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(Still) More Studying of 21st Century Skills

Do we really need another study with the conclusion that American schools are doing a bad job?

Well in this case, I may have to agree with at least some of their findings.

If students are to succeed in today’s complex economy, they need to know more than just English, math, science, and history. They also need a range of analytic and workplace skills. So says an important new report on 21st-century skills, which concludes that though Massachusetts schools have made impressive progress in the last 15 years, many students still don’t graduate with the abilities today’s jobs require.

Further, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, state employers say high school graduates lack essential job skills.

Mastering those skills means learning how to think critically and creatively, work collaboratively, use the Internet to do research, and communicate clearly and effectively. Students also need to be responsible and accountable, to be up on the news, and to have a workable knowledge of economics and business.

So, how much of this do we really teach in most schools today? Around here, we are very much stuck in the 20th century.

I could quibble with a few of the points from the study outlined in this article (for one thing, training every student for the exclusive needs of business seems like a very narrow focus).

However, if we really want to address these “21st-century skills”, it’s going to take more than just rewriting the curriculum and retraining teachers.

We also need to change our basic perceptions of what it means to be “well educated” and how a person gets there.

BTW, how far into the 21st century are we going to discuss teaching 21st century skills until we actually do it? Or switch to calling them 22nd century skills?

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1 Comment

  1. Preston

    First of all, I agree with your quibbling. Secondly, as far as those 21st century skills go, some of the most important ones could just as easily be termed 19th century skills – “learning how to think critically and creatively” and “communicate clearly and effectively,” in particular (for an admirable summary of the purpose of school by a 19th century Etonian master, see http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/texts/cory.html). Frankly, we could probably trace these skills back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The main difference I see in the 21st century is the newfound importance of collaboration, due to the increased opportunities the internet and modern technology provides. As far as using the internet to do research goes, any student coming through schools today can use the internet, and the research aspect really concerns thinking critically about what you are reading to determine if it is credible.

    The point of taking English, science, math, and history has always been (or should have always been, at least) not so much gaining knowledge about those topics as acquiring skills through the study of them. WIth that said, I admit that I am a product of private schools, so perhaps I am out of touch with the general approach taken by public schools and/or national and state standards; it’s an area I have essentially no experience in.

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