Building a Britain fit for the future
It is the responsibility of every society to future-proof the education of the current and next generations. So what range of knowledge and skills should we be developing in our schools and universities to equip the next generation to tackle the challenges of the 21st century?
Language skills and cultural agility will be crucial as the UK seeks to realign its position in global affairs and strengthen its trade and diplomatic relationships both within and outside of the European Union.
There is a strong consensus across the wider public that young people will need to be tech-savvy and highly skilled in science and maths (STEM subjects) to succeed in the future jobs market. There is less consensus over the importance of languages, and this has resulted in too many young people giving up the study of languages as soon as they become optional in the school curriculum. For some young people, this choice can be made as early as twelve or thirteen years of age. And yet, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we will need to improve our national language capability if we are to build a Britain that is fit for the future.
Britain needs more and better language skills
Language skills and cultural agility will be crucial as the UK seeks to realign its position in global affairs and strengthen its trade and diplomatic relationships both within and outside of the European Union. Now more than at any other time in our history, our ability to communicate with others in a wide variety of different languages may well prove to be the game changer in securing new and lasting deals with international partners.
Languages and soft power
The soft skills that we develop through our interactions with other cultures are likely to play a critical part in enabling us to read and understand cultural norms that differ from our own, helping us to negotiate with flexibility and respect, recognising and responding to nuance creatively, and building and sustaining new and productive partnerships in all areas of diplomacy, national security, the economy and most importantly in our day-to-day relations with others in our own diverse communities across the UK and around the world.
Working together to support languages
For some time, there has been widespread public concern about our lack of language skills and intercultural understanding. Just when our country needs more language skills, we see falling numbers of young people continuing with languages at Advanced Level and around 40% of university language departments under threat of closure within the next decade. There has never been a more urgent need for concerted action. If you believe in the value of languages and want to make a difference, then join the Speak to the Future campaign!
Bernardette Holmes MBE
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