The four global forces – demographics, resource demand, globalisation and climate change, entwined with the fifth force, technology, will shape the future (Smith, 2010). Hedely Beare’s (2001) ‘I am the future’s child’ questions the design of pedagogy, curriculum and assessment in schools to equip children for the future world. The world is changing, a service economy driven by information, knowledge, and innovation has displaced the industrial economy, thereby reshaping business and workplaces (Kay, 2010), and this preludes the need for an education which prepares students for the economic, workforce and citizenship opportunities and demands of the 21st Century.
Sir Ken Robinson (2006) contests the role of schooling, academic inflation, antiquated belief of academic superiority equaling intelligence, and the strangle hold on creativity. He advocated the need to re-think the fundamental principles of education and reconceptualising the richness of human capacity, towards educating ‘the whole being’.
Recognizing the profound gap in preparing students for the future workforce, a coalition of the business community (Apple, Intel, Adobe, HP, etc.), education leaders (Pearson, Cengage, Education First, etc.), and policy makers in the USA known as The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) have created a millennium model of learning that incorporates the essential 21st Century Skills into the system of education. They called this the 21st Century Skills and Learning Framework which focuses on the skills, knowledge, expertise and literacies which embody 21st century learning and teaching geared to achieving holistic student outcomes. In this framework, students are encouraged to learn using real world data through inquiry, collaboration and communication.
The Framework may be pictorially represented (Figure 1) by an arch, described as the Knowledge and Skills Rainbow; it illustrates the student outcomes that are most desired for the current times. This rainbow is supported by an integrated system of standards and assessments, curriculum and instruction, professional development and learning environments.
A core element in the arch, represented by the Learning and Innovation Skills features collaboration as one of the 4Cs (the other three Cs being critical thinking, communication and creativity). With the flattening of organizational structure and geographically dispersed workforce, complex forms of communication and collaboration are necessary to articulate thoughts and ideas in diverse environments, often in multi-cultural settings and spanning across borders in virtual space.
In this light, the ability to work collaboratively is pivotal to current students and the future work force. In an increasingly connected world – growth, development and achievements in academics, industry, medicine or science, is amassed largely through collaborative efforts. Collaboration promotes learning, not only within borders and boundaries but across time zones with multiple participants on projects using software’s and web tools to create, share, modify and develop solutions. Working alongside cross-cultural teams, respecting diversity and cultural orientations, being flexible to accommodate common goals, recognising and valuing others contributions and perspectives are increasingly important in fostering a collaborative environment.
It is critical for students at this time and age to hone the ability to collaborate and contribute. Collaboration encompasses most, if not all, of the 21st Century Skill set. Communication, interpersonal and intercultural skills are key ingredients to effective collaboration. For example, it is now commonplace to utilize IT tools for researching and synthesising vast amounts of data and share it virtually, therefore a knowledge worker is expected to be digitally competent, capable of using media effectively and maintaining professional etiquette in collaborative workspace. Individual initiative and self-direction are paired along side with team work in order to adapt to new environments and people
Having the flexibility to listen, reflect and act on priorities are built upon good collaborative habits and experience. The era of ‘single heroes’ are bygone. Businesses and workplaces today rely on collaboration of ideas and knowledge. The talent pool for the years ahead are not only for those with the industry or product expertise but of those who expand their expertise and knowledge through collaborative networks, breaking through new frontiers in an increasingly borderless world.
Whether one subscribes to the 21st Century Knowledge and Skills framework, or the multitudes of alternative structures, the outcome sought after is the global readiness of an individual to thrive in an interdependent society. The focus is in imparting these skills equally across to all students by providing for, and designing the 21st century skills into the curricula. Educational institutions and facilitators of the learning environment must provide ample opportunities for students to develop the capacity to acquire and apply these skills through appropriate collaborative learning activities to ensure the success of their graduates now and into the future.
Figure 1: 21st Century Knowledge, Skills, Themes, & Support System (http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework)
A Report and Mile Guide for 21st Century Skills, Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/P21_Report.pdf
Beare, H. (2001) Creating the Future’s Schools. Routledge Falmer
Kay, K. (2010). 21st Century Skills: Why they matter, what they are, and how we get there. In Bellanca, J. & Brandt, R. (EDs.), 21st Century Skills: Rethinking how students learn. Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN.
Smith, L. C. (2010). The world in 2050: Four forces shaping civilisation’s northern future. Dutton-Penguin Group, NY.
Sir Ken Robinson, February 2006, Monterey California , http://www. TED talk Do Schools Kill Creativity?
Article contributor: Sherean Jessica Vaz