Educating the 21st-century student

“Life and Work in the 21st Century” was an honours seminar I remember taking as a college student in the 1990s. For this very interesting course, one of my research papers was based on the work of the futurist Alvin Toffler. In his book “Future Shock”, Toffler stated, “Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.” Years later, into my career as a director of education, I had the chance to participate in “The Anthropocene Crisis: Perils of the 21st Century”, an international leadership conference held by the World Academy for Art and Science. One very interesting takeaway from this conference was the biological paradigm that boiled down to adaptability being the crucial trait needed for success. You may wonder how adaptability and today’s literacy relate to education. It matters most because it will help you determine what is most necessary to educate your child for the future. We have to understand the changing definitions of literacy requirements and help our children learn what’s required to adapt with changing times.
Biological paradigm: adaptability
Against a backdrop of uncertainty, rapid digital innovation, economic upheaval, and unprecedented change, novel competencies for not only success, but also survival, are emerging in the modern era. Children enrolling in schools today cannot anticipate the challenges they will face when they grow up in 15-20 years. In order to be adaptable to any new possibilities, parents and educators must prepare children today with the necessary skills to succeed in the 21st century. What are the most pertinent skills required for the future?
The 21st-century scenario
It is not about how much knowledge one has memorised, but rather what one can do with that knowledge. Your child must be able to apply, analyse, synthesise, compare, contrast and evaluate what he or she knows. Learners today must be able to utilise skills broadly and engage in flexible thinking. Our children are termed ‘digital natives’ who have been born after the digital revolution, having ample access to technology from almost infancy via smartphones and tablets. Growing up in the Information Age and having data available at the click of mouse (or rather, the tap of a touchscreen) is very different from when we were children.
Therefore, we as parents are termed ‘digital immigrants’, who entered and assimilated into the new information and communication technology era. In the 21st century, we must be able to discern relevant knowledge and function as information seekers. It is far more important to be able to know how to use knowledge in relevant situations than remember facts. As Toffler predicted, “New education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction – how to teach himself.” The changing state of affairs requires individuals to envision and function themselves as lifelong learners, and rise to upcoming challenges as proactive problem solvers.
21st-century skills
“Creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status,” said Sir Ken Robinson, and internationally acclaimed author and education expert, speaking on creativity in education. The four Cs of the 21st-century skills required for students are creativity, critical thinking (also known as higher-order thinking), articulate communication, and collaboration among diversity. Creativity and innovation are the top strategic priorities in today’s progressive organisations. Considerable evidence now suggests that creativity can make a substantial contribution to an individual’s growth, academic success and competitiveness. Andrew and Gaia Grant, the authors of “Who Killed Creativity?” state, “The pace of life has changed so much that innovation is actually now a core survival skill; a necessity, not luxury.” Creativity produces ideas that are original and useful in order to solve problems and optimise opportunities. Integrating the arts alongside education not only cultivates critical thinking skills, but also helps find unique ways to process, collaborate, and communicate our thinking. As the famous Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world.”       

..... Anjum Babukhan