While everyone is busy chasing papers and academic excellence, the core essence of human skills is lost. Children in this generation are constantly put under lots of pressure to excel academically. They are shoved from schools to tuition centres in pursuit of acquiring strings of As so that they are able to garner scholarships to further their education. In this effort, enhancement of soft skills is often neglected. We usually believe these soft-skills can be learnt when the child goes to college or when they work.
You may even argue that schools do develop soft skills through clubs, societies and other non-academic activities, even if they are not emphasised in the normal classes. Then again, how many students actually participate in these activities? You will find the same old students participating in non-academic activities in schools because these are the capable leaders who can make things happen. They would probably be 10 per cent of the total school population.
Are there sufficient number of school counsellors?
Consequently, what about the rest? One may also say that school counsellors organise many activities to develop students’ soft skills. It is true but are they sufficient? An article in The Star on 4 August 2019, entitled ‘More counsellors needed in schools’, reported that the ratio between secondary school counsellors to students is 1:500. This is a high number to handle given the extensive roles that the counsellors are expected to perform in schools. Therefore, there is definitely a big gap to be addressed.
Next, subjects such as Pendidikan Islam and Pendidikan Moral that are made compulsory for students to undertake while in schools have the elements of soft skills development in the content. Do these subjects really enhance students’ soft skills? Ask any student and they will tell you how much the syllabi of these subjects contribute to the development of their soft skills.
There are numerous studies conducted around the world to reiterate the importance of soft skills for graduates or future employees. All findings highlight the need for higher learning institutions to support the development of soft skills in their students to ensure that they are market-ready. So, does this mean that we wait till the students enrol into a college or university to develop their soft skills? Or, even worse, wait till they go into the job market and get the organisations to instil these important skills in the workers.
MPU (Mata Pelajaran Pengajian Umum) or General Studies subjects such as Stress and Well Being, Professional Development & Etiquette, Pengajian Malaysia and Hubungan Etnik are incorporated in higher learning institutions for the purpose of developing the soft skills. These are compulsory subjects in colleges or universities but do not contribute to the overall grades for the students. Students in higher institutions regard these subjects more as a burden than a learning experience because they are still required to complete all the coursework despite having no bearing to their overall score.
Hence, students do not focus on these subjects which are actually fundamental to a student’s personal growth. It enhances one’s ability and skills through motivation, commitment, enthusiasm, inter-personal communication, critical thinking, and leadership, while improving one’s confidence and attitude. These are core values for any good individual. Unfortunately, these subjects are underrated and not given due importance in most institutions. We assume students will learn these things on their own. We did it on our own - the Boomers did it, Gen-X are able to cope with it, then why can’t Gen Y and Z do the same?
Are we neglecting the core values of humans?
Look around. The environment has changed so much. People have changed too. The COVID-19 pandemic has even accelerated the change towards ‘Digital is King’. The interaction between people is no longer the same. Then, how do you expect the new generation of people to learn these skills as how it was done previously? The new normal has given birth to terms like ‘Digital Mental Care’, Digital Customer Experience and Digital Everything.
So, what are we doing to embrace these changes? Are we neglecting the core values of humans by being silent and allowing the change to swallow the uniqueness of being human? Are we transforming our children to become robots who are skilled technically but are losing our morality? Increase in cases of rape, human and animal abuse, divorce, violence, intolerance, rule-breaking, cheating, scams, neglecting parents, pollution offenders and the list is exhaustive.
Think about it. Are we skilling up our young ones with the right skills? Are we leaving behind good individuals to carry on our legacy? Have we done enough in developing well-mannered individuals, both externally and internally? Should we take the new normal as an opportunity to right our wrongs? I believe we can and we should. The platforms and avenues are ready and available. But in most instances they are ignored and taken for granted. We fail to give them equal prominence as what we usually give to academic excellence.
Academic excellence is definitely imperative for our children’s future. However, academic excellence coupled with excellent soft skills that are developed from a young age will turn our future society into people who can make informed decisions for the benefit of mankind.
Nalini Pragasam, who has 26 years of working experience in institutions of higher learning, teaches MPU subjects at Multimedia University, Malaysia, Melaka Campus.