The benchmark of necessary knowledge is constantly shifting. The 21st century no longer rewards the cramming of knowledge into one’s head. Instead, today’s children are expected to adopt multi-purpose skills that they can apply to various professions, fields, and areas of life. Here’s our shortlist of the top ten 21st-century skills that you can instill in your kids through both good education and upbringing.
Every era has its own requirements for its people. In the past, it was of immense value to be able to survive. Survival skills got you far, while theoretical knowledge didn’t have much value. Later, memorized theoretical knowledge became the most-prized intellectual possession, seeing as there wasn’t an effective means of storing and transporting it other than in books or in your head. In the 21st century, however, and in the time leading up to it, we’ve undergone a significant transformation. The result is a brand new set of requirements for what it means to have 21st century skills.
No longer do we have to carry things around in our head – we can effectively store them on clouds, microchips, or in vast databases. The key skill today is not to memorize facts, nor to flaunt others with our skills to fight a bear or a wooly mammoth. It is in fact something else entirely. The 21st century requires us to have skills that allow us to use the quantities of information readily available at our fingertips effectively and purposefully.
Why is this so important? You might have heard people say something along the lines of – you would think that with all the information available to us today, there would be no one misinformed or purposefully misguided. And yet, misinformation is spreading across the world like at no time before. That is because our intelligence or informedness does not come from the amount of information we have. It comes from processing these well enough, and to use them in a productive way. And that is the key 21st century skill that we need, and one that we are unfortunately lacking in certain aspects.
But to work with information, to spread them, and produce something out of them, one needs to learn a lot. Our modern education should and must reflect this. So what is it that we should be teaching our kids and our students? And how?
Here is a list of 10 key 21st century skills no one should go without. (including adults)
Knowing how to talk doesn’t mean one also knows how to communicate effectively. To communicate effectively, one must be able to, first of all, listen and then to empathize with what is being said and where the person saying it is coming from. At a time when people are mostly trying to be right, this is an overlooked skill. The point of a debate between two people shouldn’t be to win, and to determine who is right and who is wrong, but instead, to learn and broaden one’s horizons. A collaborative mindset (and with that, collaborative activities) are some of the best ways to achieve this.
The importance of communication skills shows why collaboration is the second 21st century skill of huge value. Cooperative games, discussions, seeing one another as a partner rather than as competition – this is something we’ve discussed on our blog: this can be best achieved by teaching children to listen, negotiate their roles, recognize each other’s qualities and assign roles according to their respective strengths and weaknesses. In adulthood and older childhood, group projects (whether fortunately or unfortunately) are going to be a substantial part of everyone’s life, and learning to manage this to a high degree of effectiveness and satisfaction, while all those involved get the chance to flaunt their strengths and talents, is a skill everyone can use.
3. Critical thinking
This term gets discussed a lot, and for good reason. Critical thinking is the very ability to discern important information from irrelevant information, to distinguish what is false and what is plausible, and also to communicate with people better, such as by using thought-provoking arguments and to be able to accept new information when presented adequately. Critical thinking allows us to solve problems and navigate the world full of information without getting lost. It is perhaps the most important 21st century skill without which every other skill stands on sand. While technology does a lot of thinking for us, we should never forget to do the key parts ourselves.
Critical thinking can be taught by teaching students how to identify a good source (once they’re older), asking them a lot of questions on the things they believe and understand, and again by teaching them to empathize, since this can help us understand how and why people present us with false information and how to resist it.
4. Creativity and imagination
We have already discussed on our blog how and why creativity is a skill everyone can learn and perfect. It consists of switching between the open (diffuse) and close (focused) modes of thinking. One of the great ways to do it is by teaching children to code, since coding involves being introduced to new challenges and activities, exploring the possible solutions, and then focusing one’s attention diligently on testing the right solutions. Children have a huge gift of wild imagination, but some lose it as they age. By allowing them to be curious, and by encouraging them to be imaginative through explorative tasks and unknown challenges, we can considerably curb this effect of age.
Problem-solving requires a lot of persistence and resilience to make sure one does not give up at the sign of the slightest failure or unfamiliarity. It is a skill that guides us through life and that every single one of us can make use of, without exception. Introduce your kids and pupils to new unfamiliar challenges and let them figure out the solution on their own as you merely watch and guide them if necessary. From coding tasks to cleaning chores in the house – anything can be a learning experience.
6. Analytical thinking
Understanding how things work, why they work the way they do, and what we can do to make them work better is another 21st century essential skill. It benefits our professional as well as personal lives and allows us to make better-informed decisions in both spheres by collecting relevant data, making rational decisions, and correctly identifying causes and consequences. Teach your kids or students to think analytically by, for example, asking them to take objects apart – whether that be a simple electronic gadget or a robotic toy. Make sure everything they learn is understood at a deeper level, especially with analytical subjects, such as maths and sciences, and not just memorized.
7. Ethics, action, accountability
Achieving your goals is one thing, but doing in a way that causes as little damage to others as possible is another. Teach your children and students to be kind, to not insult one another, to not lie, and to admit once they have done something wrong, and apologize if that is the case. Encourage them to make these actions on their own eventually, without being prompted. Making sure today’s children grow up to be individuals with integrity and accountability is perhaps the most important mission of them all.
8. Literacy – media literacy, information literacy, tech literacy
Literacy is perhaps the second most important 21st century skill, and in several ways. Media literacy allows us to critically examine media news instead of believing everything we hear and discerning relevant information from misinformation. It also gives us an understanding of the things that are reported on so that we are not fooled (like the basics of scientific methods). This is information literacy – knowing to evaluate what information sounds plausible, what sounds exaggerated or made up, and being able to tell why.
Tech literacy is the third very important type of literacy, and essentially means that we are able to produce and cooperate with technology at a deeper level than simply by consuming it. We can adapt it, program it, create new technology, and are able to work with technology intuitively even as it evolves and changes. This type of confidence and literacy is best taught – you guessed it – by learning to code, or by learning to create, adapt and edit technology to our own needs.
Being a good leader takes a lot more than barking out commands and having others work for you. It involves motivating others to do their portion of the job, rewarding them accordingly, assigning them the roles that fit their skill set, and discussing their strengths and weaknesses critically but also sensitively enough to spare their feelings. Many of us will have to act as leaders in groups at a certain point in life, and what better time to learn it than during childhood?
The best way to let children explore their leadership skills is by encouraging cooperative play. As discussed in point 2 (collaboration), when guided, such activity allows children to naturally divide the roles within a group and guide a project to its successful solution together and effectively so.
10. Global and cultural awareness
In the 21st century, the world is so connected and open that we simply cannot any longer make excuses and ignore this. Teach children and pupils about the world outside their own bubble, help them realize the diversity of people around us, and make sure they know how to respect these differences and to avoid the fear of the unknown. Many of today’s adults fail at the job, so it is our best hope that the next generation does it better.
How does coding play into it?
You might be asking. We’ve already hinted at how coding can help learn and teach individual skills. But the truth is, coding is yet another 21st century skill that requires our attention. We’ve discussed at length why this is so, and you can take a look at our previous blog posts here and here.
STEM tools such as Robo Wunderkind are the perfect means to teach children these 21st century skills. They encourage probing, experimenting, creativity, critical and analytical thinking, collaboration, leadership, tech literacy, and the ability to solve problems. Their multi-purpose use makes them a great companion for both the home and the classroom, and our regular online challenges and webinars make it easy to always stay in touch with the latest STEM trends and connect with an eager community of young coders and motivated teachers (whether professionals or parents).
No one should go without the 21st century skills and it is on us to teach them to the younger generation in a way that is comprehensible and that prepares them for the challenges of their future lives. So let’s get started!