Empowering Our Students with 21st-Century Skills for Today

In this globally and digitally interconnected world, all learners, from cradle to career, need new skills and knowledge to succeed. If we want to prepare our children for success in school, work and life, opportunities to learn 21st-century skills are essential.

These 21st-century skills are more important to students now than ever before.

They not only provide a framework for successful learning in the classroom, but ensure students can thrive in a world where change is constant and learning never stops. And they are also tremendously important for our nation’s well being. Our business community demands a workforce with these skills to ensure our competitiveness in a global economy. And at a time when our civic life feels strained, we want our learners to enter the world with an understanding of what it takes to be a good citizen—one who can be civically engaged, critically thinking, digitally literate, globally aware, and an effective communicator.

The organization I lead, P21 (the Partnership for 21st Century Learning), leverages the power of collaboration to turn this vision of learning into a reality. Representing 5 million members of the global workforce, we build partnerships among education leaders, businesses and community and government officials, all of whom are dedicated to ensuring that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. Our Framework for 21st Century Learning, informed by this far-reaching partnership, emphasizes the 4Cs – communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity – skills that all learners need for success in school, work and life.

The 21st century is not in the distant future – it is today. We do not have a moment to lose in preparing our students, and our nation, to compete and to succeed.

That is why P21 is launching Skills for Today week; to help shine a national spotlight on the importance of these skills for our students, identify the critical elements of a successful education in the 21st century, and highlight the resources, research, policies and best practices that bring these skills to the classroom.

As an example of this, we have released a new research brief with Pearson that not only underscores the importance of collaboration from cradle to career, but also identifies the strategies that educators can use to teach and measure this skill across the K-20 spectrum. In turn, our work empowers teachers to know how to bring collaboration to the classroom.

During Skills for Today week, educators from the 79 P21 21st Century Learning Exemplars will celebrate examples of successful 21st-century learning and illustrate how the 4Cs empower all of our learners to gain the skills they need. Through webinars, social media and events across the country, educators will share how they make the 4Cs come alive for their students. The week will also celebrate the work of our member organizations, who will share new tools, information and resources to support educators as they bring the 4Cs into the classroom. These new resources and tools will support educators in making meaningful and sustainable improvements in education.

Over the course of the week, these partnerships will help underscore how the 4Cs are essential across a variety of educational settings—from early learning and beyond school to STEAM and global learning.

During our Skills for Today week and beyond, our exemplars and member organizations will help outline the building blocks for a successful 21st-century learning experience:

  • Children have early opportunities to develop the foundational skills that will help them reason, think creatively, analyze data and work collaboratively in the future.
  • Out-of-school programs—a vital part of learning—instill the 4Cs beyond the classroom; ensuring students have the academic, social-emotional and workforce skills to succeed in the 21st century.
  • Schools and companies can work together to encourage and support children as they develop the core STEAM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) that are essential to success in school and in today’s economy.
  • Students should have the opportunities to develop the attitudes, skills and knowledge to understand and participate in a globally connected world.

With these foundational outcomes and the 4Cs in mind, we will see that today’s classrooms are focusing not only on content knowledge—but also on ensuring that students develop innovative solutions, critically think through complex problems, and the ability to work and communicate across diverse teams.

In the process, we can then ensure that all of our learners are empowered to succeed with the skills for today.

For more, see:

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David Ross

David Ross is a global education consultant and former CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

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