A letter published earlier this week in the Guardian got under my skin a bit. Signed by over 80 respected educationists from around the globe, it was highly critical of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa). I wasn’t at all irked by the target of the letter writers’ attack; I’m one of those who feel that, in its present manifestation, Pisa is a methodologically suspect and reductive means of tracking and raising educational performance. I was quite comfortable, therefore, working my way through the signatories’ objections, not least the bullet point stressing the damage caused by too narrow a focus on what learning is for:
“Pisa takes attention away from the less measurable or immeasurable educational objectives like physical, moral, civic and artistic development, thereby dangerously narrowing our collective imagination regarding what education is and ought to be about.”
My guess is that relatively few of us committed to personal development could find much there to quibble with. But then came the moment which set my teeth on edge:
“As an organisation of economic development, OECD is naturally biased in favour of the economic role of public [state] schools. But preparing young men and women for gainful employment is not the only, and not even the main goal of public education, which has to prepare students for participation in democratic self-government, moral action and a life of personal development, growth and wellbeing.”
What rubbed me up the wrong way was the assumption that somehow participation, moral action, personal development and wellbeing are separable from gainful employment. That’s a bleak view of work. Whatever the shortcomings or transgressions of business, it can’t be helpful to divide peoples’ experience into two domains: a beyond-work one, which should be participative, morally and socially responsible and developmental, and an at-work one, which should be about nothing other than remuneration. This is pretty reductive too and not at all the kind of thinking to transform the role of work in the world. Nor does it adequately reflect an important trend in organisational thinking. Only last month the CIPD’s report Cultivating Trustworthy Leaders pushed the case for leaders to tune into:
“the very things that will make us feel more certain – a renewed sense of morality within society, continual growth, opportunity for all, a perceived justice in how the fruits of prosperity are shared within society.”
And at the same time we know that employers are hungry to recruit outward looking individuals with the capacity for engagement and a yen for personal growth. As David Boyes, president of hi-tech consulting firm Sine Nomine Associates put it last year:
“We don’t need mono-focused people. We need well-rounded people“
If educationists are to seriously challenge the credibility of Pisa it might be productive to make common cause with employers who are alive to the business case for embracing the whole employee. The lucky amongst us spend large chunks of our lives at work and we don’t deposit our values, personal aspirations and civic responsibilities each morning in reception. We want to work for employers who are morally committed to and understand the financial benefits of supporting and developing our physical, emotional and intellectual wellbeing, and who actively expect us to help shape the business going forward.
So what are organisations doing to develop the capacity of their leaders to deliver these things? Well, according to the CIPD approaches include:
- values-based interviewing
- the incorporation of trust in professional development reviews
- an increased emphasis on self-development
- “development practices leading to increased perceptions of integrity, inclusivity and hence higher levels of trust”
These development practices include mentoring and coaching of leaders around trust-related skills and behaviours. And this returns me to a familiar theme of my recent blogs, namely intergenerational coaching.
It’s clear that globally many educationists have limited faith in the ability of schooling to prepare young people for the workplace. There’s a question mark too over whether some of these professionals even understand the attributes required for a successful C21st career. Seemingly higher education is similarly afflicted. Harvard academic Tony Wagner, for instance, speaks of 33% of US graduates being no better at critical thinking than they had been at the start of their studies, and lacking in a range of essential skills relating to:
• the ability to ask the right questions
• curiosity, creativity and innovation
• agility & adaptability
• collaboration and influencing.
Given that millennials the world over rate coaching by their managers as something to be highly desired, organisations should quickly grasp the benefits of killing two birds with one stone, and coach their leaders to coach their millennials in these and associated areas such as trust and taking responsibility for self-development.
Failure to do this runs the risk of developing existing leaders with all the right skills and sensibilities to inspire trust in their employees, but of leaving those younger employees under-developed and ill prepared to succeed them.
Only the most optimistic observers will suppose that formal education will get its act together on work-readiness anytime soon; employers have to think smart and act now to develop the skills they need for themselves. It should really be a Pisa cake.