Schools today face a serious challenge of preparing students with 21st century skills. Since the report “A National at Risk” published by National Commission on Excellence in Education in 1983, many similar definitions from different sources have emerged. However, most definitions point to the same goal: that being technology literate is much more than just having good technology skills. It is learning core subjects with application of these learning skills and communication tools (SREB, What are 21st Century Skills?).
A SREB’s Web site “21st Century Skills and Information and Communications Technologies Literacy: From A Nation at Risk to ICT Literacy” has done an excellent job of compiling information on 21st Century Skills, including standards, instructional resources, assessment resources and organizations and initiatives. In addition, the site provides an outstanding graphic illustration of key literacy documents that show the evolving development of these literacies from A Nation At Risk in 1983 to the present.
So, what are the 21st century skills? I have recently read the 2008 report “21st Century Skills, Education & Competitiveness: A Resource and Policy Guide” published by Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has emerged as the leading advocacy organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into education. They define 21st century skills as follows:
- Learning and Innovation Skills (creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, etc.)
- Information, Media and Technology Skills
- Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes (global awareness, financial literacy, etc.)
- Life and Career Skills (initiative and self-direction, among others)
The report emphasizes that all Americans need 21st century skills that will increase their marketability, employability, and readiness for citizenship such as:
- Thinking critically and making judgments
- Solving complex, multidisciplinary, open-ended problems
- Creativity and entrepreneurial thinking
- Communicating and collaborating
- Making innovative use of knowledge, information and opportunities
- Taking charge of financial, health and civic responsibilities
Finally, the report summarizes the challenges and opportunities and also warns the consequences. If we do not infuse 21st century skills into our school curricula, we will diminish our global competitiveness and standing in the world. Unfortunately, the 21st century skills are not included in many state learning standards or measured on state or local assessments. I, therefore, urge schools must do more to keep pace with rapid changing technology, embrace new learning based on emerging research, and integrate 21st century skills into standards, assessments, and graduation requirements at all levels. Also, for those of us who involve in teacher education programs, we should embed 21st century skills into teacher preparation and professional development.