The problem with problem-solving

Consider this from the Word Economic Forum:



It’s all very predictable, It’s the sort of stuff that’s regularly churned out by organisations like the OECD and countless education gurus, consultants and so-called futurists.

Indeed, pick up any article about education these days and you’re likely to come across references to problem-solving, creativity and even empathy. Apparently these are the ‘skills’ that graduates will need to acquire if they are to be “fully engaged global citizens” or whatever the cliché of the day is.

Now, at this time of year, I get quite a few calls from recruitment agencies seeking a pre-screening reference from me for one of my recently graduated students.

In all the years I have been answering these calls, I have never, ever been asked about the candidates problem-solving skills, their creativity or their empathy, and definitely not their cognitive flexibility.

The questions always focus on two attributes: conscientiousness and agreeableness, two of the so-called “Big Five” personality traits. Companies want hard-working, reliable graduates who can get on well with others. These are the attributes we should be emphasizing in our teaching.

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