Twenty-First Century Skills

Twenty-first century skills are common educational buzzwords used in discussions of changes in education. Different organizations define these in slightly different ways, but they all focus on the new skills that students need to thrive in today's world.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills based in Tucson, Arizona is a group that was developed to help advance these skills. This organization began in 2002 as a partnership between the U.S. Department of Education, co-founders Ken Kay and Diny Golder-Dardis, and the following groups:

  • AOL Time Warner Foundation

  • Apple Computer, Inc.

  • Cable in the Classroom

  • Cisco Systems, Inc.

  • Dell Computer Corporation

  • Microsoft Computer Corporation

  • National Education Association

  • SAP

According to their website, the mission of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills is to “Serve as a catalyst to position twenty-first century skills at the center of U.S. K–12 education by building collaborative partnerships among education, business, community and government leaders.” The Partnership believes that a gap exists between what is being taught in schools and what students really need to know to thrive in the twenty-first century.

Educational leaders are often at odds concerning the focus of education. One major debate concerns skills-based education versus a focus on content. Some argue that focusing on skills causes content to fall by the wayside.

However, Ken Kay has stated, “There's no question from the beginning that our work has been built on the premise that skills and content support each other, and the notion that you have to choose between them is a false dichotomy.”

What the Student Should Learn

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills focuses on two aspects of an effective education: student outcomes and support systems. The first of these, student outcomes, deals with what students need to learn in order to succeed in the twenty-first century. Students should still learn the core subjects; however, these should be informed with specific themes to help elevate student learning, including:

  • Global awareness

  • Financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy

  • Civic literacy

  • Health literacy

Further, as students work to learn the core subjects, they also need to master learning and innovation skills, information, media and technology skills, and life and career skills. By deliberately integrating these skills and themes into the core curriculum, students will be able to make connections and become adept problem solvers.

Twenty-First Century Learning Environment

A necessary part to achieving the Partnership's stated goals is the creation of the 21st Century Support System. In order for teachers to be successful implementing the necessary changes and teaching the skills and themes listed above, the Partnership has developed many tools to help them along the way. Support and guidance is given in the following areas:

  • Standards

  • Assessments

  • Curriculum and instruction

  • Professional development

  • Learning environments

By working through each of these areas, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills hopes to help students become more adept and meet the challenges of a competitive global market.

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