Date published:15 July 2023
Olli-Pekka Heinonen, Director General of the International Baccalaureate
Developing oracy skills can help individuals to navigate complex social and professional environments, writes Olli-Pekka Heinonen.
How many times have you heard someone say they were afraid of public speaking? Whether it was a colleague, a family member, a friend—or even yourself—standing up in front of a crowd is enough to send shivers down the spines of many. On the other hand, some seem destined to be in the spotlight and positively thrive in situations where they can hold court.
People often assume that being good at speechmaking is an innate gift, leaving no hope for everyone else to reach such levels of poise. This could not, however, be further from the truth. Indeed, the ability to express oneself concisely, clearly and convincingly is a skill that can be acquired just as you are learning to read or are taught to add up.
While literacy and numeracy are widely recognised as the essential academic skills, the importance of oracy—the ability to express oneself through speech—is often overlooked. Literacy enables individuals to comprehend and share ideas through writing, while numeracy equips them with the ability to understand and work with numbers.
Likewise, oracy empowers individuals to effectively communicate through spoken language. It plays a vital role in personal, social, and academic contexts, enabling individuals to engage in meaningful dialogues, convey complex concepts, and articulate their perspectives. Having a voice and being heard is vital, in that it allows students to have the agency to transfer their needs and aspirations into action.
In a landmark speech on Thursday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer promised to bolster young people’s speaking skills in schools across the country with the goal of boosting social mobility. This is a big development in education policy, and one which is long overdue.
At the International Baccalaureate (IB) we recognise the significance of oracy and incorporate it into the curriculum across all our programmes. The IB emphasises a well-rounded education that extends beyond rote learning. It aims to develop students who are intellectually curious, globally aware, and effective communicators, and encourages active participation and critical thinking. Students engage in structured discussions and debates, where they learn to express their opinions, listen actively to others, and constructively challenge ideas.
Oracy can play a pivotal role in building self-confidence in young people. The ability to express oneself eloquently and articulate ideas effectively provides a sense of empowerment. When children are confident in their oral communication skills, they are more likely to actively engage in discussions, voice their opinions, and contribute meaningfully to various settings. This newfound self-assurance opens doors to opportunities and enables them to assert themselves in academic, professional, and social spheres, setting them up for success.
When pupils communicate effectively, they can actively participate in classroom discussions, ask thoughtful questions, and engage in critical thinking. By expressing their ideas clearly and coherently, they can demonstrate their knowledge and engage with complex concepts.
Moreover, strong oracy skills facilitate effective collaboration, enabling children to work effectively in groups and contribute constructively to projects. These capabilities enhance academic performance and lay the groundwork for higher educational attainment, offering pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds a route map to achievement.
Speaking skills are not only vital in the classroom, but to getting on in life, and can foster interpersonal skills such as active listening, empathy, and adaptability. Children who can communicate clearly and persuasively are more likely to build positive relationships, resolve conflicts amicably, and navigate difficult social situations. These transferable life skills enhance social mobility by improving children’s chances of securing employment, networking effectively, and succeeding in professional environments.