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TRANSCRIPT: Skills Every Child Will Need to Succeed in 21st century – Dr. Laura A. Jana

Here is the full transcript and summary of Dr. Laura A. Jana’s TEDx Talk titled “Skills Every Child Will Need To Succeed In 21st Century” at TEDxChandigarh conference. Is the current education system sufficient to make kids succeed in 21st century?

Listen to the audio version here:


Dr. Laura A. Jana – Pediatrician, Educator, Health Communicator

Around the world, everyone from governments and business leaders and economists to parents, teachers, and pediatricians are all asking the same question: What skills will our children need to succeed?

Now, you may think you know the answer to the question, but consider this. It has been estimated that two-thirds of children today will work in jobs that don’t currently exist. Now, what skills do you want them to have?

In 2016, the World Economic Forum released a list that every parent and, quite honestly, anyone who cares about our children’s future needs. It’s a list of the 21st-century skills most valued in today’s complex, globalized, and rapidly changing world. A third of these skills are the traditional hard skills—the reading, writing, and arithmetic that I call IQ skills.

More notable, however, are the other skills: social and creative skills like creativity, curiosity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking, along with grit, leadership, and adaptability.

It is these so-called soft, non-cognitive, and other skills that are gaining prominence in playrooms, classrooms, and boardrooms around the world. Now, I feel the need to point out that calling these skills soft doesn’t do them justice, and referring to them as non-cognitive is just wrong given that they involve the complex functioning of the brain.

That leaves us with other. And as somebody who has spent decades translating facts and figures into practical information, I can assure you that if you ever want to convince somebody that something is really important, don’t call it other.

So I’d like to propose that we call these other skills QI skills, spelled QI. Now the fact that it sounds like the word key as in K-E-Y fits because these skills are certainly key to future success. It also reflects the fact that they are the complement to the IQ skills, IQ and QI. And finally, the word QI, sometimes also pronounced QI, has been used across cultures and centuries to represent a positive life force that you can be born with but that can also be developed.

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And that brings us to perhaps the most important insight. Based on the science of early brain and child development, we now know that these QI skills can be developed far earlier than most people realize. With 85% of brain growth thought to occur by age 3 and up to a million new neural connections forming per second, it is during the first five years that we have a unique opportunity to more intentionally build babies’ brains and to assemble this toolkit of skills we know they’ll need to succeed.

Now to help you better understand why these early years are so critical, I find it helpful to use the analogy of comparing the electrical wiring of the brain to that of a house. It is entirely possible to rewire an old house. It just always takes longer, costs more, and never turns out quite as good as when the wiring goes in before the walls go up.

With respect to the wiring of babies’ brains, caring, responsive adults play the role as chief architects. Neurons don’t just connect and babies don’t just learn what they need to know all on their own. Unlocking children’s early learning potential is deeply dependent on social interactions, which explains why cultivating the QI skills involves a whole lot of talking, cooing, singing, playing, and reading books to babies.

Seven Qi Skills

With that in mind, allow me to introduce you to the seven QI skills. The first of the QI skills are me skills, defined by self-awareness, self-control or impulse control, along with focus and attention. In other words, me skills are what allow us to be in control of our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Now to put me skills into a bigger picture perspective, just think about how often these days we hear about everything from mindfulness apps and mindful breathing to the introduction of chief mindfulness officers into corporate culture. One renowned business visionary, Peter Drucker, predicted that while the 20th century was the era of business management, the 21st century is going to be the era of self-management.

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And a good self-management day in the life of a toddler is when no one bites their friends. That’s because the ability to resist one’s impulses or urges is really dependent on impulse control, which happens to be one of the three defining features of what neuroscientists call executive function skills.

What research now tells us about these all-important executive function skills is that they develop most rapidly between the ages of three and five.

After me skills come we skills. We skills are people skills, the relationship skills, like communication, collaboration, teamwork, active listening, empathy, and perspective taking, all needed to play well with others. We skills are especially valuable in a world where it’s become as important to be able to read other people as it is to read.

Now given that I don’t ever have to actually convince anybody that these skills are worth developing, allow me instead to translate. Put your listening ears on, use your words, learn to play nice with others, and in the same sandbox.

The fact of the matter is that these highly coveted social-emotional skills are preschool skills and they can be developed very early. Toddlers can be taught to understand other people’s perspectives, nine-month-olds begin to show signs of empathy, and even very young infants are sensitive emotion detectors, able to sense others’ emotions even before they can walk or talk.

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