Friday, January 10, 2014

Skills for the 21st Century

The central focus of public education since the 18th Century has been the Three R’s: reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. These skills are no less relevant today. Students need these vital building blocks to advance their studies to other areas.

Because we value the three subject areas, we test students to ensure they are on track. Where we go wrong is assuming that one single test could ever accurately measure every student in every school in every town around the world. What experienced teachers know is that one test cannot even accurately measure all students in a single class.

There is nothing wrong with testing. Where we make our mistake is in over-emphasizing the outcomes. Then we get to where we are now where the fundamentals become the be-all and end-all of public education. And we all know that schools must be so much more.

Ultimately, schools prepare our kids to be productive citizens and workers when they become adults. First and foremost, we need for our kids to become thoughtful, discerning voters. Our republic form of government depends on it.

Next, we need our students to be ready to enter the workforce. They all one day must assume a role in ensuring that our economy thrives.

Unfortunately, schools are not preparing students for the modern work world when our only focus becomes the three basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

A scholar by the name of Tony Wagner studied what employers currently want in their employees. Yes, they want employees with the basic skills, but they need much more. He wrote these skills in his book The Global Achievement Gap and called them the Seven Survival Skills as defined by business leaders in their own words.

Today’s employers want employees who are good at critical thinking and problem solving. They want employees who can collaborate across networks and lead by influence. They need employees to have agility and adaptability. They need employees to take initiative, and they want them to have effective oral and written communication. Employees need to be able to access and analyze information. Finally, they need curiosity and imagination.

Do these skills sound familiar and make sense?

So the good schools with foresight are embracing these skills as what we truly need to do to prepare our kids for the future. We call them the Four C’s:
  • Critical thinking (problem solving),
  • Communication,
  • Collaboration, and
  • Creativity.

We also call them 21st Century Skills.

You may have noticed that technology was not listed among these four essential skills. Technology skills are important in the 21st Century, but we need to teach our students how to use the technology to achieve the aims of the Four C’s.

Tools are what we use to do our jobs, and the future of the workplace is to use technology tools to creatively solve problems, communicate, and collaborate.

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