Thanks to Jamie Agombar for pointing me to an HEFCE blog about generic critical thinking and communicating skills. Although mainly about HE and employment, the post seems to have wider resonance, and these sort of skills are at the heart of international tests such as PIRLS (as I noted the other day). The writer (Doris Zahner, Vice President of Assessment for the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), New York) wrote:
"These are skills that are applicable to an array of academic domains and can be measured and improved upon through teaching and learning. These are also the same skills that employers have deemed as very important for success in the workplace and in today’s knowledge economy. ...
Yes, content and domain knowledge is essential. Yes, soft skills such as teamwork and grit are important. Yes, overall satisfaction and happiness are significant. But today, generic skills are increasingly valued because people need more than just domain knowledge in order to effectively contribute to society. The next generation of students must improve their ability to access, structure, analyse, and communicate information. It is essential for the future."
Indeed it is, and unsurprisingly, there is a lot of sense in what Doris writes.
However, I searched in vain for the moral dimension. As David Orr never tired of reminding us, the world is full of people who use such skills for nefarious purposes, and are quite good at it.
But should there be a moral dimension to programmes and courses that promote the development of such skills? Many of those advocating for sustainability will likely say "of course", given that many (if not all) such sustainability endeavours are morally grounded and charged.
There are at least four possibilities here:
[i] These skills are developed in a context where issues (and content) are addressed. Here the moral dimension lies in the substantive issues being discussed, but is not emphasised.
[ii] As [i] but the moral dimension is acknowledged or fore-grounded.
[iii] Such skills are developed in an issues-free setting where the possibility of (or need for) a moral dimension is side-lined or ignored.
[iv] As [iii] but a moral dimension is put in place.
It's quite possible that all four can be found in HE today, although [iii] and [iv] are surely minority activities. My guess is that there's a lot of [i], but that overtly sustainability-focused work is mostly [ii].
I'd say that a similar pattern is found in schools where activities such as the global learning programme exemplify [ii], whereas most other forms of skill-development are mostly [i].