Supporting and Developing 21st Century Skills – Futurelab

 Got an email today from Futurelab…

A new report published by Futurelab, commissioned by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, seeks to address the challenge of finding ways of understanding, valuing and supporting initiatives that develop the skills and competencies young people need to survive and flourish in today’s society, in ways which both acknowledge their diversity and which enable children, parents, teachers, policy makers and others to develop a shared language for talking about and developing ’21st century skills’.

You can get the report here. I’ve not had time to read the 89 page report yet (!), but my internal struggle over a lot of ’21st century skills’ type discussions is what appears to me to be the de-valuation of knowledge. Being able to learn or find stuff out or argue about stuff is generally still valued, but knowledge is not. This is kind of skewed in that without a base of knowledge to work from how can a person make sensible choices about what to learn; or how to evaluate differing sources of information; or argue sensibly about anything. Anyway, this is something I plan to revisit. So maybe I should read the report and see if that helps!

Another issue I have with some ideas about schooling in the 21st C is with putting student choice above all else. Not because students shouldn’t have input into their learning, but because without guidance, support and some knowledge to lead this process they might well make some very bad choices. To some extent it could be argued that the large numbers of students in the UK opting out of maths, physics or anything else seen as ‘hard’ is indicative of where this would lead. And this is acknowledged in the Futurelab report, which highlights the conflicting issues here:

An overemphasis on external/national standards is seen to reduce motivation and engagement with learning, while an overemphasis on personal goals may reduce horizons and aspirations. (Page 3)

I’m afraid that that’s about as far as I’ve got in the report.

2 thoughts on “Supporting and Developing 21st Century Skills – Futurelab

  1. Herman Najoli

    It seems to me that in the 21st Century the shelf life of knowledge has drastically diminished. What we learn today may be useless in about six months. We therefore need to place more value on continued learning and unlearning as opposed to merely collecting knowledge. I haven’t read the report but I will check it out later today. Thanks for highlighting it.

  2. Daniel Livingstone

    Hi Herman,

    I have to disagree there about the ‘shelf life of knowledge’. Its a idea popularised in e.g. the ‘Did you know?’ YouTube video presentation, but I really don’t think true for very much of what we learn. I studied computer science almost 20 years ago, and while a lot of new developments have occurred since then there has been remarkably little that I learned then that would be worth ‘unlearning’ now.

    Of your own books, what percentage of the content would you say will be outdated and useless six months from now? 10%? 50%? Or do you believe that they will still be as relevant then as they are now.

    To pick one example, Newton’s laws have been found to be flawed, yet are still useful (and used).

    I will do a follow up post, but it shouldn’t be a case for either/or rote learning vs. learning how to learn. To rephrase my earlier statement, a base of knowledge IS required to support learning and critical thinking. To suggest that learning this base of knowledge is ‘merely’ doing something again puts a low value on knowledge.


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