Academic vs. Soft Skills for Kids




Like all parents, we want our kids to succeed in life. But it’s scary to see more and more headlines across the world telling us that our youth is finding it harder and harder to enter the workforce today. It seems that a university degree isn’t a guarantee for success anymore. Today, employment and productivity depend not only on academic and technical skills but also on soft skills. While hard skills will get you the interview, soft skills probably get you the job, and also, help you keep it.



The importance of soft skills


So what are soft skills really? For something that seems so important, it sure is hard to define. Some call it people skills, others call it non-cognitive skills and then there’s also emotional intelligence. In a recent Child Trends report, Key Soft Skills that Foster Youth Workforce Success, Laura H. Lippman and colleagues define soft skills as “a broad set of skills, competencies, behaviors, attitudes, and personal qualities that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals”. The research showed that there are five key soft skills our youth need to develop to improve workforce success: social skills, communication, high-order thinking, self-control, and positive self-concept.


Paul Tough, and acclaimed education journalist who often writes for the New York Times wrote a book titled How Children Succeed (2012), in which he makes an unapologetic case for teaching non-cognitive skills at school. He says that kids sometimes don’t do well academically because of factors such as being unable to focus or easily giving up due to low levels of self-control or perseverance. The book also emphasises that character strengths at early ages predict later success - and that simple interventions can go a long way.


But should soft skills be taught by schools or parents at home? Today, more and more of our preschools in Singapore do encourage instilling soft skills from an early age. They recognise that it is important to start this early when brains are easier to shape and habits haven’t set in yet. However, the focus turns sharply to academics the moment these children enter Primary 1. At higher levels of school, the teaching of soft skills seems to fade completely.



What about academics?


There’s no doubt that academics are also important for success. Soft skills alone will not be enough for someone to thrive on.


Let’s take the basic examples of mathematics, science and literacy skills.

  • Mathematics: Learning math makes our adults life much better by helping us make smart decisions on routine day-to-day matters that require logic and critical thinking, such as managing debt and finances, deciding if the deal you are signing on for is a good one or not, and even in making healthier food choices.
  • Science: Learning science helps interact with our environment, asking questions and seeking answers about the natural and physical components of the world we live in. We make countless science-based choices each day. In our daily strive to manage our health and well-being, science literacy plays a key role. Science is also the foundation of an innovative culture and can be found at the core of significant political decisions.
  • Literacy: This goes beyond simply learning how to read. It teaches us how to discern and interpret information and to become intellectually, culturally, and electronically capable.


Finding balance


While both academics and soft skills seem to be equally important, the emphasis on academics in early learning is fast becoming unpopular. In fact, in preschools where the focus seems to still be strongly academic, many teachers tend to feel frustrated with the pressure to push academics onto their students. The newer and more popular approach to better learning is through playing, exploring and socialising. Studies have shown that children who have attended academic, rather than developmental preschools, tend to exhibit higher levels of anxiety and self-esteem issues, along with reading scores that, in the long term, are no better.


Today’s world is surely getting harder to succeed in. So, parents, we must ensure positive development in our children’s first years. Skimming back on academics in the early years is not about lowering your standards. It’s all about laying the good and solid groundwork to make sure they are well equipped to achieve those standards.





© Rise & Shine is established to provide our children with a better opportunities for their upcoming future. Our founding vision was to help and educate parents to nurture healthier, happier and brighter children. As part of what we do, we organise parenting workshops, carnivals and the largest play and educational festival in Asia. We also organise a series of children events throughout the year where families can bond, learn and have fun.


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