Winning with words

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Winning with words.

I was taken aback by a recent headline suggesting parents want New Zealand schools to teach more life skills.

Life skills? Surely they are learned at home, the fundamental building blocks of you as a person. A school can't be expected to take responsibility for that sort of teaching.

As it happened, the headline overstated the view of the 500 New Zealand families surveyed by Monash University and the Australian Scholarships Group (ASG) but the parents' expectations were surprising nonetheless.

Two-thirds of surveyed parents believed it was the responsibility of teachers to impart lessons traditionally handled at home, covering areas "from cyber safety to sex education".

I'm not sure sex education and getting kids to disconnect from technology can be properly described as life skills but, regardless, parents want schools to teach things that will benefit kids in the 'real world'.

The same survey was conducted in Australia; similar views were expressed. Nearly 70 percent of the 1800 Australian parents surveyed wanted a "more holistic education" for their children.

Parents believed schools should teach more social skills and half wanted their children to be taught "how to behave in public".

Not surprisingly, schools responded on both sides of the Tasman noting the uncertainty as to where schools' responsibility begins and ends.

Said one teacher: "There's a huge range of parents; what I might consider appropriate for my children to be taught is going to be quite different to other parents, particularly those from other cultures".

Even the definition of social skills or life skills will differ widely.

In a 20-year study of the correlation between social skills and success, Pennsylvania State University defined social competence as children being able to cooperate with peers without prompting, being helpful to others, understanding their feelings and resolving problems on their own.

To me, these skills sit better in a parent's job description than in the school curriculum.

But there is one life skill I reckon schools are well placed to teach and, according to Warren Buffett, it can add 50 per cent to a person's future value.

Buffett says public speaking is one of those skills "immeasurable in value and notoriously hard to grasp but, if you can learn to speak confidently, then you are sure to succeed".

Buffett, well known as an orator and investor, used to be afraid of public speaking. He now says effective communication has changed his life.

"Public speaking is a necessary skill and an asset that will last 50-60 years if you are comfortable with it; and a liability that will last 50-60 years if you are not".

A recent Times article by Alice Thomson reiterated Buffett's comments in discussing voice coach Anthony Lennox's devotion to "teaching the world to talk".

Lennox helped everyone from disadvantaged children to princesses, prime ministers and CEOs to express themselves confidently and authentically.

Before his death earlier this year, Lennox lamented the fact education policy is now "almost entirely about being literate and numerate rather than being able to orate".

He and other communication experts noted employers insist on communication abilities when recruiting but increasingly get staff with impressive exam results who cannot string a sentence together.

I think the ability to communicate clearly is indeed a life skill which if taught properly, will result in a holistic education that will help kids in the real world.

Just imagine if every one of today's students was made 50 per cent more valuable through enhanced communication skills.

Now that's a headline.


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