Human society has witnessed three revolutions down the ages – the agrarian, the industrial and now the digital revolution and each wave has seen a new demand in terms of skill sets required to emerge successful.
To take a milestone example, the birth of the letters of the alphabet, led to a demand for the skill of carving these on stone, which graduated to wielding the quill and pen, progressing into the printing press and finally into the keypad skills. Have we stopped? If one goes by the emerging technological trends, the skills required are only on the rise.
'Partnership for 21st Century Skills', (based in the U.S), has developed a vision and a framework for student success in the new global economy. This framework presents a holistic view of 21st century teaching focusing on the support systems required for 21st century student outcomes that are multi-dimensional. It calls for building within the context of core knowledge essential skills for success in today's world, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration. While advocating the mastery of core subjects, it makes weaving in of the 21st century themes essential to student success to promote an understanding of the core content at higher levels on 21st century interdisciplinary themes in to the core subjects.
Learning for the 21st Century is a report and mile guide (2003) that provides recommendations based on 6 key elements of 21st century learning. Interestingly, this report; designed to promote a national dialogue about 21st century skills, comes from a private-public partnership between major technology companies, the U.S Department of Education and the National Education Association. The Six Key Elements of 21st Century Learning – 1) Core subjects; 2) Learning Skills; 3) 21st Century Tools; 4) 21st Century Context; 5) 21st Century Content; and 6) New assessments that measure 21st century skills. These six elements form the "Bridge to 21st Century Learning."
This is a watershed century which is one of information overload and information infinity access as well as rapid changes in technology tools. The levels of tech upgrades have been increasingly higher and complex, taking opportunities to collaborate and make individual contributions to unprecedented levels never before seen in human history, calling for Information, Media and Technology Skills wherein students must develop a range of functional and critical thinking skills in areas such as Information Literacy, Media Literacy and Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) Literacy.
There is a deep learning for us today, as educators standing at the crossroads of reforms and sweeping changes in this landscape of education. This mandates that the factory model give way to classrooms that are centers of learning. This should be the essential building block for our schools.
The world today is divided between educators who are 'digital immigrants' and children who are 'digital natives'. Teachers are working with students whose entire lives are surrounded by the 21st century media culture. Students today learn digitally who absorb the world around through cellular phones, handheld gaming devices, PDAs, laptops, TVs, and game consoles. It is no surprise that Kindergarten students easily navigate electronic, multimedia resources through which they learn.
Surveys and studies have revealed that although today's students understand how to access and utilize tech tools, but most of them are used only for entertainment purposes and in that sense children are not truly media literate, whereas media literacy skills calls for functioning at a higher level in a technology based collaborative and research based environment to research, analyze, synthesize critique, evaluate and create new knowledge.
Technology enabled media heavily invested in the internet accessed through various devices are critical and important for 21st century teaching and learning. However there are learning skills that have nothing to do with technology. A curriculum may be made interdisciplinary, project-based or research driven to incorporate higher order thinking skills, and multiple intelligences, with differentiation in place perhaps using technology for greater enhancement and ease and textbooks reduced to being only one of the many resources. This may also enable that content and basic skills are applied within the context of the curriculum, and assessment moves from testing of memorized facts to demonstration of understanding through application in a variety of contexts.
However, the most critical skill by and large needed for the 21st century will be that of possessing a very high level of self-awareness which would contribute to individuals managing their minds and emotions. In a technology driven world focus on developing strong emotional and spiritual quotients would be required to make certain that these vital skills do not get behind while all attention is focused on the requisite 'listed' 21st century skills.
The world today is in a vortex of emotions and resultant scenarios are words on the wall for every alert educationist. While technology driven and related skills are a must for the 21st century, there can be no negotiation on nurturing the emotional and spiritual quotient which is the only ingredient required in large doses to enable a peaceful world.
Let the clarion call be heard by every sensitive educationist, as it is high time that greater emphasis is laid on spiritual literacy with deeper understanding of the workings of the mind to enable insightful exploration into the vast vistas of the inner landscape. Such an exploration unrestricted by manmade boundaries of religion, geographical location, gender or economic status will be the defining strength and skill which will facilitate our students to face the challenges of the 'complex' 21st century.
(Dr. Farooq Ahmad Wasil, is CEO of Goldline Education, Dubai, UAE. He has over 3 decades of experience in the field of education – setting up, operating and managing schools)