What are the “21st Century Skills”?

Back in November Alfred Thompson made a brief picture post on 21st Century Skills.  One of the commenter’s gave a list of what is commonly considered the 21st Century Skills.  This got me thinking, and it has taken me until now to get a response sort of figured out.  (I am not noted as a fast thinker but I think deep.)  After a few minutes of looking on the internet this is pretty much the list that is considered 21st Century Skills.  Weird.  These look like the same skills that teachers have been trying to impart to students since there were teachers.

Learning Skills
Critical Thinking
Creative Thinking

Literacy Skills
Information Literacy
Media Literacy
Technology Literacy

Life Skills
Social Skills

This is a great list of skills.  These are definitely skills needed for the 21st Century.  But are they skills defined by the 21st Century?  Or alternately, does the 21st Century define these skills?  As I said earlier, these skills have been around a few years, like a few thousand years.  Ugg, the guy that taught Glug how to make fire would recognize these and agree they are important life skills, and would undoubtedly agree they will be popular in 25000 years.  (I am sure someone would argue Technology Literacy requires technology.  In my opinion the abacus is technology.)   I suspect these will be popular in another 25000 years.  So what “skills” define the 21st century?  Personally I think it is kind of ridiculous to try and list a set of skills that will last 100 years.  10 or 20 years is practical, but 100 years?  So let me put the list above in the category of “Ageless Skills” and look at a more sensible list that is relevant specifically to the early 21st Century.

Can there be any argument to the fact that the most influential development to the 21st century is the computer?  The early 21st Century is based on the computer.  It defines the 21st Century.  Cell phones, cars, TV’s, almost anything electronic are computer based.  (You can get picky and say it is the microchip but “microchip skills” lacks a certain umph.)  There is no two ways about it; computer skills and there by Computer Science, are the 21st Century Skills.  Without computer skills a person is pretty much unemployable, at least at a career that earns more than $10 an hour.  Now the question is which computer skills fit the idea of “21st Century Skills”?

There are a lot of “computer skills”.



building and repairing

virus removal and repair

Apps (Office, Photoshop, …)

and a couple dozen other very critical skills.

Are all these skills equally critical for everyone?  I sure hope not because most people are really bad at most of them and have no inclination to get any better at them.  But everybody should know those skills are important and even if they are bad at them they should have a little understanding of what those skills entail.  A common counter argument is you do not have to be a mechanic to drive a car.  No, but you had better know the difference between a good mechanic and one that will cheat you.  I do not believe programming is one of the required 21st Century Skills but everyone should know what it is, what it can do and why it is a desired skill.  The only way to ensure this is to be sure every kid gets a taste of it in school.  The kids need some taste in all the computer skills.  Not to the point they are skilled in all computer fields, but to the point where they understand the meaning of the skill.

As a school IT guy it would be nice if kids could be taught how to troubleshoot their own laptop issues with Google.  Now that is a 21st Century Skill.  Perhaps that can be generalized into “Troubleshooting Technology”.  Looking at the “Ageless Skills” list this new 21st Century Skill fits.  It includes Critical thinking, Media Literacy, Technology Literacy, and Initiative but it is driven by the changes brought about by the 21st Century.

21st Century Skills need to reflect the requirements of the 21st Century (or at least the first 20 years or so).   The “Ageless Skills” will always be a big priority but I think my “Troubleshooting Technology” has become a necessary skill that must be taught.  At the rate technology is taking over the world, and I do not seeing it going away anytime soon, it might have to become part of the “Ageless” list.  At least until technology troubleshoots itself, which is a scary thought.

For me “Computer Science” is just a bit too broad to be made a “21st Century Skill”.  Heck, most people, even those in the supposed know, cannot even decide on a definition of “Computer Science”.

Dang, that is one short list of 21st Century Skills.  I am going to have to think a bit deeper.

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