What do we mean by “21st century” education?

What is shaping the dialogue? Where are we going? Who is coming along?

There is, like any other educational concept (critical thinking, cooperative learning etc.), a lot of confusion, jargon, ideology and rhetoric in the world of education today around the issues of “21st century skills” or “personalized learning” or any other of the names these discussions are using to discuss the directions and trends that or occurring in education and leaving many teachers, administrators and learners behind and out of touch. It is still surprising to find educators who haven’t at least heard of these terms and at least heard some staff room discussion about them.

There is a lot written about the history of educational trends and the revolutionary, disruptive technologies that have caused massive upheavals. The written word was one of them. Socrates lamented the day men would no longer rely on their well-developed memory but instead resort to the written word to record knowledge. The printing press was another disruptive technology. However, in the history of mankind, nothing has been as revolutionary as the mobile information technology. But has it fundamentally changed educational structures, models and organizations? In some places yes. In others, no. The later are the places that will simply, I predict, cease to exist as we know them or find it incredibly difficult to maintain their facilities except for those consumers of education willing to pay top dollar for a “traditional education”. These changes we are seeing are massive, and they will affect how we think about learners, schools as places, and the role of teachers.

My own thoughts are mixed, but generally I agree with the consensus opinion of educational thinkers that the current delivery model is hopelessly out of date, expensive, inefficient and largely ineffective, except to perhaps somewhere between 20 and 40% of our students whose learning preferences fit the model we have grown accustomed to. Changes are coming, and in some places, they are already well underway. Here’s a snapshot of some of the discussions and ideas taking place.

  • The BC Premier’s technology report is as good a place to start as any- it outlines how this might look. According to some ministry underlings I’ve talked to, this will lead in 2012 to the beginning of a complete revision of all K-12 IRPs.
  • For a quick preview of what is going on in some places check into what New Brunswick, yes New Brunswick, is already doing:
  • Tony Wagner is one among many who conceives of change as a means to facilitate what is necessary for western economies to compete in the future, and for global citizens to participate responsibly
  • The Horizon Report 2011 outlines the direction technology will take education: http://wp.nmc.org/horizon2011/
  • The BCTF commissioned Charlie Naylor, Phd. to write a report for BC teachers on the implications of this movement: http://www.bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/Issues/21CL/21CL-ExecSummary.pdf
  • The Partnership for 2oth century skills is an organization that is influencing BC policy makers. http://www.p21.org/
  • Some notable books to check out that I’ve read in recent weeks on this topic:

So what are your thoughts on all this?


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