Skills to promote lifetime success


What skills best promote lifelong learning and lifetime success?

James Heckman is Professor of Economics University of Chicago, Nobel Prize Winner and is regarded as an expert in economics of human development and human potential. Read more about Professor Heckman here.

The character skills that are crucial are summed up in Heckman’s acronym “Ocean”: openness (curiosity, willing to learn); consciousness (staying on task); extroversion (outgoing, friendly); agreeableness (helpful); neuroticism (attention to detail, persistence). These are the skills that enable children to learn; without them even the best teachers can do little. These are the skills that are predictive of outcomes such as educational achievement, obesity, offender rates, employment and smoking. The single biggest predictor of longevity and school achievement is conscientiousness – which is effectively a form of self-control.’

The Guardian. Friday 20 May 2011

Character is a skill, not a trait. At any age, character skills are stable across different tasks, but skills can change over the life cycle. Character is shaped by families, schools, and social environments. Skill development is a dynamic process, in which the early years lay the foundation for successful investment in later years.’

Heckman, J. & Kautz, T. November 2013.  Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions That Improve Character and Cognition. Introduction.

Skills enable people. They are capacities to function. Greater levels of skill foster social inclusion and promote economic and social mobility. They generate economic productivity and create social well-being. Skills give agency to people to shape their lives, to create new skills and to flourish.’

OECD.  Nov. 2014. Fostering and Measuring Skills Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success.  p 8.

Do you think character skills development is crucial to lifetime success?


Do you agree with Professor Heckman that the development of cognitive abilities is only one part of the education story?
Do you think Professor Heckman's theory is too simplistic?


Renowned early childhood educator Dr Lilian Katz says that:

One of the most important goals of all education, at every level, is to support and strengthen the disposition to go on learning throughout life.’

She says it is important to make a distinction between intellectual goals and academic goals in learning.  STEM in the Early Years

Do you think there is a difference between intellectual and academic skills?


We would love to hear what you think. Please post your thoughts in the comment box below.


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  1. I also agree with Tina Adamo because learning is not dependent on any kind of understanding. Knowledge and skills improve with learning automatically and make us more knowledgeable.

    I’m agree with professor Heckman that cognitive abilities is the part of education but we need to grab concept behind it.

  2. I also believe that the sum of the whole being greater than its parts, and the willingness to try something to learn rather than achieve a specific outcome are essential philosophies. We can all be great individuals but the real power comes from working out how you can best work with others to achieve goals, dreams and move mountains. It seems to me that in today’s world it is very easy and frequently encouraged to be self promotional. Thats fine but no one person does it alone and I believe that a deep-seeded recognition of this fact encourages people to reach out and work with others, or helps an individual to alleviate to a degree personal struggle which can bring people undone. Trying with a willingness to fail and learn also encourages action rather than procrastination and an inquiring and scientific mind that analyses what worked and what didn’t. This is how we all get better, by concentrating on the long game rather quick results and instant gratification.

    • Could not agree more Dan. Some of our own school research has demonstrated the disenfranchised nature of some of our children who struggle to be connected to community where self interest is not at the core of their thinking. Hence our work towards a Reggio inspired approach has begun showing a transformation in this thinking.

    • Dear Dan and Gennaro
      So great to get your responses, loving the conversation
      Agree, the sum of the parts is what matters most. Change and takes all of us, we need each other.

      My reading of Heckman is that he too is concerned of the focus on the smallest units of learning-I am not saying that small units of skill are not important they are-but I believe that they have to be connected and set within conceptual understandings and networks of knowledge and skills. I have been wondering lately about whether it would be helpful to think of the cognitive and communicative aspects of teaching and learning. Am interested to hear what others think?

  3. While academic development is important there is growing evidence that on its own, this focus may lead the child to deficiencies in her or his ability utilise this learning within a broader context.I would describe Intellectual learning as being able to make sense of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the cognitive learning and utilising this in a practical and common sense way.

    Lilian Katz (1999) suggests while academic goals address small units of knowledge and skills, intellectual goals address dispositions or habits of mind that include a variety of tendencies to interpret experience. It is reasonable to assume that the major intellectual dispositions are in-born in all children, but that unless the curriculum provides contexts in which the intellectual dispositions can be exercised and strengthened, they may be weakened or even lost. However, a strong academic “instructivist” approach may undermine the disposition to use the very knowledge and skills so intensely instructed. Thus the appropriate curriculum for young children is one that addresses the acquisition of academic skills (for example, how to read) in such a way that the dispositions to use them are also strengthened (for example, liking to read)

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