Skills Over Grades: Preparing Students for the Real World

The Role of Parents in Skill Development

Greg Twemlow
5 min readMay 24, 2024

Education’s traditional focus on grades and a final average grade for years 7–12 is generally considered inadequate for preparing students for the challenges they’ll face as soon as they leave their high school bubble.

Think of a metaphor of skills as a counterbalance to life’s challenges.

Think of skills as a counterbalance to life’s challenges by Greg Twemlow

Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, in a recent commencement speech, eloquently dismantled the conventional emphasis on the 7–12 average grade, urging high school graduates to focus on solving problems, doing good work, and being good people. This perspective resonates deeply with my experiences and research in education, which led me to develop the Adaptive Skills Pathway pedagogy model, which prioritizes essential life skills over arbitrary academic metrics.

Greg Twemlow designed the Adaptive Skills Pathway pedagogy as a guide for teachers and parents of year 7–12 students
Greg Twemlow designed the Adaptive Skills Pathway pedagogy as a guide for teachers and parents of year 7–12 students

The Real World Does Not Care About Your Grades

Reflecting on my decade-long academic journey, I realize that my obsession with grades overshadowed the true purpose of education: learning and personal growth. As an educator, I’ve seen this same fixation on GPA among my students. While intended to incentivize learning, the current grading system fails to prepare students for real-world challenges.

Employers value skills like problem-solving, adaptability, and ethical behavior far more than a high GPA in the professional world.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s speech highlighted three qualities that truly matter in life:

  1. Solving Problems: Tyson emphasized the importance of problem-solving skills over rote memorization. In a world where challenges constantly evolve, thinking critically and devising innovative solutions is invaluable.
  2. Doing Good Work: Success is measured not by grades but by the quality and impact of one’s efforts. This principle underscores the need for diligence, commitment to excellence, and a continuous drive to improve.
  3. Being a Good Person: Ethical behavior and moral integrity are crucial in building trust and fostering collaboration. Maintaining a strong moral compass is essential in an era where ethical lapses are all too common.

Skills Are a Student’s Secret Weapon

Parents and teachers play a crucial role in helping students understand the value of practical skills. Through my work at Future Skills Studio, I have designed the Adaptive Skills Pathway, a pedagogical model comprising nine crucial skills for life. This model empowers students to shape their destinies by equipping them with the tools to navigate and thrive in a complex world.

The Adaptive Skills Pathway: Building a Future-Ready Skill Set

The Adaptive Skills Pathway is structured as a pyramid, layered into Foundational, Strategic, and Apex skills. This structure builds from basic interpersonal skills to complex leadership abilities, creating a comprehensive skill set that supports students’ personal and professional growth.

  1. Foundational Skills: Empathy, Collaboration, Resilience, Initiative, and Creativity form the bedrock of development. These skills are essential for understanding others, working effectively in teams, overcoming challenges, and thinking innovatively.
  2. Strategic Skills: Adaptability, Communication, and Discernment elevate students’ capabilities, making them more effective in complex scenarios. These skills are crucial for interacting with new ideas, articulating thoughts clearly, and making informed decisions.
  3. Apex Skill: Leadership is the culmination of all skills, enabling students to inspire and guide others towards a shared vision. It’s about influence, integrity, and strategic thinking.

Agency* Is Your Brand

I urge students to embrace their Agency — the skills, knowledge, and confidence to effect influence. Here’s how:

  • Cultivate Confidence: Engage actively in experiential learning programs to practice and enhance real-world skills.
  • Reflect and Grow: After each experience, reflect on what you’ve learned and how you can apply this learning to new challenges.
  • Take the Initiative: Use your skills to start projects, improve processes, and make a difference in your community.

By developing these skills, students unlock doors to opportunities and confidently navigate their future. In the 21st century, skills are indeed a secret weapon. Embrace them to shape a better world.

The Role of Parents in Skill Development

Parents must actively participate in their children’s skill development because K-12 curricula are primarily anchored in 19th-century industrial models focused on economic self-reliance and pragmatic knowledge.

Traditional education systems often emphasize standardized testing and rote learning, neglecting the nurturing of creativity and practical skills essential for the 21st century.

Parents have a role in bridging this gap by fostering environments that emphasize experiential learning and skill development:

  • Encourage Curiosity and Problem-Solving: Create opportunities for children to explore their interests and solve real-world problems. This can be as simple as engaging in hands-on projects at home or exploring new hobbies together.
  • Promote Ethical and Moral Values: Model and reinforce the importance of integrity, empathy, and respect. Discuss ethical dilemmas and encourage children to think critically about their actions and their impact on others.
  • Support Creative Endeavors: Encourage children to pursue their passions, whether through the arts, sports, or other creative activities. Creativity nurtures the soul and develops innovative thinking, which is essential for future challenges.

Aristotle once noted the lack of consensus on what the young should learn for virtue or the best life, highlighting the timeless challenge of balancing intellectual and character education. Parents can ensure a holistic approach to education that prepares them for economic self-reliance and a fulfilling and impactful life by actively participating in their children's skill development.

For more information or to discuss how these principles can be applied to your context, please connect with me on LinkedIn or email me at

*Agency: a concept first developed by the Stoic philosophers of Ancient Greece and Rome, which means the skills, knowledge, and confidence to effect influence.

About the author: Greg Twemlow, Founder of Future Skills Studio.

Future Skills Studio Founder, Greg Twemlow

Greg Twemlow: Sharing what I’ve learned from my career of 35 years as a citizen of the world, parent, corporate executive, entrepreneur, and, since 2018, CEO of Future Skills Studio, focused on experiential learning programs for young people.



Greg Twemlow

Pioneering AI-Enhanced Educational Strategies | Champion of Lifelong Learning & Student Success in the GenAI Era