21st Century Skills

What may seem to be the latest addition to the ever-increasing jargon of our profession, is one of the most important things you can impart on your students, or learners. For, after all, we are in the 21st Century. 

So let’s talk about the skills they, and we, need not just to survive, but to thrive in a world where change is constant, and learning never stops.

First, a word about our current students. Wabisabi Learning says it best; no pupil in the history of education is like today’s modern learner.” They must be prepared for a world that doesn’t yet exist and, as educators, it is our responsibility to facilitate such preparation. Enter: 21st Century Skills! While not the only framework that has been proposed and adopted in recent years (check the IB Learner Profile or the OECD (Organisation for Economic Development) Report), it is one of the more popular ones.

The term “21st Century skills” refers to a broad set of knowledge, skills and character traits believed to prepare students for future success in contemporary societies, workplaces and careers (EdGlossary.Org, 2016). While the specific skills are a matter of debate, the term reflects a consensus among educators, academics, policy officials and employers of the importance of the skills, especially as they pertain to the workforce/workplace. 

However, we at STEAMLabs are not concerned with just preparing students for their workplaces. We are concerned with preparing them for life. So how do we define 21st Century Skills? 

At STEAMLabs, we define 21st Century skills as a broad set of character traits and skills that develop a capacity for life-long learning, with a focus on transferability, adaptability and critical and creative thinking, so that learners are prepared for what challenges that may come their way.

What are these skills?

The following is a brief overview of the current skills that fall under the umbrella of 21st Century Skills. Importantly, each of the skills, character traits listed below exist, in the context of this list, to promote and encourage an, and curate the, attitude of a life-long learner. Practically, they exist to help students keep up with the lightening-pace of today’s modern markets.

Learning: Working in tandem, these skills teach learners about the mental processes required to adapt and improve upon contemporary work environments and their communities.

Literacy: Each of these skills is designed the unmask, and make accessible the different elements that characterise our modern world, and how we receive information through it.

Life: These skills relate to how learners engage with themselves, and each other. 

From the list, it is clear that it is more than technical skills. It also features socio-emotional skills to prepare learners to engage and interact with anyone, and anything (as a question of subject matter), and with themselves. Furthermore, the skills inculcate a spirit of adaptability and empower learners to make a change; a core belief of STEAMLabs. 

Though we have touched on the importance of 21st Century skills, let us focus on their importance in Kenya, specifically, and in Africa, generally. 

The Case for 21st Century Skills

The OECD explains it best:

“We live in a fast-changing world, and producing more of the same knowledge and skills will not suffice to address the challenges of the future. A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would last their students a lifetime. Today, because of rapid economic and social change, schools have to prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created, technologies that have not yet been invented and problems that we don’t yet know will arise.”

Andreas Schleicher, The Case for 21st Century Learning, OECD

This is especially important in Africa. With the worlds’ youngest population (with 24 million more people living in her cities between 2015-2045 than India and China) and impressive economic growth, she needs conscientious, technologically-capable life-long learners to propel Africa, and guide her through, continued development. Shouldn’t these learners be Africans, deeply invested in her development? 

Therefore, how do we foster motivated, dedicated learners and prepare them to overcome the unforeseen challenges of tomorrow? This was a challenge posed to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology when they released their paper on “Reforming Education and Training Sectors in Kenya” (2012). The report focused on the need for non-routine tasks and complex problem-solving as a result of the labour market evolution and subsequent curriculum reform and, in so doing, recognised the need to 21st Century Skills in Kenyan classrooms. Not only as a matter of meeting our Vision 2030, or achieving the UN SDG 4 (specifically Target 4.7) but as a matter of personal development and success in an ever-changing world. 

Where students were taught to read, now they must be taught to “develop the capacity and motivation to identify, understand, interpret, create and communicate knowledge.” (Schleicher, OECD) Where students were taught simple math and science, now they must be taught to apply the logical problem-solving processes towards solving the problems that shape their communities. Where students were taught to draw and paint, they must apply that creative outlook in developing insights or brand new products that will shape their world. 

In essence, they must be taught to be versatile and socially-conscious, and we, at STEAMLabs can help you do that. That leaves one question remaining; how can we teach these values?

How can we teach these values?

From the simple (flexible seating arrangements and problem-based learning) to the more complex (allowing the students to design their assessment with you), there are many different ways to teach these skills. Even well-designed group work can help develop the communication and collaborative we identified earlier, as well as leadership, initiative and social skills. 

Here at STEAMLabs, we use technology to develop those skills in our learners and we believe that everyone is a learner. For more information on how we do this, visit https://www.steamlabsafrica.com/programs/teachers/ or contact us for more information.

In the End,

The only constant thing in life is change. This is particularly true in today’s constantly evolving world. One of the only ways to empower students to confront, and ultimately spurn, this change, is to provide them with the necessary skills. With 21st Century skills, you will develop adaptive, conscientious life-long learners who are better placed to solve the problems of the future and live happy, healthy lives.