Words like “fun” and “children’s storybooks” are not often used when discussing how to prepare today’s youth for the high-tech jobs of tomorrow, but they need to be.
The most valuable skills children can gain in school are not specific to particular jobs or technologies, but rather skills associated with creative problem-solving and curiosity.
These are skills that are developed from an early age by reading and enjoying imaginative children’s books.
Cambodia has made great strides in raising the quality of education through initiatives such as the Edu-cation Strategic Plan and investments in New Generation Schools.
Yet reports indicate that there is still a wide gap between the skills that students learn in school and what the job market requires.
If Cambodia is to meet the ambitious goal of upper middle-income status by 2030, this gap must be closed.
While the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport must continue providing students with the technical skills they’ll need to compete in an evolving and uncertain job market of tomorrow, it’s essential to note that the skills required to close this gap have less to do with technology and computers and more to do with how workers, regardless of their job field, approach solving complex problems.
As World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim explains: “The great challenge is to equip [children] with the skills they’ll need no matter what future jobs look like – skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as interpersonal skills like empathy and collaboration.”
So how do we ensure that our children develop the curiosity and creative problem-solving skills necessary to thrive in the jobs of tomorrow and drive Cambodia’s economy forward?
We invest in fun, creative children’s books that invite children to read with stories that reflect and affirm their own lives and open a world of possibilities to learn from.
This may seem counterintuitive when talking about high-tech and other professional jobs, but there is a direct correlation between creativity and reading.
Both creative problem-solving and reading comprehension skills require a decoding process of the presented information, fitting the information into an existing knowledge base, and then searching for a solution or context for the words as a group.
A misunderstanding of the issue and an incorrect application of a solution will occur if there is a misinterpretation during the decoding process.
Children who are introduced to a variety of people, perspectives, and contexts from an early age, such as through diverse children’s storybooks, learn to navigate this incredibly complex process more effectively.
Children also need to feel success and encouragement during this process.
Simple yet well crafted children’s storybooks that speak to students’ sense of self and view of the world, and in stories in which characters use their creativity, curiosity and imagination provide this inspiration.
These are the types of storybooks that create a strong foundation for the rest of children’s education and create the skills required for thriving societies.
Early investments in reading and creative problem-solving skills are necessary to continue Cambodia’s economic and societal gains.
Investments in storybooks for young children, and the talented writers, illustrators, editors and publishers who create them, are essential to building an educated and curious workforce capable of designing creative solutions to complex problems and closing the gap between education and job markets.
Kyle Barker is the associate director of The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia programme, and leads their Let’s Read [letsreadasia.org] initiative, a community and technology driven solution to book scarcity in Asia.