Future skills: Problem-solving and handling conflict

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“The students learn how to disagree with one another, and how to hold opposing views.”
“The students learn how to disagree with one another, and how to hold opposing views.”

The next article in our exciting Future Skills for the Fourth Industrial Revolution series, in which we provide parents with the information they need to help their children develop the skills necessary to thrive in an increasingly technological world.


As new technologies make problems easier to solve, our children will need to hone certain skills to be valuable in a future workplace run by sophisticated technologies.

Knowing how to best use these technical advancements to solve problems, face challenges and handle conflict will also be valuable skills.

We asked Sandy Kerr, Future Nation Schools Grade 9 teacher and lead teacher of Languages, to share her experiences of teaching problem solving and conflict resolution in a school setting.

“The need for these skills comes up all the time as we work on projects,” she told us. “It’s an ongoing process, and debates can get loud and heated, but we remind the students how to speak to each other. It is important to model the right behaviour, question feeling and intention and to remind the students of this when necessary.”

“The students learn how to disagree with one another, and how to hold opposing views,” she explains.

"This is too important to leave to chance"

Ross Hill, an experienced educator and executive head at Curro Foreshore in Cape Town, also shared his experience of teaching these skills.  

He believes that children cannot successfully develop problem solving skills on their own. "This is too important to leave to chance. Problem solving needs to be explicitly taught," he told us.

The learning and development of a child’s problem-solving skills cannot merely be taught in a PowerPoint presentation or class discussion, he expanded, but rather needs to have the child fully involved in the learning process. This requires adults having purposeful conversations and actively creating the right environment.


Read more in our Future Skills series here

The teacher’s role is crucial

Ross explains that the language used to communicate with students must be unambiguous. "The teacher needs to develop the language around problem-solving and keep referring back to the problem-solving process explicitly.

"For example, if a teacher is having a discussion in Maths and the learners are busy sharing their problem-solving strategies with each other, give the various strategies a name; display them on the board; use the named strategies continuously. Teachers should try have an explicit conversation about the process of problem-solving outside of the conversation of the maths problem."

Teachers need to be constantly demonstrating these skills and verbally explaining their thoughts to learners during the process.

Parents must model problem-solving processes  

Parents can actively encourage the development of these characteristics at home by looking for interesting problems in day-to-day life.

Ross describes how you can ask your children questions such as: "I wonder how they got that crane up there?" or, "Jeepers, it must have been expensive to have extended the shopping mall, I wonder how the shops keep their business going during the process?" or, "I wonder how we should do all the things that we need to do today?"

This opens up the channel to have the corresponding discussion with the child, he says. While nearly all family games encourage these skills, Ross suggests avoiding those that rely too heavily on luck. "The board game Risk, in my opinion, relies a little too heavily on luck than it does on planning and strategy."

The key thing is to participate fully, he says: play the game with your kids! And look at improving everyone’s performance in the activity or game through cognition, talking about why a certain player won and the key mistakes and decisions that occurred.

"This can be fun," he says. "We always debrief our Settlers of Catan games, in a fun way. Have a conversation with your child about their sports too, not just about doing better by improving their hand-eye coordination, but also the choices they make during the game."

Read more in our Future Skills series here

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