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NEA News

The Most Important Skill for Students? Communication, Say Most Americans

Find out what other skills the public believes will help students "get ahead in the world today." Do you agree?
Published: March 23, 2015

Most-important_student_skillsDespite fears that U.S. students are behind the international curve in science and math, most Americans think communication skills are more important for long term success, according to a Pew Research study.

The Pew Research Center recently asked a national sample of adults to select the skills most important for students “to get ahead in the world today.”  Across the board, respondents said communication skills were most important, followed by reading, math, teamwork, writing and logic. Although more than half said science was important, it still ranked toward the low end of the list, followed by athletics, music and art at the bottom.

Pew_Results_SkillsAnother Pew study, however, found that only 29 percent of Americans rated their country’s K-12 education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known as STEM) as above average or the best in the world.

Could American students be lagging in science because our society still places a higher premium on skills traditionally considered more valuable in the business world? We’ll report on what educators think in a follow-up story.

Here are some of the key findings from the Pew study:

  • Education Level: According to the majority (63%) of college-educated respondents, science skills were most important, compared to  51% of those with a high school education or less. Some 81% of college grads said that writing skills were most important, compared with 70% among those with a high school degree or less.
  • Age Group: Sixty-four percent of adults ages 50 and older say science skills are important to get ahead, compared with just over half (54%) of younger adults. A similar gap exists between older and younger adults when it comes to math skills (83% vs. 74%) and a smaller gap on reading skills (88% vs. 84%).
  • Gender: While both men and women placed a very high value on reading skills (83% and 88 % respectively) and communication skills (88% and 92%), there was a little more of a divide over science and math skills. Sixty-three percent of men said they were most important , compared to 54% of women.  Men were also more likely than women to say that math skills were important (81% vs. 76%).
  • Political Affiliation: "When we looked at differences among adults based on the political party they identify with, there was as much agreement as disagreement about the necessary skills for today’s youth," reports Sara Goo of the Pew Research Center. Democrats and independents were more likely than Republicans to hold science skills up as most important.  Democrats and independents also put a higher value on learning about music.
  • Race: There was at least a 10 point gap between whites and blacks or Hispanics on each question. For example, about one-third of Hispanics and blacks said arts skills were important to get ahead, compared to just 19% of whites. In addition, only 20 % of whites placed a high value on athletic skills, compared to 42% of Hispanics and 34% of blacks - a gap also seen in the attitudes toward music.

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.