the many “frontiers” of soft skills

Despite the appearance linearity of soft skills and the relative ease of understanding its importance in human development in continuity with the attention that pedagogy has always reserved for the relationship between learning and the conditions for making it optimal, also playing on an affective-emotional level (from from Pestalozzi to the psychological). -analytical suggestions of the twentieth century), the deepening of the debate on the subject that has developed over the two or three decades allows us to identify three main approaches that, although united by common intentions, are distinguished by the reasons that they support them. .

The first is what originates in the world of work. As is well known, research on soft skills they started in the field of social psychology applied to the labor market. This initial and specific area of ​​interest soon expanded in other directions, especially as a result of the studies of James J. Heckman (born 1944, Nobel Prize in Economics in 2000, professor at the University of Chicago) and its critical closures to the test. student knowledge verification system, a widely used practice in the United States.

By carefully comparing the school results obtained by the students and those detected by the tests, the American scholar came to the conclusion that with the same results, those who had good qualities not only cognitive (and Five big ones) era destined for a brighter career and full of greater satisfactions. Heckman’s research went further and showed that the fundamental aspects that characterize the professional trajectory and life as a whole, such as, for example, deviant eating behaviors, substance abuse, the tendency to violence, propensity to depression and unhappiness, the likelihood of engaging in illegal activities. , lower longevity – were inversely linked to the possession of non-cognitive skills.

Subsequent research led Heckman into the pedagogical field in many ways, assessing the modifiability of personality traits. In fact, they are malleable, take shape from the earliest years of life, and depend on the family lifestyle and the importance assigned to them during school years. The latest findings from Heckman’s research are read-oriented soft skills in the sense of character skills that is, as a constituent of the human personality: although knowledge and mastery of cognitive skills are an important basis, the development of people and their fate also in adulthood also depends -and much- of the permanent mobilization of deep and often less obvious. and left latent. In this direction, Giorgio Vittadini, an economist responsible for numerous interventions in support of Heckman’s theses, offered significant contributions (cf. JJ Heckman, T. Kautz, Training and evaluation of human capital. The importance of “character skills” in school learningintroduction by G. Vittadini, Il Mulino 2016).

Other scholars have focused their attention on learning soft skillslooking especially at the processes of socialization and the relationship between them and the socio-emotional sphere (hence the use of the expression socioemotional skills, formula preferred by OECD experts). If the soft skills and the character skills are they educable, how to act so that social and emotional skills are valued, are they part of family and school life? This is not an unknown question because in all schools in the world, in a more or less effective way, the socio-emotional development of children and young people is a permanent constant because consciously or implicitly it is impossible for young people and adults to spend a long period of coexistence without this influencing its socio-emotional dimension.

This seemingly banal experience has especially caught the attention of educational psychologists and sociologists (among the OECD researchers is the work of Oliver P. John and Filip De Fruyt)., in Italy the work and research of Andrea Maccarini and the Trentino research group led by Francesco Pisanu and Franco Fraccaroli) are developed through research that has explored the facilitating factors and those that can slow the development of socioemotional skills. It emerged that making them explicit during school life is likely to develop more quickly and be more lasting and that it is therefore appropriate to build curricula that enhance the socio-emotional dimension.

But many accidents are also other positive and adjacent factors such as the clarity of the educational objectives of the center, the consistency with which the educational project is managed, the positive climate shared and connected with families, attention to the needs of students. , the ability to make use of multiple educational resources and, of course, and perhaps above all, the mature personality of teachers.

The debate over soft skills finally it is articulated in a third direction and that is closely related to the education of the personage. He soft skills in themselves they can be considered “neutral” as they are the result of a psychological observation that relates them only to their predictability without expressing judgments of any kind. But it is also true that they directly or indirectly cross sensitive issues on issues with a high level of questionability such as the nature of personal identity (extroversion, emotional stability, consciousness), interpersonal and community relationships (pleasant, open) . -mentality).

And it is precisely in this direction that a third, ethical interpretation has developed soft skills. In this case they are conceived as preferential ways to access the formation not only of personality, but that of personal character, judged as the basis for the education of an ethical conscience.

Some students of the psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) stand out in this field, such as Thomas Lickona (born 1943), animator together with some of his collaborators (Eric Schaps, 1942-2021, and Catherine Lewis), one of the the most important American initiatives within the Character Education and authors of an authentic manifesto-guide for moral education. In this case the education of soft skills it borders a territory with a strong pedagogical vocation, intertwined with strong ethical and religious motives: character education seeks to develop virtues “good for the individual and for society.”

It is worth remembering here that the question of character education in Anglo-Saxon countries in partial contradiction with the functionalist efficiency that guides local school policies — where at most we come to speak of active citizenship — is a primary concern. This is demonstrated by the numerous documents that school authorities make available to schools (easily available online), the specific programs developed by school groups, the initiatives of private bodies and finally the activity of specific associations involved. in this sector (best known and important is the Association for Character Education based in England).

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