Public speaking. My Achilles heel. Most of the time, I manage (somewhat) successfully to convince the world I am cool, calm, collected, confident, competent… Well, you get the idea. But occasionally, when presented with the prospect of making a professional presentation or delivering a speech, my crippling fear of public speaking conspires to shatter my serene facade and turn me into a quivering bucket of nerves and stammered sentences. How I wish I had been taught public speaking in school.

My innate shyness might ultimately be at the root of my babbling delivery, but I often feel envious of friends who had the benefit of public speaking coaching in their teens.

The Skills I Need Today..

Perhaps we all have our pet skills, or rather weaknesses, held over from our younger years, that we feel particularly vulnerable about, intellectual or social handicaps we’re sure we could have remedied given adequate opportunity or encouragement at an earlier stage in our lives. Maybe you’re someone who wishes you’d spent less time playing video games and more time honing your leadership skills on the sports field. Perhaps you wish you’d been a junior coding wizard, rather than reaching adulthood as someone in whom the term ‘Java’ inspires a caffeine craving.  You might even harbour secret suspicions that you could have been another Mark Zuckerberg had someone opened your eyes to the potential of entrepreneurialism at an earlier age. I am being a little facetious here, but I make a serious point. I mention these specific skills – leadership, coding, entrepreneurship – because they all have something in common: they are highly prized in contemporary work environments but their importance is not proportionately reflected in school curricula.

..Should Be Taught At School Or Not?

Many people might suggest that such skills do not need to be systematically integrated into the school curriculum, that in fact kids are more likely to successfully absorb them in less formalised settings associated with fun, such as the soccer pitch or a CoderDojo meetup, in activities that they choose to do, rather than ones foisted on them by teacher. This is a valid point. However, the downside of this argument is that parents who do not have the economic or social capital to encourage and support their kids in extracurricular activities lose out. Sociologist Anne Lareau’s influential book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life distinguishes between contrasting parenting styles, Concerted Cultivation, generally practised by middle class parents, and Accomplishment of Natural Growth, predominantly observed among working class parents. In essence, Lareau’s study illustrates that children from affluent families are given a head start in honing soft skills associated with the adult workplace (leadership, negotiation, permission to question those in authority), often through expensive extracurricular, while those from working class families are generally not afforded similar opportunities.

It’s Never Too Late

The skills of tomorrow stretch far beyond the rote learning of yore, encompassing information and communications technology, digital citizenship, entrepreneurial spirit and beyond. It’s vitally important that the classroom evolves to offer all students the opportunity to develop such skills, and not focus solely on the importance of literacy and numeracy. As for me, it’s never too late to learn: I’m currently taking a course in public speaking and will face an exam (and my fear) at end of the month – wish me luck!

What is your opinion? Should entrepreneurship, digital citizenship be taught at school? Share your thoughts in the comments.

By Deirdre Kilbride

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Image credits: Sharing music, Roman style (Ed Yourdon) / CC BY 2.0