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 around 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.

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