Defining 21st Century Skills

I know. We have to prepare our students for a future we can’t even imagine. They’re going to be doing jobs that don’t exist yet using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems. I’ve heard this from Karl Fisch and Ian Jukes and a bunch of people who stole it from them.

cohdraOur students have to be technologically literate. The enGauge project at NCREL does a pretty good job of defining that term (mostly along the lines of ISTE’s old NETS Standards for Students), but technological literacy reminds me too much of “computer literacy,” which is what the kids of the ’90s had to have. Turn it on, write a letter, balance your checkbook, save and print, and you’re all set.

Then there are the 21st Century Skills. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has been around longer than the century itself. They do a reasonable job of defining what they mean by 21st century skills in their Framework for Learning in the 21st Century, which divides the skills into six areas. The aforementioned enGauge project’s take on the concept is a bit more detailed, covering its five skills in 88 pages.

But I like simple definitions. When asked what 21st century skills are, I should be able to give a clear definition in under a minute. No one who’s going to ask me that question cares enough to listen longer than that. So here goes. There are four 21st century skills:

Globalization: Students need a solid understanding of world culures, and not just the hackneyed stereotypes from an Ameri-centric perspective or even an in-depth study of “world” culture that ignores Africa, most of Asia, and almost all of South America.They’re going to be interacting with people from all over the world, and they need to have some common ground.

Innovation: The United States maintained its standard of living in the 21st century by innovating. It’s estimated that within 25 years, all jobs for which an algorithm can be defined will be outsourced. If you can make a checklist of what to do in any situation, your days are numbered. If your job can be automated or outsourced, it will be.
Information: With 3,000 books published every day and 1,500,000,000 gigabytes of new information being produced every year (see the Fisch and Jukes links above), our students have to know how to find what they’re looking for, determine the relevance and reliability of their sources, and filter out the noise.

Collaboration: You can’t work alone anymore. Everyone is part of a team, or part of a community. We do things together. Lots of those teams only interact online. Many of the people on them are from very diverse cultures and are geographically very far apart. That leads us back to globalization.

That’s a fairly simple overview. Actually, I think the Time article from last year summed it up fairly well.

3 thoughts on “Defining 21st Century Skills

  1. You are so correct with the statement and I quote, “You can’t work alone anymore. Everyone is part of a team, or part of a community. We do things together.”
    From a teacher’s standpoint- I have been trying to accomplish this for years. Once teachers realize that this is a collaborative effort and not a prize for individuality- I truly believe we have succeeded. This is not only for technology but also for every subject. Not only do students need to learn how to interact and share ideas, but teachers do to. The world is flat and America needs to realize that it is not the only innovative country out there. We have to teach our young children to be open minded and more importantly to learn how to interact with others in an effective and constructive way. What better way than to use the internet and connectivity.

    Mr. Wasil

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