Moving beyond ’21st century skills’

In responding to the radical change in working life that are currently under way, we need to tread a careful path that provides students with the opportunity to develop skills for access to new forms of work through learning the new language of work. But at the same time, our role as teachers is not simply to be technocrats. It is not our job to produce docile, compliant workers. Students need also to develop the capacity to speak up, to negotiate, and to be able to engage critically with the conditions of their working lives.

The above was written 10 years ago in a book entitled Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the ideas contained in the quotation; in fact, they form the bedrock of what some have been pushing as ’21st century skills’.

But it’s time to change the record that’s stuck on repeat.

It’s 2010. The idea of the ‘digital native’ turned out to be a myth; it’s dawning on us that even the idea of a ‘digital literacy’ is too ambiguous to be of much use. We’re in a post-Second Life brave new world.

So what can we do?

Move on. Sounds easy in theory, but what about in practice? Here’s 5 suggestions, which should ideally be undertaken sequentially:

  1. Debate the purpose of education. Just what exactly are we trying to achieve?
  2. Make explicit core competencies. The Norwegian model looks interesting.
  3. Invest in design. Never mind ‘functional specifications’, focus on reducing needless friction – in everything from timetabling to technology.
  4. Promote flexibility. It’s the watchword of our era. Let’s divorce schools from their daycare/babysitting role.
  5. Recognise context. What works for one educational instution can’t be replicated exactly elsewhere.

It’s not good talking about ’21st century education’. We’re 10 years into it. :-p

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