Now I understand…‘Why there is such concern about the shortage of 21st Century Skills.

21st Century_SkillsBy the start of the eighties I had taught Chemistry to University Entrance (Advanced) Level for several years and experienced the criticism each year from the Confederation of British Industries, via the media, of how poorly prepared the students were for Employment and Life. Frequently this criticism was given the most publicity by the media when the exam results arrived in August. The section on the evolution of the 8 skills illustrates that my research concluded that the skills needed to succeed in employment and life were not being developed in many of our children in society or schools as far back as the seventies and needed to become prioritised.
In the 30 plus years since then this message has grown almost exponentially such that in 2009 an initiative was launched at the Learning and Technology World Forum in London that set up The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project, created by Cisco, Intel and Microsoft, who wanted to sponsor a project to research and develop new approaches, methods and technologies for measuring the success of 21st -century teaching and learning in classrooms around the world.
The focus of the project was set on defining 21st century skills and developing ways to measure them with the objective of “What is learned, how it is taught and how schools are organized must be transformed to respond to the social and economic needs of students and society as we face the challenges of the 21st century.”
It is important to note that this 21st Century Skills project was largely being motivated by the shortage of skills for employment, or ’economic needs of students and society’, which had been part of my own research several decades earlier. In the nineties my research uncovered the following list which I have used repeatedly since then to emphasise this concern. Before displaying the slide I would always ask the audience –
“Which skills do you think are most desired in employees by the top 500 companies in the world?” Usually the responses focused on Reading, Writing, and Numeracy, then I would observe their reaction, surprise, at this list.
In 1990 the Creative Education Foundation listed the following skills desired by Fortune 500 companies in order of importance:
1. Teamwork
2. Leadership
3. Problem Solving
4. Goal setting/Motivation
5. Interpersonal Skills
6. Writing
7. Oral Communication
8. Organizational Effectiveness
9. Listening
10. Computation
11. Personal/Career Development
12. Reading

Later on I discovered a similar list, that seems to show that the views displayed by my audiences actually reflected the job-skills priorities in 1970.
Creativity in Action (1990) produced this table to show the job-skills needed by the the Fortune 500 companies.
Critical Job-Skills 1990                                              1970
1. Team work 1                                                                    10
2. Problem Solving 2                                                         12
3. Interpersonal Skills 3                                                   13
4. Oral Communication 4                                                4
5. Listening 5                                                                        5
6. Personal Career Development 6                               6
7. Creative Thinking 7                                                      7
8. Leadership 8                                                                   8
9. Goal Setting/Motivation 9                                          9
10. Writing 10                                                                       1
11. Organizational Effectiveness 11                               11
12. Computation 12                                                             2
13. Reading 13                                                                        3

I can fully appreciate why so many people and the media still seem to believe that list from 1970 is still applicable in the 21st century, since there seems to be so little media coverage or explanation of skills needed and how they are learnt, so the traditional beliefs continue.
At the start of the new century, in England, the Government created the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which regularly produced The National Employers Skills Survey (NESS) that collected and analysed data on the issues employers face in terms of recruitment, skill gaps and training. These surveys repeatedly produced tables similar to these.
When ‘The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project’ produced their list of 10 skills it was very similar.

ATC21S categories of 21st Century skills
1. Creativity & innovation
2. Critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making
3. Learning to learn, metacognition
4. Communication
5. Collaboration (teamwork)
6. Information literacy
7. ICT literacy
8. Citizenship – local & global
9. Life & career
10. Personal & social responsibility
(Dr Irenka Suto Principal Research Officer, Research Division,Cambridge Assessment 28th February 2013)

When this project was initiated I had spent many years focusing on the 8 skills, and it is easy to see how these ten 21st Century skills would integrate into the 8 skills. It was also helpful to have support for the increasing widespread use of the term “skills”, this is a quote from an article in the Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy.
The term “skills” was used in the first initiatives of the project. However, many argued for the term “competencies” instead, since that term includes broader understandings in many languages of what is needed in the future. Still, it was decided to keep “skills” as a term, but clearly state that “skills” in this sense incorporates broader cultural “competencies”.

Studying these lists of skills over decades has been very instrumental in deciding to select the 8 skills, and as you read this book you will discover that the names have been continually changed and may change in the future. The ten ATC21S categories of 21st Century skills have been attached to the 8 skills.

1. Learn effectively to cope & enjoy the continual change in modern life.
1. Creativity & innovation,
3. Learning to learn, metacognition
2. Cognition– to understand & solve complex everyday problems to make good decisions –
2. Critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making
3. Communication– to concentrate, listen, speak, read, write & detect non-verbal information effectively
4. Communication
6. Information literacy
7. ICT literacy
4. Self-awareness to assess ourselves accurately & what to improve to become healthy & happy
5. Self-management to manage our feelings, control our behaviour & avoid ‘quick fixes’
10. Personal & social responsibility
6. Motivation to become resilient by learning from difficulties & setbacks
7. Empathy to understand & appreciate other people’s views & emotions -respect
8. Relate to cooperate well with others to lead & be part of a team.
8. Citizenship – local & global
9. Life & career

The evolution of the 21st Century skills or perhaps more aptly has been a huge asset in the evolution of the 8 skills since becoming an effective employee, employer, manager, leader, entrepreneur etc. in the 21st Century is likely to be a big factor in our health, well-being and success (difficulties overcome). Furthermore, the research into defining 21st century skills and developing ways to measure them could prove invaluable in the future as could its influence in “What is learned, how it is taught and how schools are organized must be transformed to respond to the social and economic needs of students and society as we face the challenges of the 21st century.”
However, this focus is quite narrow as it does not seem to consider:-
1. The majority of learning does not occur in organised education (schools, colleges etc.) and developing our skills will occur over thousands of hours of practice in numerous varied situations.
2. Skills are being assessed continually by everyone regularly when observing people in action (doing things) so measurements of skills need to be done frequently, in a wide variety of situations.
3. The widespread concerns about health and well-being such as
• Stress; depression
• Poor mental health
• Low self esteem
• Self-harm and suicide
• Substance misuse and binge drinking
• Anti-social and criminal behaviour
• Financial problems and gambling
• Relationship problems; sex related difficulties
• Chaotic Lifestyles


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