Why “21st Century Skills” makes me roll my eyes

Some knowledge, skills, attitudes, dispositions, & abilities students will need in the 21st century might include: creativity, collaboration, evaluation, self-assessment, self-reflection, locate & discern information, know how to learn, & (for good measure) be comfortable with contemporary technology.

Now, the reason the phrase “21st century skills” makes me roll my eyes is because every single item that falls under the phrase was also a goal of teachers in the 20th century. To think teachers did not have these lofty goals for students is unfair & untrue. If every teacher has always wanted these goals, we don’t need the empty, vague, repetitive rhetoric. Instead, we need concrete strategies to promote those goals.

To say “kids need a 21st century education” is nothing new. The phrase is nothing more than a political ploy – a way to dress up what good teachers have always wanted. Enough with the pandering, let’s get on with the doing.

We do not need new goals for education, we need to be discussing how to actually achieve those goals.

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10 Responses to Why “21st Century Skills” makes me roll my eyes

  1. You can’t push aside the need for a re-working of how we do literacy now.

    Of course there were similar aims in the 20th, 19th, 18th etc centuries to deal with the rising tide of mediums, messages, propaganda, information, but this thing we are creating that we call the web has at least some definite effects on how we should approach a concept of learning and processing.

    We actually might need new goals for education given that we are inventing new tools to educate one another.



    • jerridkruse says:

      Thanks for the pushback, but what you seem to be saying is that no new tools were invented during the 20th century. That is simply not true. All new technologies have new things to deal with, the web is not unique in that sense. 20th century teachers wanted students to learn new tools and new technologies too. Yes, our technologies are different, but the desire for students to learn those technologies is not.


  2. Of course new tools were invented in the 20th century.

    20th century teachers wanted students to learn new tools and technologies from certain worldviews and contexts that don’t exist in the 21st century (for good and for bad). The decline of industrialization, nation-states and manufacturing in the “west” to name a few of those contexts.

    If anything, the tools of post-colonialism and post-industrialization have led us back to much greener pastures of the 16th or 17th century when the printing press was being groked.

    As much as learning doesn’t change, how we learn will continue to adapt to our very young species as we make our way through the cosmos. We can monitor that via centuries or via development of tools but to neglect the impact that the development of tools have on our our ability to process information as a species seems to miss a great part of the story.



    • jerridkruse says:

      I think we might be talking about two different things. I don’t deny that new technologies change things (I do deny that new technologies change the biological process of learning – but that is not point of post. To get us on same page, which of the items I identified as part of 21st C education did not also apply to 20th century education? Or, what goals do you think are so new that we need a new phrase?

      Right now you seem to be focused on how new tech changes how we achieve the goals, i’m focusing on the goals themselves.

      Also, perhaps when the 20th century began, there was a different set of goals. I think change in education is much more evolutionary than we want to believe. To think the 21st century marks some traumatic paradigm shift negates the evolutionary progress that has taken place over the last century. That said, there are some things that need some punctuated equilibrium (or quick evolution).


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  4. I wonder what catch phrase will be created for the mid 2050. Perhaps mid twenty first century sills? Maybe 21.5 century expertise?

    But having a catchy name sure does help people remember the goals a little better.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Or, perhaps a catchy name sufficiently confuses us about what we are trying to achieve so that nothing is actually changed :)

      What will be sad is that in 2050, when every kid has a laptop, we’ll be having the same conversations we are now. That is, I predict nothing fundamental to have changed by 2050. I hope i’m wrong, but I doubt it.


  5. khephra says:

    ’21st Century Skills’, as you astutely suggest, are largely rhetorical rather than ‘revolutionary’. To that end, some reformists have sarcastically suggested a re-prioritization of ‘2nd Century Skills’ or a vision towards ’23rd Century Skills’ would be more appropriate. For a more thorough analysis of the ideologic contexts driving the ’21st Century’ narrative, here’s a critique I wrote in which I suggested the ’21st Century Skills’ merely mask a neoliberal attempt at social-engineering – http://bit.ly/i5Rlxa.


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