21st Century Skills???

The term is relatively new to the educational lexicon yet maybe should be replaced, considering we are more than a decade into the 21st Century. But that’s not really the issue, is it? What are 21st Century skills? And can or should they be taught?

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills categorizes the skills, in part, as 21st Century Themes, Creativity and InnovationCritical Thinking and Problem SolvingCommunication and CollaborationInformation LiteracyMedia LiteracyICT (technology) Literacy, and Life and Career Skills. Who can argue with these? When broken down further these “skills” appear to be even more platitudinous. For example, consider Life and Career Skills: Flexibility and Adaptability; Initiative and Self-direction; Social and Cross-cultural Skills; Productivity and Accountability; and Leadership and Responsibility. All desirous attributes for sure. It is extremely doubtful that prior to the coining of the term “21st Century Skills” educators did not realize the importance of such characteristics and behaviors to student achievement and eventual success.

Seems that promoters and some supporters intend that 21st Century skills be taught, that they should be considered additional content areas. Teachers have always encouraged students to internalize desirable personal attributes and practice behaviors consistent with accepted societal standards. Most of these “21st Century” so-called skills are of the “go forth and do good” genre. Teachers can teach about critical thinking or creativity, for example, but can they teach students to be critical thinkers or to be creative? Project- and problem-based learning exercises and assessments give students opportunities to practice processes that are representative of critical thinking and creativity but these are instructional methodologies unlikely to instill either.