07 Sep EDUCATION IN THE 21st CENTURY
Posted at 20:19h in 21st Century Education, 21st Century Learners, 21st Century Schools by Maxine Driscoll0 Comments
THE VALUE OF A 21ST CENTURY EDUCATION
Success looks different now than it did in the past. High-achieving people are frequently choosing to opt out of the traditional job market and create their own jobs. Successful people increasingly expect to be able to:
- Live and work anywhere in the world
- Travel as often as they like, for as long as they like
- Change what they’re working on to keep up with their interests and abilities
- Enjoy earning potential that is not capped by a salary figure
- Work with peers across the globe
- Outsource things they don’t like doing
- Choose their own hours and office
For people who don’t live like this it can sound far-fetched, but this kind of lifestyle is growing rapidly. What does it take to access and thrive with this kind of freedom? The answer is surprisingly simple, and can be best summed up as ‘a 21st century education’.
20TH CENTURY EDUCATION
In the preface to the 2011 revised edition of his book ‘Out of Our Minds’, Sir Ken Robinson observes that ‘The more complex the world becomes, the more creative we need to be to meet its challenges’, and this is becoming increasingly clear in education and the workplace. People now need to be creative to be successful, but while the idea of success has changed, the education system has not always adjusted its methods or goals to meet it.
A 20th century education emphasised compliance and conformity over creativity, two skills that were necessary to do well in a professional or corporate environment and to hold down a good job for decades. Compliance and conformity are now a relic, but they are still key values in many schools, informing policy even when not being expressly promoted to students.
In his book ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?’, educational thought leader Yong Zhao warns, “National standards and national curriculum, enforced by high-stakes testing, can at best teach students what is prescribed… As a result, students talented in other areas never have the opportunity to discover those talents. Students with broader interests are discouraged, not rewarded. The system results in a population with similar skills in a narrow spectrum of talents. But especially in today’s society, innovation and creativity are needed in many areas, some as yet undiscovered.”
Unfortunately, most students continue to be educated in the same way as they were in the past, being taught a standardised curriculum through rote learning and individualised testing, at a one-size-fits-all pace. Far too many students are struggling to learn because they are disengaged and lack motivation. Why go to school when you could learn the same information faster by watching a Youtube video or playing a computer game? Why memorise facts for a test when you have all the information in the palm of your hand anyway? Past methods make little sense to today’s students who learn and think differently, and they make little sense in relation to the changing workplace, where making use of information is now far more valuable than simply knowing things. Schools are failing to teach students to respond to rapid change and how to handle new information because they are clinging to obsolete methods.
21ST CENTURY STUDENTS
- Generation Z – born between 1995 and 2009 – most do not remember life without the internet, and have had technology like smartphones, iPads, smartboards and other devices available throughout most of their schooling.
- Generation Alpha – born since 2010 – they are younger than smartphones, the iPad, 3D television, Instagram, and music streaming apps like Spotify. This is the first generation likely to see in the 22nd century in large numbers.
Growing up with this level of technology means growing up with a completely unprecedented amount of information at your fingertips. There are kids who have never been more than a few seconds away from the answers to their questions, with everything just a quick search away. They are able to teach themselves about any topic they are interested in without even leaving their bedroom.The current cohort of students come from Generation Z and Generation Alpha. These two generations have grown up with advanced technology as a given in their homes and classrooms. They are digital natives, as comfortable using apps and code as their grandparents were flipping pages.
Generations Z and Alpha are also the most internationally connected in history. They encounter people online from all over the world, and can easily make friends on the other side of the planet before they have even left their home state. Schools and parents are also increasingly offering children and young people the opportunity to travel, creating a truly borderless experience of learning.
The students in our schools today are intelligent, independent and extremely capable. They are skilled with technology and comfortable with global and intercultural communication. We can expect that future generations are going to have even more experience in these areas.
A 21ST CENTURY EDUCATION
A 21st century education is about giving students the skills they need to succeed in this new world, and helping them grow the confidence to practice those skills. With so much information readily available to them, 21st century skills focus more on making sense of that information, sharing and using it in smart ways.
The coalition P21 (Partnership for 21st Century Learning) has identified four ‘Skills for Today’:
- Critical thinking
These four themes are not to be understood as units or even subjects, but as themes that should be overlaid across all curriculum mapping and strategic planning. They should be part of every lesson in the same way as literacy and numeracy.
Creativity is about thinking through information in new ways, making new connections and coming up with innovative solutions to problems. Critical thinking is about analysing information and critiquing claims. Communication is understanding things well enough to share them clearly with other people. Collaboration is about teamwork and the collective genius of a group that is more than the sum of its parts.
There are other skills that are important, which fall within these four areas. Entrepreneurship can be considered a skill of its own. Inquiry and problem solving are key. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the most important keys to successful work and relationships. The bottom line? Education needs to be all about empowering students with transferable skills that will hold up to a rapidly changing world, not prescribed content that has been chosen for its past relevance.
While digital integration is also fundamental to a thorough 21st century education, it is not enough to simply add technology to existing teaching methods. Technology must be used strategically to benefit students. Students are increasingly advanced users of technology even as they enter school for the first time, so this can often mean being open to the possibilities presented rather than attempting to teach and prescribe the use of certain programs. Many a classroom ‘technology class’ has baffled children by attempting to teach them about programs, websites and hardware that are no longer relevant or that they understand far better than the teacher does.
21st century schools are also responding to demand by moving into international education. ISC Research have tracked these changes in their research. In the past, international schools were primarily for the families of military personnel and diplomats. In the year 2000 there were 2,500 international schools globally with fewer than one million students attending, but in December 2016 there were over 8,600 international schools with almost 4.5 million students. The vast majority of these students are now local children hoping to attend university in the West. Schools which aren’t traditional ‘international schools’ are also striving to create an internationally connected education through travel opportunities, exchange programs, school partnerships, international school leadership, and online communication. Learning to be a global citizen is crucial in a world where technology is erasing borders, and you don’t necessarily need an international education masters degree to incorporate this into your teaching.
21st century teachers need to serve as a guide or mentor for their students, not as the all-knowing sage providing them with all their information. With so much access to resources of all kinds, children are invariably going to know more than teachers on different topics, and be a step ahead of the technology in use. Teachers need to be empowered as facilitators and motivators for learning, so that they can empower their students in turn.
This shift is great news for teachers. Instead of struggling to give kids all the information they need to succeed in areas the teacher knows little about, they can support students as they make their own steps into different fields. It’s about preparing kids to go beyond their parents and teachers, making sure they have the skills to do it, and then helping along the way as they build confidence to achieve.
This means teachers need to be forward-thinking, curious and flexible. Teachers must be learners: learning new ways of teaching, and learning alongside their students. Simply asking questions like “what will my students need twenty or fifty years from now? How can I help give them those skills?” can change your mindset, make you a leader, and help you bring about change in your classroom, school and community.
- Start today: Practical tips for a 21st century school
- Invite students to contribute to strategy meetings and decision making
- Create adaptable learning environments suited to different sorts of collaboration and group work
- Encourage students to take ownership of community service programs
- Find ways to connect students to people their age in other parts of the world
- Review your use of technology in the classroom: how can it be made more effective?
In a time when mental health and wellbeing is one of the biggest challenges facing young people, a 21st century education can give students the skills they need both for now and for the future. Skills like communication, critical thinking and EQ go beyond the workplace: they can help people through the most difficult times of their life. Finding your passion, doing it well, having a sense of purpose and focus, and being able to control your own work and life are all significant steps on the path to wellbeing.
The ability to think critically and creatively, to collaborate with others, and to communicate clearly sets students up for success in their careers, but also empowers them to lead happier, healthier lives.
Bringing your school into the 21st century requires taking the lead instead of trailing behind, actively seeking out new ways of doing things and staying in touch with the world outside of the education system. Change on a broad scale requires leadership in the classroom and across the school community, but every teacher can take steps immediately to help their students succeed.
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The term 21st century skills refers to a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that are believed—by educators, school reformers, college professors, employers, and others—to be critically important to success in today’s world, particularly in collegiate programs and contemporary careers and workplaces. Generally speaking, 21st century skills can be applied in all academic subject areas, and in all educational, career, and civic settings throughout a student’s life.
It should be noted that the “21st century skills” concept encompasses a wide-ranging and amorphous body of knowledge and skills that is not easy to define and that has not been officially codified or categorized. While the term is widely used in education, it is not always defined consistently, which can lead to confusion and divergent interpretations. In addition, a number of related terms—including applied skills, cross-curricular skills, cross-disciplinary skills, interdisciplinary skills, transferable skills, transversal skills, noncognitive skills, and soft skills, among others—are also widely used in reference to the general forms of knowledge and skill commonly associated with 21st century skills. While these different terms may not be strictly synonymous, and they may have divergent or specialized meanings in certain technical contexts, these diverse sets of skills are being addressed in this one entry for the purposes of practicality and usefulness.
While the specific skills deemed to be “21st century skills” may be defined, categorized, and determined differently from person to person, place to place, or school to school, the term does reflect a general—if somewhat loose and shifting—consensus. The following list provides a brief illustrative overview of the knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits commonly associated with 21st century skills:
- Critical thinking, problem solving, reasoning, analysis, interpretation, synthesizing information
- Research skills and practices, interrogative questioning
- Creativity, artistry, curiosity, imagination, innovation, personal expression
- Perseverance, self-direction, planning, self-discipline, adaptability, initiative
- Oral and written communication, public speaking and presenting, listening
- Leadership, teamwork, collaboration, cooperation, facility in using virtual workspaces
- Information and communication technology (ICT) literacy, media and internet literacy, data interpretation and analysis, computer programming
- Civic, ethical, and social-justice literacy
- Economic and financial literacy, entrepreneurialism
- Global awareness, multicultural literacy, humanitarianism
- Scientific literacy and reasoning, the scientific method
- Environmental and conservation literacy, ecosystems understanding
- Health and wellness literacy, including nutrition, diet, exercise, and public health and safety
While many individuals and organizations have proposed definitions of 21st century skills, and most states have adopted learning standards that include or address cross-disciplinary skills, the following are three popular models that can serve to illustrate the concept and its applications in education:
For related discussions, see content knowledge and learning standards.
Generally speaking, the 21st century skills concept is motivated by the belief that teaching students the most relevant, useful, in-demand, and universally applicable skills should be prioritized in today’s schools, and by the related belief that many schools may not sufficiently prioritize such skills or effectively teach them to students. The basic idea is that students, who will come of age in the 21st century, need to be taught different skills than those learned by students in the 20th century, and that the skills they learn should reflect the specific demands that will placed upon them in a complex, competitive, knowledge-based, information-age, technology-driven economy and society.
While 21st century skills are relevant to all areas of schooling and academic study, and the skills may be taught in a wide variety of in-school and outside-of-school settings, there are a few primary ways in which 21st century skills intersect with efforts to improve schools:
- Teachers may be more intentional about teaching cross-disciplinary skills in subject-area courses. For example, in a science course students might be required to learn research methods that can also be applied in other disciplines; articulate technical scientific concepts in verbal, written, and graphic forms; present lab results to a panel of working scientists; or use sophisticated technologies, software programs, and multimedia applications as an extension of an assigned project.
- States, accrediting organizations, and schools may require 21st century skills to be taught and assessed in courses. For example, states can adopt learning standards that explicitly describe cross-disciplinary skills, and assessments may be designed or modified to evaluate whether students have acquired and mastered certain skills.
- Schools and teachers may use educational approaches that inherently encourage or facilitate the acquisition of cross-disciplinary skills. For example, educational strategies such as authentic learning, demonstrations of learning, or project-based learning tend to be cross-disciplinary in nature, and students—in the process of completing a research project, for example—may have to use a variety of applied skills, multiple technologies, and new ways of analyzing and processing information, while also taking initiative, thinking creatively, planning out the process, and working collaboratively in teams with other students.
- Schools may allow students to pursue alternative learning pathways in which students earn academic credit and satisfy graduation requirements by completing an internship, apprenticeship, or volunteer experience, for example. In this case, students might acquire a variety of practical, job-related skills and work habits, while also completing academic coursework and meeting the same learning standards required of students in more traditional academic courses.
While there is broad agreement that today’s students need different skills than were perhaps taught to previous generations, and that cross-disciplinary skills such as writing, critical thinking, self-initiative, group collaboration, and technological literacy are essential to success in higher education, modern workplaces, and adult life, there is still a great deal of debate about 21st century skills—from what skills are most important to how such skills should be taught to their appropriate role in public education. Given that there is no clear consensus on what skills specifically constitute “21st century skills,” the concept tends to be interpreted and applied in different ways from state to state or school to school, which can lead to ambiguity, confusion, and inconsistency.
Calls for placing a greater emphasis on cross-disciplinary skills in public education are, generally speaking, a response to the perception that most public schools pay insufficient attention to the postsecondary preparation and success of students. In other words, the concept has become a touchstone in a larger debate about what public schools should be teaching and what the purpose of public education should be. For example: Is the purpose of public education to get students to pass a test and earn a high school diploma? Or is the purpose to prepare students for success in higher education and modern careers? The push to prioritize 21st century skills is typically motivated by the belief that all students should be equipped with the knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits they will need to pursue continued education and challenging careers after graduation, and that a failure to adequately prepare students effectively denies them opportunities, with potentially significant consequences for our economy, democracy, and society.
A related debate centers on the distinction between “knowledge” and “skills,” and how schools and teachers may interpret—or misinterpret—the concepts. Some educators argue that it’s not possible to teach cross-disciplinary skills separately from knowledge and conceptual understanding—for example, students can’t learn to write well if they don’t have ideas, facts, principles, and philosophies to write about. The basic idea is that “21st century skills” is an artificial concept that can’t be separated out from subject-area knowledge and instruction. Other educators may argue that cross-disciplinary skills have historically been ignored or under-prioritized in schools, and the push to give more emphasis and attention to these skills is simply a commonsense response to a changing world.
The following list provides a few additional examples of representative arguments that may be made in support of teaching 21st century skills:
- In today’s world, information and knowledge are increasing at such an astronomical rate that no one can learn everything about every subject, what may appear true today could be proven to be false tomorrow, and the jobs that students will get after they graduate may not yet exist. For this reason, students need to be taught how to process, parse, and use information, and they need adaptable skills they can apply in all areas of life—just teaching them ideas and facts, without teaching them how to use them in real-life settings, is no longer enough.
- Schools need to adapt and develop new ways of teaching and learning that reflect a changing world. The purpose of school should be to prepare students for success after graduation, and therefore schools need to prioritize the knowledge and skills that will be in the greatest demand, such as those skills deemed to be most important by college professors and employers. Only teaching students to perform well in school or on a test is no longer sufficient.
- Given the widespread availability of information today, students no longer need teachers to lecture to them on the causes of the Civil War, for example, because that information is readily available—and often in more engaging formats that a typical classroom lecture. For this reason, educators should use in-school time to teach students how to find, interpret, and use information, rather than using most or all of the time to present information.
The following list provides a few examples of representative arguments that may be made against the concept of 21st century skills:
- Public schools and teachers have always taught, and will continue to teach, cross-disciplinary skills—they just never gave it a label. The debate over “content vs. skills” is not new—educators have been talking about and wrestling with these issues for a century—which makes the term “21st century skills” somewhat misleading and inaccurate.
- Focusing too much on cross-disciplinary skills could water-down academic courses, and students may not get “the basics.” The more time teachers spend on skill-related instruction, the less time they will have for content-based instruction. And if schools privilege cross-disciplinary skills over content knowledge, students may be denied opportunities because they are insufficiently knowledgeable. Students need a broad knowledge base, which they won’t receive if teachers focus too much on skill-related instruction or “learning how to learn.”
- Cross-disciplinary skills are extremely difficult to assess reliably and consistently. There are no formal tests for 21st century skills, so the public won’t know how well schools are doing in teaching these skills.