The Buzz about “21st Century Skills”

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently about what many in the world of education refer to as “21st Century Skills.” Authors such as Daniel Pink and Alan November have written extensively about the kind of skills that our youth will need to develop today, in order to survive in the job market of tomorrow. There is a group called “Partnership for 21st Century Skills” that outlines some specific curricular recommendations for schools to adapt to changes in the 21st century job market. Even the corporate world is on board with “21st Century Skills.” However, not everyone has jumped on the “21st Century Skills” bandwagon; Jay Matthews earlier this year wrote a much-blogged-about editorial in the Washington Post condemning the “21st Century Skills” movement as “the latest doomed pedagological fad.”

Regardless of whether you agree with Pink, November, et al. regarding the 21st century job market, there are some interesting themes that emerge from these authors. The “21st Century Skills” seem to me to emphasize utilizing (and not fearing) technology in the classroom, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, empathy, a global/multicultural perspective, problem solving, and innovative assessments (i.e., not just tests and papers). I think these are worthwhile educational tools in and of themselves, regardless of what the 21st century job market looks like.

I see part of the problem in critics embracing the “21st Century Skills” approach is a fear that we will somehow forget the basics (e.g., math facts; content mastery). However, I don’t see it as an “either-or”; I see it as a “both.” In other words, “21st century skills” is a means, not an end. I think the best teaching occurs when a teacher can integrate creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, empathy, innovative assessment, and technology into the “traditional” pedagogy. Simply put, it’s good teaching. We don’t have to forget the basics if we integrate “21st Century Skills.” I am thrilled that the school for which I work – Park Tudor School in Indianapolis, IN – seems to be doing an excellent job across the different grade levels with blending “21st Century Skills” without sacrificing the 19th and 20th Century skills in the process.

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The Learning Project

The Russel & Mary Williams Learning Project at Park Tudor School was established in 2003 to provide learning support services and develop learning strategies for students to reach their own academic potential.