Polishing ‘Life’s Jewels’
Everyone has a degree or two these days, what employers want to see is their individuality.
COVID-19 has changed the lives of all of us in the last ten months, we have experienced things that we have never experienced before from quarantine, lockdown, job loss, sickness, to behaviour changes such as social distancing, consumer and even personal behaviours. It has totally disrupted our daily living in a compulsory and permanent manners. Many of us have new values, attitudes and approaches towards life. Of course, all these transformations require us to adapt, be confident, be considerate, able to critical think, be empathic and be resilient. But have we prepared the younger generation for these unexpected situations? Do they have the competencies to handle these unforeseen circumstances?
Today’s highly competitive and demanding world pushes students to focus on academic attainment above all else. Throughout their years of study, students measure their progress largely through their exam results, and often have little time left to develop other non-academic skills. Once final exams are done, though, and with a university degree in hand, students need to start their job search. It is during the application and interview process, students are put to the challenge, realising that they have omitted to master the skillsets and have no transcript to certify them.
Dr Cecilia Chan believes that students need meaningful ways to develop and valid ways to showcase their skillsets. “Many employers have indicated that everyone has a degree or two these days, what employers want to see is their individuality, how they fit into the organisation.” she said. Dr Chan, Associate Professor of the Faculty of Education and Head of Professional Development at the Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, found that students needed to improve their skills across a range of non-academic areas including teamwork, motivation, values, attitudes, integrity, creativity and common sense. It is a broad skillset she considers ‘life jewels’, or more formally, ‘holistic competency’. “Holistic competency is very subjective and the actual skills list is vast,” she explained. She also added that “some psychologists will critique that competencies cannot be learned, I agreed, it cannot be learned via a textbook or lecture, it has to be developed by experience.”
Dr Chan’s lifegoal is set to help students develop these competencies, with the first step being to self-assess their current competencies by answering questions on the Generic Skills Perception Instrument developed by Dr Chan and her researchers allowing students to be more aware of their strengths and weaknesses.
The scales measure eight competencies: cultural sensitivity and global citizenship; interpersonal and leadership competencies; problem-solving and critical thinking skills; self-understanding and resilience; information literacy; moral values; creativity and lifelong learning and knowledge transfer competencies. This self-assessment method often leads quickly to a eureka moment as students realise the importance of these competencies before moving on to a framework that shows them what they need to improve these skills and how these competencies can be assessed.
Dr Chan has also designed a set of tools to help educators incorporate development of holistic competencies into their activities and teaching, she is currently developing a set of online interactive trainings. This dual and practical approach is instigating strategic change to the education landscape globally while developing and strengthening students’ mindsets on their holistic competencies. Students have reported increased self-confidence and better leadership skills after completing the programme. The instrument is being used in both schools and universities worldwide, enabling benchmarking to be carried out across disciplines and countries and at the same time, providing students an individual profile. Universities such as University College London, University of Glasgow, The University of Sydney, Queen Mary University of London, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong Baptist University, Lingnan University, The Education University of Hong Kong, National University of Ireland, Maynooth University, INTI International University Malaysia are all joining Dr Chan’s project to shift the culture of higher education.
The results are multifaceted benefits for everyone involved. Students learn to benchmark and improve their own competencies, teachers are enabled to understand their students better which improves their teaching, and the results can allow universities and employers to compare skillsets across countries and cultures.
Dr Chan also designed a four-day programme of HC development activities called the ‘HAVE, U Can’ programme, that reached more than 1,000 secondary students at seven schools across Hong Kong and another programme for students in six Hong Kong universities. One aspect was encouraging students to develop their social and community skills by striking up conversations, such as with elderly people sitting in a park to help build students’ community spirit.
“It also toughens them up, builds up the resilience, as sometimes their overtures are rejected. This prepares them for rejection and unforeseen circumstances,” said Dr Chan. “Universities and schools can provide the opportunities for students to develop these competencies. Learning to be a person in society is very important. Universities should really do more by integrating the curriculum with the communities so students take part as responsible global citizens, so life jewels can be developed in a meaningful approach. That I believe should be a large part of any university’s future vision.”
Dr Cecilia Ka Yuk Chan received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2020 of the Faculty of Education for the project ‘Transforming Holistic Competency Development and Assessment in Higher Education and Beyond’.