Monday, 5 January 2015

What are 21st century skills?

Happy new year to you all! I hope that the break was a wonderful one for you. The new year is a time when we naturally reflect on where we are at, not just personally, but professionally as well. For me, this reflection process is ongoing, as I constantly strive to ensure that at Bradbury, we are preparing our students for their future.

Our current and future students at Bradbury will experience working conditions that we are just beginning to see a glimpse of now. Our next generation, no matter who they work for, will increasingly be a part of global teams.  They will use technology to move across borders, time zones, cultural and ethic differences and even language as they work with colleagues from around the globe on issues such as climate change, food security, and population growth - issues that require multinational teams coming together to effect change.
The challenges today's students will face as tomorrow's leaders will involve working more closely across geographic borders, and with people who have very different backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences. In short, diversity and global citizenship are our common future.
It is our job at Bradbury and as parents, to ensure that our children will be ready, and that the education they're receiving today is preparing them for the world they'll inherit in a decade or two. '21st century skills' is a term we often hear in education circles -but what are these skills? I suggest the following:

  • An appreciation of cultural differences
  • An ability to understand and consider multiple perspectives
  • The ability to apply critical thinking skills
  • The ability to solve problems
  • The ability to  cope with ambiguity and change
  • Possessing an understanding of globally significant issues.
An environment that places a high value on seeking out and leveraging a diversity of perspectives, particularly those with perspectives that are controversial or significantly different from the students' own, helps them build their ability to empathise and value perspectives other than their own.
Students today have the incredible benefit of using technology not only to access new ideas and global perspectives, but also to personalize and take control of their learning. Every day there are new technology resources available to help educators make their classrooms more global and connect their students to new ideas, challenges, and resources that will let them dig deeper into what they're learning in class. At Bradbury, we are very well technology resourced and teachers have a high level of skill in terms of applying their knowledge to a classroom setting. We do not forget though, that technology is a resource and as such, must be carefully considered and used with discernment.

What does this mean and look like in our classrooms though? 

  • When pedagogy and curriculum is grounded in real and significant global issues that have local impact, and are used  to foster self-directed learning, it is highly empowering to students. Leveraging this kind of material and encouraging students to think deeply and creatively about implications, parallels in their own community, and how they can affect change,  builds strong critical thinking skills and an understanding of students' own global context. A good example of this is our Year 6 Exhibition, where students are encouraged to seek out, research and provide action for the local issues we confront in Hong Kong. Air quality, shark fin production and  domestic workers rights are all local issues that our students have explored during this unit of enquiry.
  • Teachers in classrooms that actively build global competence encourage students to wrestle with the complexity of an issue. They then design and implement solutions based on the students' own research. This helps students build an appreciation for the challenges of addressing both global and community issues. A teacher who challenges and encourages students to be comfortable with changing environments and circumstances simulates the realities of our deeply dynamic world. Helping our students understand that even small actions can have a significant impact, is hugely empowering. Even our Year 1 & 2 students are encouraged to think about how they can make a difference.

  • Reflection is considered as a critical and important component of classroom learning.  Structured and frequent reflection, which students do both on their own and with each other, helps them apply what they have learned  to their  future work, especially if they see any mistakes they have made as opportunities for improvement! This is an area of growth for us. In a very crowded curriculum, it is difficult to take the time to allow for deep and meaningful reflection- but we are getting there!

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