Education in the 21st Century

What is 21st Century Education?

The 21st Century

The new millennium was ushered in by a dramatic technological revolution. We now live in an increasingly diverse, globalized, and complex, media-saturated society. According to Dr. Douglas Kellner at UCLA this technological revolution will have a greater impact on society than the transition from an oral to a print culture.

Today's kindergarteners will be retiring in the year 2067. We have no idea of what the world will look in five years, much less 60 years, yet we are charged with preparing our students for life in that world. Our students are facing many emerging issues such as global warming, famine, poverty, health issues, a global population explosion and other environmental and social issues. These issues lead to a need for students to be able to communicate, function and create change personally, socially, economically and politically on local, national and global levels.

Even kindergarten children can make a difference in the world by participating in real-life, real-world service learning projects. You're never too young, or too old, to make your voice heard and create change that makes the world a better place.

Emerging technologies and resulting globalization also provide unlimited possibilities for exciting new discoveries and developments such as new forms of energy, medical advances, restoration of environmentally ravaged areas, communications, and exploration into space and into the depths of the oceans. The possibilities are unlimited.

21st Century Skills

21st Century Schools, LLC recognizes the critical need for developing 21st century skills. However, we believe that authentic education addresses the “whole child”, the “whole person”, and does not limit our professional development and curriculum design to workplace readiness.

21st century skills learned through our curriculum, which is interdisciplinary, integrated, project-based, and more, include and are learned within a project-based curriculum by utilizing the seven survival skills advocated by Tony Wagner in his book, The Global Achievement Gap:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination

“School”, “Teacher”, “Learner” and “Curriculum” for the 21st Century

How should education be structured to meet the needs of students in this 21st century world? How do we now define “School”, “Teacher” “Learner” and "Curriculum"?

Schools in the 21st century will be laced with a project-based curriculum for life aimed at engaging students in addressing real-world problems, issues important to humanity, and questions that matter.

This is a dramatic departure from the factory-model education of the past. It is abandonment, finally, of textbook-driven, teacher-centered, paper and pencil schooling. It means a new way of understanding the concept of “knowledge”, a new definition of the “educated person”. A new way of designing and delivering the curriculum is required.

We offer the following new definitions for “School”, “Teacher” and “Learner” appropriate for the 21st century:

Schools will go from ‘buildings’ to 'nerve centers', with walls that are porous and transparent, connecting teachers, students and the community to the wealth of knowledge that exists in the world.”

Teacher - From primary role as a dispenser of information to orchestrator of learning and helping students turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom.

The 21st century will require knowledge generation, not just information delivery, and schools will need to create a “culture of inquiry”.

Learner - In the past a learner was a young person who went to school, spent a specified amount of time in certain courses, received passing grades and graduated. Today we must see learners in a new context:

First – we must maintain student interest by helping them see how what they are learning prepares them for life in the real world.

Second – we must instill curiosity, which is fundamental to lifelong learning.

Third – we must be flexible in how we teach.

Fourth – we must excite learners to become even more resourceful so that they will continue to learn outside the formal school day.”

So what will schools look like, exactly? What will the curriculum look like? How will this 21st century curriculum be organized, and how will it impact the way we design and build schools, how we assess students, how we purchase resources, how we acquire and utilize the new technologies, and what does all this mean for us in an era of standarized testing and accountability?

Imagine a school in which the students – all of them – are so excited about school that they can hardly wait to get there. Imagine having little or no “discipline problems” because the students are so engaged in their studies that those problems disappear. Imagine having parents calling, sending notes, or coming up to the school to tell you about the dramatic changes they are witnessing in their children: newly found enthusiasm and excitement for school, a desire to work on projects, research and write after school and on weekends. Imagine your students making nearly exponential growth in their basic skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, researching, scientific explorations, math, multimedia skills and more!

It is possible. It has happened, and is happening, in schools across the country. I have seen this first-hand with my classes, and I have seen it at other schools with whom I have worked. And there is growing evidence of schools everywhere having the same results when they implement a 21st century curriculum.

What is 21st century curriculum?

Twenty-first century curriculum has certain critical attributes. It is interdisciplinary, project-based, and research-driven. It is connected to the community – local, state, national and global. Sometimes students are collaborating with people around the world in various projects. The curriculum incorporates higher order thinking skills, multiple intelligences, technology and multimedia, the multiple literacies of the 21st century, and authentic assessments. Service learning is an important component.

The classroom is expanded to include the greater community. Students are self-directed, and work both independently and interdependently. The curriculum and instruction are designed to challenge all students, and provides for differentiation.

The curriculum is not textbook-driven or fragmented, but is thematic, project-based and integrated. Skills and content are not taught as an end in themselves, but students learn them through their research and application in their projects. Textbooks, if they have them, are just one of many resources.

Knowledge is not memorization of facts and figures, but is constructed through research and application, and connected to previous knowledge, personal experience, interests, talents and passions. The skills and content become relevant and needed as students require this information to complete their projects. The content and basic skills are applied within the context of the curriculum, and are not ends in themselves.

Assessment moves from regurgitation of memorized facts and disconnected processes to demonstration of understanding through application in a variety of contexts. Real-world audiences are an important part of the assessment process, as is self-assessment.

The Purpose of Education

Some years ago, when working toward a doctorate in curriculum and instruction at the University of Texas at Austin, I was very focused on changing education. In fact, it was my fierce desire to find a way to create change that led me back to school. One of my professors, Dr. John Martin Rich, introduced me to the concept of Critical Pedagogy. Through that research I discovered Douglas Kellner, who at that time was the Chair of the Philosophy Department at UT. He became my teacher and advisor, and it was Dr. Kellner who led me toward multiple literacies, media literacy, and the use of new technologies to design and deliver a 21st century curriculum.

During that time I wrote a paper on the Purpose of Education. It is a beginning analysis I had to do in order to begin to understand critical pedagogy. It requires much development, but perhaps it has some points we can use to begin to build a vision for education in the 21st century. I studied critical pedagogy for a long time, and necessarily had to conduct a great deal of research into the history of education, the philosophy of education, and the evolution of critical pedagogy, which led me to backtrack philosophy all the way back to Aristotle and Plato. It also required a look into history, the evolution of countries, their economies, governments, and industries. See also Philosophical Foundations.

We must realize, and our students must understand, that we cannot move toward a vision of the future until we understand the socio-historical context of where we are now. Where are we? What events led us to be where we are? How can this inform our development of a vision for the future and how we want to get there?

A clear articulation of the purpose of education for the 21st century is the place to begin. Creating a vision of where we want to go requires us to ask the question - why? What is the purpose of education? What do we need to do to accomplish that purpose?

Comment Stream

2 years ago
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Hello there, Alice, I enjoyed