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Nurturing the Super Skills for the 21st Century in ESL Classrooms through Cooperative Learning Strat

I would like to share one part of the paper which I presented recently at The 1st ASEAN ELT International Conference (15-17 March 2018, Equatorial Melaka).

Introduction: 4th Industrial Revolution

The World Economic Forum says the world now is on the tip of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0). The lightning-speed advancements and complex changes that merge advances in digital, physical and biological technologies will significantly mark Industry 4.0.

With this Industry 4.0 taking place, employers are changing their recruitment strategies. Employers want workers who combine judgement with creativity, collaboration with good communication skills; workers who can innovate and solve complex problems (Gray, 2016). Yet nearly 60% of businesses around the world say they are unable to find candidates who possess those skills (Turbot, 2017). Wan Mohamad and Abd Majid (2017: 1) assert that “future job seekers need early exposure to these skills and the opportunity to polish the skills as early as possible.”

Top Ten Skills for the 21st Century

By surveying the chief Human Resource officers at some of the world’s leading companies, the World Economic Forum has released The Future of Jobs report revealing the top 10 skills that are needed by 2020 (Luu, 2016). Gray (2016) highlights ten 21st century skills which are vital for job seekers in future which are in line with the emerging the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR). The top ten skills need by workers by 2020 are discussed briefly below.

1. Complex Problem Solving

This is the most desired skill that job seekers must have by 2020. Having complex problem solving skills means having the mental elasticity to solve problems never seen before, and being able to solve them in the ever-changing landscape. In future, complex problem-solvers will be in hot demand as they able to deal with problems or issues which are near-impossible to solve due to incomplete, contradictory or ever changing requirements. More than 36% of all jobs across all industries are expected to require complex problem-solving as one of their core skills. (Luu, 2016).

2. Critical Thinking

Organisations in 2020 will see critical thinkers as highly employable, and definitely a welcome addition to their team. Being a critical thinker means the individual is able to use logic and reasoning. Critical thinking involves being able to use logic and reasoning to interrogate an issue or problem, consider various solutions to the problem, and examine the pros and cons of each approach (Luu, 2016).

3. Creativity

Creativity refers to the person’s ability to connect the dots with apparently disparate information, and throw all the ideas together to present something ‘new’ (Luu, 2016). Gray (2016) asserts that creativity will become the third crucial skill workers will need. Human’s creativity is still a great necessity as robots may get people to be where they want to be faster, but they can’t be as creative as humans. Moreover, with the avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, future workers are going to have to become more creative in order to benefit from these changes.

4. People Management

In the future, managers and team leaders must possess people management skills; know how to motivate their teams, maximise their productivity and respond to their needs (Thompson, 2016). Having good people management skills also requires one to deal a lot with emotional intelligence, and it entails the skills to delegate, and develop one’s own management style (Luu, 2016).

5. Coordinating with Others

At number 5 is another dominating social skill that is coordinating with others. It has been an emerging trend among companies to put more emphasis on strong interpersonal skills. Coordinating with others is about possessing strong communication skills, an awareness of other people’s strengths and weaknesses, and being able to work with a range of diverse personalities (Luu, 2016). This soft skill also entails the ability of being able to adjust actions in relation to others and to collaborate (Thompson, 2016). Collaboration is fundamental in any work environment and this is something that thankfully human beings are still better at than robots.

6. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is another desirable skill and it will be in higher demand across industries in future. This social skills entails the ability to be aware of others' reactions and to understand why they react certain ways (Thompson, 2016). It will become more important for employees to possess a high level of emotional intelligence as robots may be able to do a lot of jobs, but they still cannot read and interpret people the way other humans can, at least not yet. Having emotional intelligence will help future workers tune into the kaleidoscope of human emotions, and measures how skilful they are at adjusting their behaviour depending on the mood of a colleague, partner, family member, or even their own internal feelings (Luu, 2016).

7. Judgement and Decision-Making

This particular skill set involves employees’ ability to analyze data to be able to make decisions. As organizations collect more and more data, there will be a greater need for employees who have the ability to analyze data and use it to make decisions (Thompson, 2016). The ability to make sound judgement calls for strong decision-making skills. Employers need employees who can scrutinize the numbers, find actionable insights, and use big data to inform business strategy and decisions (Luu, 2016).

8. Service Orientation

Service orientation involves giving the best to consumers. It is about one’s ability to actively look for ways to help and satisfy people. Having a high level of service orientation skills is all about focusing on consumers, and anticipating what their needs will be in the future. Having strong service orientation skills requires employees to be able to step into the minds of consumers and think about what they value, fear, and dislike; and develop new products or adapt services accordingly (Luu, 2016).

9. Negotiation

With robots penetrating the workforce and job automation, negotiation skills will be more important than ever in the future because humans are far better at social interaction and negotiations than robots are. Employees who can show greater interpersonal skills, and are able to negotiate with colleagues, managers, clients and teams will highly be on demand (Luu, 2016).

Negotiation skill is one the desirable skills in the workforce in the 21st century. It is a deliberate process between two or more parties who want to find a mutual understanding and settle differences. This makes sense because negotiation skills are still something that, at least for the time being, are uniquely human. Skilled negotiators will be an asset to organisations. They are good listeners who listen actively and closely and then negotiate for the biggest slice of the pie (Fauzi, Nor Azura, Rafidah, 2017).

10. Cognitive Flexibility

Cognitive flexibility is all about being able to adapt to new situations when required. Luu (2016) describes it like being ‘a mental gymnast’; someone who is able to think and imagine the floor and all the different apparatuses like the rings, parallel bars, and balance beam and at the same time practise cognitive flexibility which requires one to move, swing, leap and twirl back and forth accordingly. Having strong cognitive flexibility needs employees to be limber as being flexible makes it easier for one to see new patterns, and to make unique associations between ideas.

With the aim of giving early exposure and attempting to nurture the top ten skills for the 21st century among my learners, I conducted an action research in my ESL classroom. Three cooperative learning activities that attempted to develop the ten super skills were designed and implemented within a period of three months. I conducted observations during each activity. Significant happenings were documented. A checklist was also prepared to guide me during observations. Then, there was a session for critical reflection after each activity. The three cooperative learning activities were:





Based on my observations, it is possible for ESL teachers to develop the ten super skills even though some of our learners are not proficient users of English. Perhaps they have some limitations but it does not mean activities which nurture the super skills cannot be implemented at all in our ESL classrooms. As teachers, we have to make some adjustments; adopt and adapt wherever possible. In short, these are the key findings of my action research:

  1. An issue/ a problem is needed to nurture the top 10 skills / super skills.

  2. ESL learners will enjoy lessons when they are given much freedom to decide what and how they want to present.

  3. For classes with lower intermediate / weak ESL learners, scaffolding is a need (provide relevant vocabulary, useful phrases, provide sentence structures)

  4. The skills which can be “easily” promoted and nurtured are complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, judgement and decision making and service orientation.

  5. The skills which are challenging to learners are negotiation, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility.

  6. Graphic Organiser to Nurture the Super Skills or GONSS is practical. Please click here to download GONSS.

  7. GONSS mainly nurtures FIVE super skills; people management, creativity, critical thinking, complex problem solving and judgement and decision making.

  8. FIVE more super skills are integrated and nurtured throughout the whole process of completing GONSS and their task (coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility).

  9. Language games which embrace the principles of cooperative learning can nurture the super skills of the 21st century.

  10. In line with the 4.0 IR, ESL teachers should design and implement MORE activities that nurture the ten super skills

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