In the US, The National Association of Colleges and Employers identified the top skills employers are looking for from recent college graduates in 2018. In order: problem-solving skills, ability to work in a team, communication skills, leadership, strong work ethic, analytic/ quantitative skills, verbal communication skills, initiative, detail-oriented, flexibility/adaptability, technical skills, interpersonal skills, computer skills, creativity, friendly/outgoing personality, tactfulness, entrepreneurial skills/risk-taker and fluency in a foreign language.
The top-five are problem-solving skills, ability to work in teams, written communication, leadership and a strong work ethic.
Whereas these skills can be developed in various settings, they are best honed in the tertiary education space especially when done with appropriate workforce involvement and experiences.
The benefits of University education are well known and governments across the region must aim to dramatically increase the percentage of their citizens who study at this level. A little over half of the population of Singapore are university graduates and this must be the aim of our governments in the region.
For example, some 15% percent of the Jamaican workforce has tertiary level training and so has some way to go. Though Barbados spends six percent of its GDP on education and has attained a literacy rate of 98%, one of the highest in the world, it has some way to go, from its current 25%, to have half of its population university level trained. Some 23% of Caymanians have college degrees.
A World Bank Report on the subject says that Higher education fosters growth, reduces poverty and boosts prosperity.
The report says that ‘a highly skilled workforce, with a solid post-secondary education, is a prerequisite for innovation and growth: well-educated people are more employable, earn higher wages, and cope with economic shocks better.’ It continues - ‘Higher education benefits not just the individual, but society as well. Graduates of higher education are more environmentally conscious, have healthier habits, and have a higher level of civic participation.’
‘Also, increased tax revenues from higher earnings, healthier children, and reduced family size all build stronger nations. In short, higher education institutions prepare individuals not only by providing them with adequate and relevant job skills, but also by preparing them to be active members of their communities and societies’.
In addition to these benefits is the fact that tertiary education, more than any other level, must teach and develop the skills of critical thinking. These skills are vital for the sustenance of our democratic practices and for the further evolution and maturity of our societies. The examined life, to borrow from Socrates, is thus a requirement for national development.
Critical Thinking Skills
Writing on the subject in the European Journal of Educational Practice, Vol. 1, No. 2, Sunday Adeyemi, outlines the nature of these skills and why they are needed by society. She rightly explains that ‘One, who cannot think, may not be able to solve even the minutest problem. We now live in a world of problems – social problem, economic problem, political problem, ethnic problem, religious problem, educational problem, Science and technologically related problems to mention a few. It only takes a sound mind, a mind imbued with reflective thinking, which can engage in deep analysis, to come up with causes of the problem at hand and generate possible solutions or options to arrive at a decision; to solve a or get out of the problem.’
She explains further that critical thinking involves ‘delving into context, asking for and examining the evidence, the context of judgement, and the relevant criteria for making the judgment well and so on. It employs not only logic but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breath, fairness and significance.’
It is the critical thinker who is more likely to live rationally, reasonably and empathically because, as Adeyemi points out ‘they are keenly aware of the inherent flawed nature of human thinking when left unguided. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. They realized that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and that they can at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritical accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest and vested-interest.’
Again, Adeyemi has it all right when she says that ‘People who think critically strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can and contribute to a more rational and civilized society. Even at that, they recognize the complexities that are inherent in doing so.’
She concludes that ‘Most of our thinking if left to itself is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or downright prejudiced. Yet the quality of our lives and that of what we produce, make or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. This fact underpins the importance of critical thinking in the life of a nation and that of the individual.’
These are fundamentally important points and requires every stage of our education system, especially at the University level, to rise to this challenge.