Defining a 21st century education

Craig D. Jerald
The Center for Public Education
July 2009

Hoping to calmly and critically evaluate the grandiose promises of the 21st
century skills movement, this paper systematically looks at three
things: how changing world conditions have impacted skills requirements;
which kinds of skills, based on this new world order, will be most
important going forward; and what districts and schools should do about
it. The world has become more automated and globalized, meaning jobs
formerly done by humans in a specific location can now be admirably
completed by computers half-way across the world. Further, argues
Jerald, workplace success in the 21st Century relies on the layered
interdependency of “foundational knowledge” (core academic content),
“literacies” (ability to apply content), and “competencies” (ability to
call on literacies), not on a simplistic skill set learned in the
abstract. Finally, what are the implications of these findings for
school districts and schools? Though he spends a mere two pages on this
important question, Jerald does hit some key points. There can be no
“either or” thinking about the relationship between skills and content
knowledge; 21st century skills (or applied literacies and broad
competencies, as Jerald calls them) are best taught within traditional
disciplines and there is good reason to be skeptical of stand-alone
lessons related to these skills; America’s expansive curriculum needs to
be focused on fewer, deeper concepts; and athletics and extracurricular
activities play an important role in developing many of these skills,
thus classroom teachers shouldn’t be expected to bear responsibility for
imparting these all on their own. Longtime skeptics will be heartened and fueled by this refreshing and thoughtful analysis. Read it here.

More By Author