21st century skills

Some consider 21st century skills to be the 4 Cs as opposed to the industrial revolution’s 3 Rs:

Critical Thinking

I should have thought these skills belonged to any society at any time. How did we get the Sistine Chapel? The Pyramids? Chaucer’s Tales, Beowolf, Cicero’s poetry? How did we invent ovens, farm machinery, windmills, ships, telescopes? You know what I mean. These skills belong to us as human groups working together day by day through the ages and they give us the dazzling brilliance of art and performing arts and the spectacular breakthroughs in cancer treatments, penicillin, bridges, space shuttles. We think, create, communicate and collaborate and always have done. Why would these be considered 21st century skills? The piece which is missing is now it is all quite different. We can broadcast across the world. We can make a YouTube clip which gets 3 million views. We can put our work and research on the internet and get thousands of followers, hundreds of likes, tweets, retweets, comments. We can create and share like in no other way in history and we can collaborate and create across the planet in a way we have never been able to do. We can crowd source. We have the power of one and an internet connection. I am certain when you think about it, you will see other ways in which these foundation skills are so different now.

The NSW Department of Education and Communities put out a paper in 2012 about 21st century skills for Australian students. It is worth reading and one of the highlighted quotes is:

“To cope with the demands
of the 21st century, people
need to know more than core
subjects. They need to know
how to use their knowledge
and skills by thinking critically,
applying knowledge to
new situations, analyzing
information, comprehending
new ideas, communicating,
collaborating, solving
problems, making decisions.”

– Partnership for 21st Century Skills

In 2009 there was a research a paper put out by Katerina Ananiadou and Magdalean Claro on 21st Century Skills and Competencies for New Millennium Learners in OECD Countries discussing issues related to the teaching and assessment of 21st century skills and competencies in OECD countries drawing on the findings of a questionnaire study and other relevant background material such as white papers or curriculum documents. It takes time to read but the study is very interesting and the paper looks at 21st century skills this way:

In this section we present a framework for conceptualising the competences discussed in this study;
they can be thought of in terms of three dimensions: information, communication and ethics and social


The paper asks some good questions at the end and these questions are the ones we need to focus on all the time. Assessment practices and teacher training and development always need to be considered because technology changes and the capacity to engage with technology changes. Teachers need to always be aware of the impact and possibilities.

We are finishing this discussion section with some open questions that will hopefully encourage
reflection and discussion on this important policy topic:

 What are the key success factors for 21st century skills policies?21st
1. High-quality and relevant teacher training?
2. Curriculum integration?
3. Clear and rigorous assessment?
 Should 21st century skills be integrated into subject-based curricula?
 Are ICT skills different from the others and should they accordingly have a different treatment in
policy terms?
 How can we involve teachers in the overall debate and in the design of teacher training
programmes in particular?
 What types of assessment are appropriate for the monitoring and evaluation of 21st century skills
and competencies? How can they be developed?
We are aware that there are no easy answers to these questions, but we hope that an open and
informed debate on them will be the first step towards designing high quality education policies for the
citizens and workers of the 21st century.


Josefine Grimm-Blenk

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