Soft skills and hard skills together form the basis for all education. Hard skills are technical skills,soft skills are more difficult to define. Effectively they are communication skills. We cannot measure soft skills through an exam or a quiz, yet they help to define who we are as people.
Oknha Dr. Mengly J. Quach,Founder, Chairman and CEO of the Mengly J. Quach Education spoke to The Post to help us better understand what soft skills are, and how AIS are equipping students with these skills to promote a better Cambodia.
Before we could talk about why soft skills are important, Dr. Quach laid out a definition of soft and hard skills for us, “Hard skills are professional skills, technical skills, you go to college and get a degree, those are hard skills, basically the skills you need to perform in your job.”
Dr. Quach went on, “Soft skills are less tangible, are not very defined, they are not measurable, they are innate, usually self taught and self developed, it’s a long process, a lifelong process”.
When we see this definition, it might be easy to disregard the importance of soft skills when hard skills are the professional skills that will result in a job being done, putting money in the bank.
Dr. Quach explained, “Soft skills are the interpersonal skills, personal attributes, types of behaviour that you need to interact with people and survive, to be better in the workplace, specifically they refer to soft skills as important in the workplace, if you can communicate better in the workplace you tend to work better with your colleagues, you work better in team work, you perform better, you are more disciplined”, these are all traits that make promotion more likely, a raise in salary and a higher level of success is more attainable with well developed soft skills.
There is an obvious difficulty in teaching something that cannot be measured, without a gauge it can be difficult to understand or quantify how a student is progressing.
At AIS Dr. Quach explained, “soft skills are not teachable, but they are part of the curriculum, it is a process of learning that is incorporated in to the course ... participation in class gives students confidence, the confidence to participate in something, to be involved in something.”
That self confidence and belief in their abilities is a way of developing soft skills, we can see the results when a student is comfortable expressing their opinion or answering questions.
As Dr. Quach said, soft skills “encourage the student and create a momentum of participation, that participation little by little, give the children the ability to communicate”.
Dr. Quach reflected, “10 or 15 years ago in Cambodia, the system was very teacher centric, teachers would teach and the students would listen. The students were so quiet, to the point where they were not brave enough to raise their hand or go on stage and give a presentation, so soft skills and the ability to express themselves was not there”.
Now things are changing in Cambodian education and thanks to schools like AIS, a new approach has been developed with prioritisation placed on soft skills.
Dr. Quach gave us an example of how AIS would impart the knowledge of soft skills to students, “the teacher will ask you, stand up, talk to each other, interact and communicate, so the process itself is a hard skill, but the feeling you get the ability to normalise interaction, to get used to it, that is a soft skill. That is very hard to measure and not very tangible, soft skills are something that you get from those processes (of interacting)”.
In terms of the right time to begin learning soft skills, Dr. Quach recommends that “usually as early as possible, it is never too early to incorporate in to a child’s mind these principles”, he said.
Given that the acquisition of soft skills is a life-long process, “the more you have students involved and the earlier you have students involved the better” recommends Dr. Quach.
At AIS, teaching soft skills is not just a classroom course, it is an integral part of the whole curriculum that can enhance student performance, enrich student’s self confidence and ultimately enhance their quality of life.