21st century skills – New urgency or just another passing fad?

Lots of talk in recent years of the new essential  skills to survive in the 21st century economy. Tony Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap- why even our best schools don’t teach the survival skills our children need and what we can do about it has  received lots of attention. See this summary to review a list of the usual suspects.

Here’s an additional point of view from Andrew J. Rotherham: 21st-Century Skills Are Not a New Education Trend but Could Be a Fad Rotherham punctures some of the hype and froth  in the debate including the false dichotomy  between the teaching of traditional content and the teaching of new skills.

After all – how new are these skills?  Some of them – grounded in specific technology – are new applications of course, but critical thinking?  Communication? Literacies?  Global awareness?
Rotherham’s point about Plato and the skills for the 3rd century BCE is well taken.
The ability to solve problems and work well with others are hardly revolutionary new skills either. Human progress has depended on them.
Seems to me that the changes we experience in the world right now – globalization and the changing job market and the like – are merely bringing these skills into a sharper focus. High earning jobs have always needed these skills. They were crucial in the last century too.  Perhaps what is new is the realization that while these are not new skills they must be the skills of a much broader section of the population.
All children need content in depth and experience in tackling the material in the ways that will enable them to develop these skills in meaningful ways.
Same as it ever was.  The urgency is about effective teaching and equitable access to a good education.

globalachievementgapWagner’s book is an important contribution to the educational debate.  All children deserve a quality education where these skills are taught and developed in the context of a content-rich and interconnected curriculum.

You can’t think thinking. You can’t problem solve problem solving. There has to be meaningful content and the skills taught need context.

Information matters. How  we think about and create and communicate information matters too. Good schools have always known this. Maybe the change we need is to be more deliberate about teaching. To open up the dialogue around content-rich curriculum to balance that content with our metacognitive intentions. And include students in the debate – let them in on the thinking.

Respect for children –  their minds,  their capabilites and their futures – in the end, that is what it is all about.

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