5.4 Life Skills: Where is the Proof?

The question what kind of skills are most important to young people’s success has been a controversy over many years. For a long time, it was a common and widespread belief that success depends primarily on cognitive skills, the kind of skills that get measured on IQ- and standardized achievement tests. But over the past decade new evidence from a variety of fields including economics (spearheaded by Nobel Prize winner, James Heckman), psychology, and neuroscience has increasingly questioned this hypothesis. According to this new line of research, what matters at least as much if not more are a different set of qualities, labeled non-cognitive skills, socio-emotional skills, soft-skills, or personality. Examples of these skills include self-efficacy, self-control, or interpersonal skills. Similarly, practical knowledge and skills related to managing everyday life, such as healthy habits, finding a job, or workplace ethics are considered crucial by many observers and practitioners.

The Learning Metrics Task Force’s Global Framework of Learning Domains

In an effort to determine what competencies are important for all children and youth and to measure learning outcomes on a global level, a Learning Metrics Task Force convened by the Center for Universal Education at Brookings and UNESCO Institute for Statistics proposes a “Global Framework of Learning Domains” with corresponding subdomains. Social and emotional skills are one of the seven proposed learning domains:

  1. Physical well-being
  2. Social and emotional
  3. Culture and the arts
  4. Literacy and communication
  5. Learning approaches and cognition
  6. Numeracy and mathematics
  7. Science and technology

In general, the task force recognized the importance of foundational and transferrable skills, provided both through formal and non-formal education. 1