16 Skills for 21st Century Education

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In March 2015 the World Economic Forum held a meeting in Dubai with a focus on education. They released a paper that identified 16 critical skills for the 21st century.

The skills were clustered into three areas with learning processes focusing on building foundational literacies, expanding them into competencies, and developing consequent character qualities.

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I was recently called by a radio station and asked to comment on the list and was surprised by the amount of interaction the commentary elicited. Gen X and older Millennial parents are really concerned, and worried, about the education their children are receiving.

One of the foundational assumptions we make in TomorrowToday Global about the mid-term future of work is that a significant number of the jobs that Gen Z / iTouch Generation (those born after 2008) will apply for when they start work don’t exist yet. Factors like artificial intelligence, robotics, Internet of things, industrial internet, quantum computing and either technology advancements will make some current jobs redundant, while developing a whole other range of jobs that aren’t currently possible with existing technology. The implications of this for modern education are that we need to be preparing our children for the workplace in a whole new way.

Traditionally education focused on the transmission of knowledge and information from teacher to students. This process worked because the teacher new things about the world of work that that student was entering and was able to transmit relevant information in a lecture format. The implications of the future world of work for education today are that teachers no longer have relevant information to transmit. Teachers must instead focus on the developments of abilities, within the students, that will enable them to succeed in a future that nobody has a clear view of at this point.

With this in mind the WEF model has got it backwards.

Foundational literacies worked in the world where these elements were relatively consistent. We cannot, however, make the assumption that these skills are still foundational or relevant to the future. In fact, building education on these assumptions could be doing our children the greatest disservice possible. The model needs to be reversed.

Education should focus on the developments of core character qualities. The qualities of Curiosity, Initiative, Persistence, Adaptability, Leadership, Social and Cultural Awareness are in fact the basic foundational requirements for success in a world of work that is still largely unmapped. When our children have these abilities they will be able to develop the competencies required for that world. Drawing on these competencies and character qualities they will then be able to identify the relevant literacies needed to build careers appropriate to this unmapped future. Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 7.23.12 AM

There are some emerging trends in education that are beginning to assist with making this change.

Flipped Classrooms

Flipped classrooms work in the opposite way to how teaching has traditionally been done. Students are sent home, and using technology tools and platforms, they download and access the information that teachers have traditionally focused on in the classroom. The students are responsible for self exposure to the information that they are working through and learning at that particular juncture. Classroom activity is then focused on what was traditionally given as homework.

Flipping the learning process around puts a different focus on teacher-student interaction. Historically it was on information transmission but in this model the teachers instead spend their time focusing on ensuring understanding not information retention.

This model understands that information is freely available and delivered by the world’s leading experts in various online forums. Students can more effectively have the information transmitted to them using technology tools. Teachers are now released from a curriculum focused and driven class experience to one that makes better use of the key difference between them and their students, namely, life experience.

No More Homework

A second trend is doing away with homework. Gavin Keller is the headmaster of Sun Valley Primary School a school that decided to drop homework at the end of 2015. This came at the end of a focus group process in the school community to see if homework was still relevant and beneficial. The school hosted two focus groups over a six-month period, with those in one group doing homework, and the others not. There were two, very intensive assessments, and the grades of those who didn’t do homework way exceeded even what was expected.

Play as an effective learning tool has been lost by excessive focus on academic information transfer. Parents of Generation Z / iTouch generation are seeing the deficiencies and shortcomings of applying the same learning processes to their children as were applied to them. Creating space for experiences and other non-structured or programmed ways of learning, that are more integrated with the fabric of social change, enables the developments of character qualities and competencies that will stand them in good stead for the future world of work.

Education is very measurement and assessment orientated. We measure and assess for effectiveness of information transfer, ability to regurgitate this information, and evidence of understanding aligned with our perspective of relevance. To this end, we are getting graduates who meet our expectations and are well positioned to succeed in a world consistently similar to today. We are doing our graduates, and students, and children a significant disservice.

We will know that we have made appropriate shifts in our education focus when our measurements and assessment processes have changed. Character and competencies trump literacies in preparation for the new world of work.

As parents, teachers, lecturer’s, and leaders of future employees in a world of work that we cannot, at this time, even imagine we need to have the courage to push back on archaic and uninformed approaches to our children’s future.

Change will come when we have the courage to challenge the status quo and insist that educational institutions shift their way of doing things in order to achieve what is in the best interest of our students, graduates, and children.

http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/it-was-having-no-benefit-school-principal-who-axed-homework-20151124

http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/stnews/2015/11/22/Top-marks-for-school-that-scrapped-homework

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEFUSA_NewVisionforEducation_Report2015.pdf

https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7081.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flipped_classroom

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3 thoughts on “16 Skills for 21st Century Education”

  1. Owen Buchanan says:

    I smile at the naivety of this article assuming that change and unknown jobs is a new thing. I look at the changes in my 90 year old father life-time. He had the worst possible “backward”, conservative education and yet he actually thrived working in jobs never dreamed of when he was at school in the 1920’s and 1930’s! His education did teach him integrity, curiosity and grit though. I’d wager the rest of the list comes a poor second.

  2. Papa Bless says:

    @Owen Buchanan I personally think this is an amateur article since there are things it implies can be taught involving “character qualities” and “competencies”. While these areas can be encouraged, it all boils down to the student and his/hers environment/conditions. Therefore, the environment of shool system must be revamped. Regarding your father’s “integrity, curiosity, and grit” which ties back to “character qualities”, does not apply to the whole sample size of 21st-century students. In short, it’s a shabby article, but nonetheless, a progressive article where your anecdote is irrelevant .

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