Thus, the burden lies on the institution of the teacher education to produce quality teachers who possess the traits of hard and soft skills.

* Dr Sakul Kundra is an assistant professor in history at the FNU and Bhawna Kundra is a French and business management teacher and MYP assistant co-ordinator at International School Nadi. Views expressed are theirs and not of this newspaper or their respective employers.

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