When talking about 21st century skills, Ceri Jones’s approach involves questions – exploring them about the term “21st century skills “, and then how they can help up tackle these skills.

So let’s think about the term itself:

  • Why all the fuss about 21st century skills? If we take the reasoning from two respected sources, the OECD Education Directorate, and the Glossary of Education Reform, we get the impression that their answers, while expressing a concern for the need to teach the students the skills of problem-solving, “for jobs that have not yet been created”, also imply the need to do so for economic necessities; it’s a bit top-down, with the emphasis on creating a workforce, rather than on teaching the skills themselves.


  • What are 21st century skills? Among many definitions, the most common always brings the mind back to the 4 C’s – creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. But the real question behind this one is: are they really “new”?


Let’s take a moment and think back of the technology we have been using in our daily lives since 2000, when Google was one of the few tools available. After 17 years, we have now a bouquet of options at our disposal: Facebook, Wikipedia, Instagram, YouTube, Dropbox, and many more – and the number of resources keeps rapidly growing. So now, in a moment in which we have reached almost a fifth of the 21st century, with technologies evolving by the minute, the label “21st century skills” can be a little slippery;


  • Which skills do we want to teach? For starters, take the 4 C’s. But in this context of rapid change we are living in, is it enough? Jones believes there is an argument for a “4C’s plus” – those would be the skills required for one to be able to function well within those digital tools. They have always been around, but the added value to it is to also have a focus on digital literacies, that is one becoming a literate user of digital communication and tools. This is when the skills of synthesis come in handy – how much information there is available and what to do with it;


  • How (to target 21st century skills)? Again, Jones poses that questions are the option here, quoting Steve Darn, who says questions are “one of the most important tools which teachers have at their disposal. But to think about the questions to ask students, teachers must first reflect on the questions they ask – which have their value pedagogically, but sometimes can be quite useless, such as “do you like…?”, which requests follow-up, therefore not being very generative – in contrast to the questions they should be asking.


Here are two possibilities:


  1. to work on creativity: a teacher may bring a picture of a scene, but instead of asking objective questions about it (where it was taken, time of day, describe it objectively), he/she could ask students to assume the position of the person who took the picture, and explore creative possibilities: have students imagine what if the picture was taken from a different angle, if there were (more) people in it, what was happening in it – in other words, questions to help students build up an image, instead of objectively describe one;


  1. to work on critical thinking: again, a teacher brings a picture, but of a famous event, which would require the student to know about it, and then explore the choices for that picture (when it was taken, who took it, what makes it interesting, what it is showing, when and how it was shared). Moreover, searching for the source of the picture would also be a way for students to acquire digital literacy.


These are just two examples, but the idea is there: in order to fully teach 21st century skills, teachers ought to think of new ways to explore questions in class. Each skill may require a certain line of thought, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing – it might be a good idea for teachers to walk in their students’ shoes when planning their lessons, for it will give them the insights they need to better explore the resources available in order to teach the target skill. And it is also an opportunity for them to develop it themselves.


To know more about 21st century skills and see more ideas on how to work with them, try the P21 website: www.p21.org