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My Two Key Skills: What are Yours?

 By   Shlomo Maital

Qwerty keyboard on an old Underwood typewriter

   After writing magazine columns on our failing schools, I reflected on what I myself learned in school.

   The two key skills I learned?   In high school, Grade 9 – touch typing. I learned to type very fast, 80 words a minute, owing to strong incentives to do boring exercises again and again. This turned out to be a crucial skill. I was able to put my thoughts on to paper very rapidly, as I could type almost as fast as I could speak. Probably, in another life, I would have chosen to be a journalist rather than an economist. That skill that I learned in 1956 has served me well for 63 years. I even worked one summer as a typist, typing invoices — I can touch-type numbers very fast, too.

       Note: I still have my mother’s old Underwood typewriter, with the QWERTY keyboard, designed so that the keys, operated by spring mechanisms, should not clash and tangle with one another… Qwerty is still the standard, even though typing has long since been digital – showing the inertia of human behavior. My late mother worked as a typist for the Provincial Government, Dept. of Agriculture, in Regina, Saskathewan; I’m forever grateful she urged me to learn touch typing. 

   The second key skill I learned was as a freshman in college, at Queen’s University, Kingston Ontario. All freshmen in Arts & Science, in those days, had to take Philosophy 1, given by A.R.C. Duncan, a Scottish philosopher of the old school. It was a tough rigorous course, covering the 3 branches of Philosophy – ethics, metaphysics and logic. I learned critical thinking, how to fashion a logical argument, what the various approaches to right and wrong are….. memorable, and something I use daily.  

   I fear today’s young people do not have the same privilege, and do not acquire crucial critical thinking skills.


   Dear reader: What, on reflection, did YOU learn in school, that turned out to be supremely valuable and relevant?  

Kids’ Scores Rise When They Care About Other Kids & Teachers

By Shlomo Maital  

  school caring

     It’s summer vacation time for school kids.  A good time to reflect on what they will return to, in September.

     In an Israeli weekly, psychiatrist Ron Berger, who specializes in helping children all over the world who suffer from post-trauma stress disorder, recounts an experiment tried at a small school in northern Israel.  The school did poorly in national performance tests.  Then Berger and colleagues introduced a program, “A call to giving”,  which focused on two key elements: 

  • Mindfulness —       “intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”. Simply being aware of one’s own feelings and thoughts in the present.
  • Compassion — sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.


The idea?  Create strong bonds among the schoolchildren, first by making each of them aware of their own feelings and identity, then developing a caring attitude toward others, include the teacher. 

   So – what in the world has this to do with test scores?

  Well, apparently a lot.   The school now scores among the highest, in Israeli schools, in national tests.

   Why?   The simple answer could be —   kids study best when they like the place in which they go to school, like other kids,   like the teachers, and find that the teachers like them.  Apparently, children do not thrive in an environment where there is intense pressure to achieve high grades,  and where each individual essentially is out for themselves, sink or swim,  instead of being part of a tight-knit social community that helps one another.

    Is this naïve?  Innocent?  Simple-minded?  Perhaps.  But at least at once school, it works.   It’s worth a try.


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital