I am due to present at a conference during 2014 and will be presenting under the theme of how educators can help develop 21st Century Skills with the aid of technology. This seems to fit with a lot of discussion occurring in schools around how teachers can develop 21st century skills in their students and how ICT can be used to enhance learning. As such it seemed like a good topic for discussion here ahead of at the conference.
So where to begin: Well I think the best place to start is to look at what the 21 century skills are. The Partnership for 21st Century skills identified 6 key areas:
- Thinking critically and making judgements
- Solving complex, multidisciplinary, open ended problems
- Creativity and entrepreneurial thinking
- Communicating and collaborating
- Making innovative use knowledge, information and opportunities
- Taking charge of financial, civic and health responsibilities
The question then becomes how can IT help in develop these skills required for the 21st century, or is that the right question? Consider the world we now live in and the 6 areas listed above; which of the areas could or maybe more accurately, would be, done without IT?
Points 2, 4 and 5, I would argue, would not normally be undertaken without IT. To solve complex, multidisciplinary problems requires collaboration, communication, research and analysis. Communication and collaboration in the current world involves the likes of skype, twitter, google drive, pinterest and a whole manner of other software and apps, to bring people together such that geography is no longer an issue, and sharing ideas, thoughts and questions is easy. As to knowledge and information, and also research I do not think we can discuss these areas, in the current world we live in without the word “Google” popping to mind. Now that covers 50% of the points, so 50% of the 21st century skills would normally involve IT so why isn’t IT more embedded in education? Why are we still looking to use IT as an “aid” to develop skills which actually necessitate the use of IT?
Now I could also argue that IT has its part to play in critical thinking and in creativity however I am not going to do so, as I think another problem lies here. In what way do we teach students to be critical and creative thinkers, to question to norms, to be innovative? I don’t think we do quite enough of this, mainly because we are busy teaching students the “right” answers, so they can pass the tests, get good marks, improve league tables and help to make the country look better in the all important standardised tests. As such students’ critical judgements are only valid as long as they are in the domain of the teaching they have received, but outside this domain who is to say they will fare as well? As to their ability to be creative thinkers, I think almost no time is set aside in schools to help develop this area. Please note I am talking creative thinking here, and not Art, Music or Drama, as I am sure I can hear some people reading this, in the far corners of the web, muttering regarding the fact students receive lessons in these subject areas to provide them an opportunity to be creative.
All in all education has a way to go in terms of helping students develop the skills required of the 21st century. Let’s just hope we get it right before the 22nd century is upon us!
21st Century Skills, Education and Competitiveness (2008),The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net : “Technology In The Hands Of Businessmen” by KROMKRATHOG