Skills I should have learned at school to excel today

Manuela Willbold
6 min readNov 17, 2018

I started my schooling career in a small German town state school about 30 years ago and I remember imagining it to be very different from how it really was. I absolutely loved Kindergarten and moving into primary school was a real shock, not to mention being in secondary school, which I probably hated the most!

All of a sudden I couldn’t just play anymore. I had to sit at a table most of the time and follow my teacher’s instructions. I couldn’t really follow my own interests and learn about things I was curious about or that mattered to me.

Hang on! That was 30 years ago you ask? Well, sounds pretty much like schooling today right? So, have things in education changed at all? Because the world certainly has!

What has changed?

Computers and the internet have taken over huge aspects of our lives. Many technologies and gadgets have been developed since the eighties, but did my school prepare me at all for what was to come?

Which of the knowledge and skills I learned back then have helped me function in the future, let’s see:

Literacy — certainly one of the most important subjects to just simply grasp the world we live in. Communication in many different forms is a key skill of today’s fast-paced ICT (information & communication technology) environment professionally as well as personally. I fortunately also learned how to type fast using the 10-finger-system and English, the world language, as a second language.

Mathematics — measuring data and analysing various situations from financial to health heavily rely on mathematical skills like understanding and using numbers in many different ways. It’s certainly a key subject nowadays as increasingly more data is produced, collected and evaluated in various professions based on a higher level of computing outputs. I mainly learned basic and practical calculation skills, but also many mathematical concepts computers can nowadays deal with for us like Stochastic. So, a combination of real life and digital mathematical skills plus more analytical skills of data provided by computers would’ve been ideal.

Science — I mainly learned about past inventions and theories and I don’t deny their importance as every modern invention is based on earlier findings. However, I certainly would’ve loved to learn more about computers, electricity, solar power, the internet, robotics and more modern machines and their functionalities as we’re using them every day, but are not well informed about how they actually work or their components. To become a responsible world citizen I feel it’s vital to have a basic grasp of what we’re dealing with, especially with regards to our environment and ecosystem.

Thinking about these three core subjects taught in most curricula worldwide alone I can say that I was equipped with skills that still matter today like reading and writing (not just handwriting, but also typing), calculating, analysing, reasoning and a basic understanding of human accomplishments and discoveries and their workings.

But what was missing?

British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson (see photo) mentions some of the skills I learned at school when talking about important future skills, but I wouldn’t say I was taught to teach until I went to university. And I certainly wasn’t taught how to think differently about new ideas.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, strongly feels that the art of reinvention will be a critical skill in the near future besides being able to make sense of all the information available. He highlights the importance of creativity and being able to make decisions independently.

Alibaba founder and former English teacher Jack Ma also believes that the future generations need to learn exactly what machines are not capable of such as creativity and independent thinking.

Did I learn that? I would say in subjects like art, music and P.E. maybe, but not to the extent required today. Being creative and thinking independently should be at the core of every subject and lesson really, if we want to enable learners to apply these key skills to most aspects of (future) life.

What I wish to have learned

I wish I would’ve been taught how to go out and find answers to my questions! I wish I would’ve learned how to teach myself better and how to understand what I can be and do in the near future! I wish I would’ve learned how to be myself really, especially as a teenager.

Can these skills be taught? I would strongly argue YES!

Not in a classroom where a curriculum and teacher dictates what should be learned, but where our learning needs are matched with relevant knowledge and skills.

This is where technology today offers students so much more opportunity: it can offer easy access to information and knowledge, if used thoughtfully and in an analytical manner. It can help with creativity, independence and new ideas, if its use is guided by our reasoning and intelligence. It offers everyone access to the world we live in and by that help us become responsible world citizens.

Looking at some curricula for digital literacy and skills, like the SWGfl, one main skill set repeatedly arises inevitably throughout all key stages: creative and deep or analytical thinking, e.g. analysing online content, data and how to interpret it or creating your own work online.

The author Cal Newport makes a case of the importance of the ability to deeply focus and zone out in his book “Deep Work", which I am currently reading. He claims that in an increasingly distracting world learning new and difficult skills can only be achieved by completely immersing yourself into the task and fully focusing on it rather than multitasking.

Many universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are investing in learning about and with the technology of tomorrow. The MIT is creating a new college focusing on computer science and A.I. backed by a forecast investment of an impressive $1 billion.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

If I could go back in time I would probably start by setting up and running my own blog, obviously under adult supervision, but at least I would make a start somewhere, familiarising myself with the technology, but also practicing my writing, communication, math and scientific skills plus life skills through learning by doing.

AND most of all, it would teach me creativity in so many ways: how to write creative content, how to be creative with graphics and layouts, how to identify and find my audience and how to creatively market my creations.

It’s never too late to start a blog — I’m still learning

Now, I can’t turn back time, but I can learn today to prepare myself and future generations for the challenges of tomorrow.

If you want to learn more about creating a blog with your child or for yourself (as a teacher or any other professional in education) check out:,