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Students Will Need Real‑World Problem Solving Skills They Don’t Have

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Dec 10, 2018

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A lot of parents’ and educators’ time goes into thinking about how education can best prepare children for the future. But what are those skills children would need to hone now, that might define their success later in life? A new report suggests that very few kids have the type of collaborative problem solving skills that are essential to a 21st century workplace.

In a new scientific report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, an interdisciplinary team of researchers identified the various components of collaborative problem solving (CPS).

“CPS is an essential skill in the workforce and the community because many of the problems faced in the modern world require teams to integrate group achievements with team members’ idiosyncratic knowledge,” the authors of the report say.

The problem is that very few kids possess these skills. According to a 2015 assessment of more than 500,000 15-year-old students conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, only 8% of students around the world showed strong CPS skills. As our world becomes more complex and brings more people with diverse background, facing new challenges, and incorporating more sophisticated technology, the need for problem-solving skills to address these increasingly complex problems will only rise.


Read more: Children Will Need These Skills in the Future


The unfortunate problem, the report states, is that “[t]he experiences of students in and out of the classroom are not preparing them for these skills that are needed as adults.”

Complex problem-solving refers to a set of cognitive and social skills, including: shared understanding or shared goals, accountability for individual contributions, differentiated roles, and interdependency between group members. Most schools focus on ensuring students have mastered a specific task, or knowledge of a particularly domain; they very rarely design curricula specifically to encourage the communication and collaboration required to solve problems as a group.

When students do receive training relevant to CPS, it is often because they participate in extracurricular activities such as sports. Even then, students are not evaluated on their ability to problem-solve together. The report’s authors argue that CPS should be a core part of every curriculum. The challenge, however, is that there is no roadmap for integrating CPS into a school curriculum.

And that’s where the report stops short of offering solutions. In order for schools to even know what to teach, and how to foster collaborative problem-solving skills in a school setting, a lot of work will have to be done by researchers and educators. It will also require the buy-in of parents and students, who will need to get behind the idea that teamwork is a worthy educational focus.

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Written By The Swaddle Team

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