Numerous studies have shown that kids from low-income families who attend quality preschool programs are much more likely to succeed, both academically and later in life. One study in particular tracked two low-income groups with similar IQ levels - one that attended a preschool program and another that did not - over the course of forty years. It concluded that students who have these early learning experiences are more likely to progress further in school and earn more money over their lifetime, and are also less likely to be incarcerated. The reasons behind this are simple: early structured learning serves as a time to develop soft skills that will aid students in further lifelong learning. Learning to share, listen to directions, and interact with their peers allows children to begin forming communication, social and critical thinking skills which can all fit under the umbrella of soft skills.
Soft skills are critically important when considering international development issues. Skills such as critical thinking and problem solving are vital to the success of any livelihood. In the U.S., despite the demand for technological abilities and educational credentials, the top skills employers still seem to desire are soft skills such as critical thinking and teamwork. Obviously, the U.S. job market is very different from how livelihoods are developed in poverty-stricken areas. However, it seems only logical that these soft skills would be just as important in developing nations. Looking at the well-crafted Couro Ecológico purses, it’s easy to see that these Brazilian communities are not lacking in hard skills. What seems to make these hard skills really effective is an underlying foundation of soft skills, which enable continued growth and and the ability to weather obstacles.
With this in mind, it seems that many non-profit organizations focus a great deal on addressing immediate material needs and development of hard skills, such as supplying mosquito nets or offering basic vocational training. While there are tangible benefits from these needs being addressed, often they only help with surface level problems and therefore do little to create sustainable changes in poverty. Unlike hard skills, soft skills cannot be taught in a singular lesson. These skills are acquired through time and hands-on learning. Through CEN’s mentorship program, people are given the opportunity to be in power over their decisions and learn to use these soft skills, fostering a mindset of self-reliance. While it may be easier to see the effects of basic skills and tangible goods being provided by some non-profit groups, the development of soft skills through CEN takes a more long-term aim at changing the mindsets, opportunities and future success of those in poverty.
Webley, K. (2011). The preschool wars. Time Magazine, 178 (14).
Molotsky, I. (1999, June 9). Study shows importance of preschool and child-care quality in education. New York Times. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com