What are 21st century skills?

Friday, November 5th, 2010 | education

Simply put – 21st century skills are those competencies a person needs to survive and succeed in this complex century.

Business processes in most companies are changing.  In the past many people were used to manufacture goods – this required skills to operate and maintain factory machines.  As these machines are becoming more sophisticated, less human interaction is needed.  The major role for people now is to handle information and to come up with innovative ideas.

Basic skills such as the 3 R’s – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic – are still important, but teachers must also help learners to develop skills that meet modern demands.  Some of these skills are:

Sound computer skills:  Most jobs require the ability to use computers.  A person entering the work force in the 21st century without these skills is at a great disadvantage.

Information handling:  Information is needed to make complex decisions.  This information comes from different sources, such as market research, the internet and other media.  The challenge is to make sense of all of this.  How does one locate accurate information? Analyze it? And then synthesize it?

Knowledge creation:  This is a complex skill, which refers to the ability to take existing information, apply one’s mind to it and then create a new body of knowledge, which can then be used to benefit the organization you’re working for or to your own advantage.

Communication and collaboration:  Workers with complementary skills, but living in different parts of the world, are often required to work together on a project.  Survival in such an environment is only possible if you are able to use different modes of communication and have acquired the skill to collaborate with others.

Innovation:  Contrary to what many believe, this is a skill that can be cultivated – but it takes lots of practice.  The earlier you start the better.  Companies are searching for people who can come up with innovative ideas to work for them.

The way in which education departments view curriculum matters does not always encourage the development of these additional skills but basic literacy is no longer sufficient to prepare learners for the workplace – new literacies are required.

As a teacher, do you understand what these new literacies demand of you?

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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5 Comments to What are 21st century skills?

Friday, 5 November, 2010

I agree that SIKCI is vital for learners to get to grips with. Apple technology affords an individual the platform to develop those skills in a number of ways. Educators grapple with maintaining the core learning demanded by the curriculum and using technology with innovation in the class.
The mindshift [or mindsift] must start with the planner and advisors.

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Friday, 5 November, 2010

You raise such important points here, Kobus. The people in charge of state education in South Africa are justifiably concerned about basic literacy and numeracy standards in our schools. With limited financial resources available, some ask whether we can justify spending so much money on computers in schools, especially if there is little measurable improvement in literacy/numeracy test results.

I believe the Khanya Project in the Western Cape is laying a very good foundation for the improvement of these traditional skills over time. Moreover, the availability of technology is making it possible for children to develop a whole new range of competencies, as you have outlined. Our curriculum does not adequately address the importance of these new skills. But employers are looking for them!

I know that the Khanya Project has almost completed what it was set up to do. I wonder what the future holds for technology in schools in the Western Cape? Is there adequate provision for the good work started by Khanya to be sustained?

I would like to plead with decision-makers in the Western Cape not to allow this technology to fall into disrepair and disuse. It is a mammoth task to train and motivate teachers and provide technical support. But a great deal more has been achieved than most people see. The spots of good practice are now growing into patches.

Why not establish a Technology-in-Education think tank to explore these issues further…?

Mark C
Friday, 5 November, 2010

I always wondered what was meant by 21st century skills. If it is all that you have mentioned above then we still have a steep hill to climb. Many educators have some computer skill, but they should improve on it. ICT is rapid-changing. Information handling-many things are being done online now. It is a pity that at schools only one or two people know how to do something and the others don’t. Communication and collaboration within schools as well as outside schools are sorely lacking. I’m worried at the lack of C&C in schools, even within departments at schools. Lack of C&C leads to poor growth.
My fear is also that the syllabuses are too full, rigid leaving very little room for drill-and-practice. More importantly it leaves very little room for innovation. If the teachers are struggling to do that, how more will the learners also not battle with finding new ways to do things. In Khanya we can discuss 21st century skills till we are blue in the face. If it is not in the syllabus, they won’t do it (or so many think).

I like the points you raise and would like to see whether I can cultivate some of those skills, not only in myself, but in my children. Yet it should go broader than that-to all my other children (those not biologically mine).

[...] is difficult to imagine how 21st century skills can be developed without the use of technology, particularly computer and communication [...]

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