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Public Speaking for Schools

My daughters are 11 and 8. They are Primary students in a small state school in the Cotswolds. Like most children in the UK and the rest of the world, they spend their time studying Maths, Geography, History, Science and Languages; music and art make the occasional appearance in their timetable. Like most children (with a few exceptions) they have no exposure to two skills that supersede all others when it comes to developing the capacity to survive and prosper in the big, wide world: financial literacy and public speaking.

This article focuses on the latter.

Public Speaking should be taught in schools. Public Speaking should be practiced in schools. Public Speaking should be encouraged in schools

Classical Greece and Rome got it right. They recognized and understood the need to teach, practice, encourage and promote the use of rhetoric to communicate, influence, persuade and to gain status and power in society. Unfortunately, its use became associated with politics and dirty tricks. Gradually, rhetoric was abandoned in favor of other skills. The world has been starved of oratory training ever since. It’s time we change course. Public Speaking should be taught in schools. Public Speaking should be practiced in schools. Public Speaking should be encouraged in schools because it…

  • Helps children develop their confidence
  • Helps children develop and strengthen their identity
  • Nurtures eloquence and vocabulary
  • Enables children learn to think on their feet, to improvise, to create
  • Encourages empathy, self-awareness and listening skills
  • Provides the tools to succeed in university, job interviews and the job market
  • Brings clarity of thought and clarity of discourse
  • Connects the dots between all the other subjects they study
  • Fosters camaraderie and a sense of shared-interest
  • Ignites learning, motivation, inspiration and collaboration

The list above should be enough to convince you of the need to make changes to our educational system and to raise our voices in favor of changes to the school curriculum. If it isn’t, then watch the TEDx London Talk given by a leader and a visionary in the subject in 2017. The one and only, Simon Bucknall.

Fortunately, others have also been drawing attention to this gap and doing something about it. Notable initiatives include those run by the English-Speaking Union as well as other programs such as:

https://www.esu.org/competitions/psc/

https://www.speakers4schools.org/

https://www.voice21.org/

https://www.schoolspeakers.co.uk/

Public Speaking in Schools, of course, has students as its core audience. Public Speaking in Schools has a second, also important (often, also neglected) dimension: public speaking training for teachers. Challenging as the role of teachers is, it’s made harder by not providing them with the necessary training to address some of the most demanding and inquisitive audiences in the planet: children. Ask any teacher how they feel about public speaking and (unaware themselves that they’re doing it every day) they will express feelings of discomfort, anxiety and unpreparedness.

I don’t have what it takes to be a teacher. It’s a tremendously difficult and responsibility-charged profession, one that I strongly believe could be made better for teachers and students by equipping both with the training that would make a difference: public speaking. Other than scientists, I cannot think of another community where this is more urgent. The lack of public speaking training for teachers and students in the 21st century is an educational crisis. It’s time for us to separate education from politics and focus on the skills that the imminent future requires of our children. In a world invaded by technology, artificial intelligence and a dehumanization of communication, teaching our young what to say and how to say it is an emergency. According to the latest Pearson Global Learner Survey*, 78% of people believe they need to improve their soft skills to be competitive; a similar article published by Forbes** last year identifies communication and storytelling skills as one of the top 10 skills to acquire to be competitive in a robots-dominated future.

The lack of Public Speaking training for teachers and students in the 21st century is an educational crisis

If you agree with everything you have read so far, what can you do to drive change? Here is my 6-point action plan for you and your child:

  • Ask your School’s headteacher about public speaking training provision for teachers and students: if you get a blank face, consider changing school as quickly as you can or applying for the headteacher’s job
  • Speak with other parents and mobilize those who show an interest
  • Raise your voice in social media and in person at school assemblies and meetings
  • Pressure your local elected representative to lobby for short-term funds for public speaking training for teachers and students until our education laws change
  • Pressure your local elected representative for a de-politicization of education in the long-term
  • Ask for help from your local Toastmasters Club https://www.toastmasters.org/education/youth-leadership-program

One of the best things in life is freedom of speech. And using it to help those who come behind us is one of the most rewarding. If you wish you had been taught public speaking at school, if you feel the same urgency as I do, if you are parent, a sister, an auntie or a friend of a teacher or a child in school age…speak up for this cause and join the conversation that will change a generation! Public Speaking for Schools.

*Pearson Global Learner Survey: https://www.pearson.com/corporate/news/global-learner-survey.html

**What Are The Top 10 Soft Skills For The Future Of Work? https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2019/02/22/what-are-the-top-10-soft-skills-for-the-future-of-work/#1c51becf7f1f

This Forbes article is a covert advert for an online learning platform but still relevant.

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