Education may be the passport to the future, but for all the good teaching out there, it would seem that schools are failing to impart some of the most important life skills, according to one educational expert.

Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard's Change Leadership Group, argues that today’s school children are facing a “global achievement gap”, which is the gap between what even the best schools are teaching and the skills young people need to learn.

This has been exacerbated by two colliding trends: firstly, the global shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, and secondly, the way in which today’s school children – brought up with the internet – are motivated to learn.

In his book The Global Achievement Gap, Wagner identifies seven core competencies every child needs in order to survive in the coming world of work.

1. Critical thinking and problem-solving

Companies need to be able to continuously improve products, processes and services in order to compete. And to do this they need workers to have critical thinking skills and to be able to ask the right questions to get to the bottom of a problem.

2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

Given the interconnected nature of the business world, leadership skills and the ability to influence and work together as a team has become increasingly important. And the key to becoming an effective leader? It's twofold, says Wagner, involving "creative problem-solving and a clear ethical framework".

3. Agility and adaptability

The ability to adapt and pick up new skills quickly is vital for success: workers must be able to use a range of tools to solve a problem. This is also known as "learnability", a sought-after skills among job candidates.

Image: REUTERS/David Gray

4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism

There is no harm in trying: often people and businesses suffer from a tendency to be risk-averse. It is better to try 10 things and succeed in eight than it is to try five and succeed in all of them.

5. Effective oral and written communication

Recruits’ fuzzy thinking and inability to articulate their thoughts were common complaints that Wagner came across from business leaders when researching his book. This isn’t so much about young people’s ability to use grammar and punctuation correctly, or to spell, but how to communicate clearly verbally, in writing or while presenting. "If you have great ideas but you can’t communicate them, then you’re lost," Wagner says.

6. Accessing and analysing information

Many employees have to deal with an immense amount of information on a daily basis: the ability to sift through it and pull out what is relevant is a challenge. Particularly given how rapidly the information can change.

7. Curiosity and imagination

Curiosity and imagination are what drive innovation and are key to problem solving. "We’re all born curious, creative and imaginative," says Wagner. "The average four-year-old asks a hundred questions a day. But by the time that child is 10, he or she is much more likely to be concerned with getting the right answers for school than with asking good questions.

"What we as teachers and parents need do to keep alive the curiosity and imagination that, to a greater or lesser extent, is innate in every child."