21st Century Skills

There is a lot of talk of the need to integrate 21st century skills in the curriculum. The basic idea here is to move away from the main concern of pre-21st century learning, which is ensuring graduates carry around a basic core of knowledge in their heads. Although this goal has not lost its relevance, many would argue it is less important for two main reasons. First, the exponential development of human knowledge makes this difficult to achieve; e.g. knowledge obtained in the first year of some courses may be outdated by the time a student graduates four years later. Second, large amounts of human knowledge are available instantly through mobile devices connected to the Internet, reducing the need for memorization. In the pre-Internet age, if you did not have knowledge immediately at hand you may not have been able to solve problems without a time-consuming trip to a library. Knowing how to find and evaluate the relevant knowledge on the Internet is one of the main 21st century skills that must be developed. For much of history the librarian was the expert in helping people finding knowledge. In a sense, we must all become librarians now. Librarians can be key players in changing the education system in this respect.

Among the other skills listed as 21st century are the ability to: communicate, adapt to change, work in (diverse) teams, solve problems, analyze and conceptualize, reflect upon and improve performance, self-manage, innovate, critique, engage in life-long learning, work with people in other cultures and disciplines.

All of these can inspire debate about their relevant importance, or how much they are 21st or pre-21st century skills. One skill I will highlight is creativity. Is this innate or can it be learned? Is it underemphasized in education? An inspiring TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson examines this issue.

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