Problem-Solving: The Most Important Skill Not Taught in School

Posted October 5, 2020 by Aisha Abdullah, PhD

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “problem-solving”? Maybe it brings to mind troubleshooting a design issue or managing a crisis during a group project. Perhaps you think of word problems about two trains leaving different stations at the same time.

The truth is that problem-solving isn’t merely a task; it’s a skill that proves invaluable in every career path. As a 21st Century Skill, problem-solving is at the core of college readiness and workforce development. The ability to analyze situations and implement innovative and creative solutions is a much sought after skill in the fastest-growing job sectors, from tech and informatics to sustainable development and healthcare.

Problem-solving is an especially vital skill for the upcoming generation, with global issues like infectious disease outbreaks, climate change, limited resources for a growing population, and ethical tech ever-present in the lives of students. Despite its growing importance, many students don’t have the opportunity in school to learn or develop their problem-solving skills.

April Michele, Executive Director, shares her passion for the importance of problem solving “When students apply their problem solving skills to futuristic or local topics they are experiencing real life application of vital skills.  They practice the process many times during their experiences in FPS – on topics such as drones, wearable technology, recycling in their schools, helping elders with technology, and the list goes on.  Each time they work through a problem, the process becomes embedded in their personal toolbox, empowering them with a process for whatever problems they encounter in their lives.  I feel secure knowing that FPSers are prepared as the leaders for our future!”

Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) offers students just such an opportunity.  The international program empowers students to learn the problem-solving process and use their creativity, critical thinking, and analytical skills to solve some of the most pressing global issues. Open to students, the academic competition has three divisions: Junior (grades 4-6), Middle (grades 7-9), and Senior (grades 10-12).

FPSPI has four different ways for students to start solving problems:

  • Global Issues Problem Solving – In this team or individual competition, students research a series of topics related to global issues and use a six-step creative problem-solving process to develop solutions and present a plan of action
  • Community Problem Solving – In this team or individual competition, students propose solutions to problems in their own communities using a six-step creative problem-solving process. Then the students TAKE action to enact positive change.
  • Scenario Writing – In this individual competition, students write a futuristic short story based on 1 of 5 Future Problem Solving topics.
  • Scenario Performance –  In this individual competition, students develop and perform an oral story based on 1 of 5 Future Problem Solving topics.

Problem-Solving in the Classroom and Virtually

If you’re interested in bringing problem-solving into the classroom, FPSPI also offers a non-competitive Action-based Problem Solving resource. The curriculum is designed to introduce primary students to the creative problem-solving process through hands-on activities.

Future Problem Solving has partnered with Renzulli Learning to offer virtual opportunities.  The content is designed to be a virtual offering for students to explore lessons, activities, and the six-step process.  This is not a substitute for registering for official participation within local affiliates which is where the official Future Scenes, competitive experiences, and authentic assessment and feedback are provided.

For more information about problem-solving and FPSPI, visit