Developing 21st Century Skills: Where Learning Comes First

“As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve, but to unleash their talent.”
– George Couros

Education across the world is experiencing radical change and normalcy, as we knew it, will soon be lost for new innovations. A 21st century education is about giving students the skills they need to succeed in this new world, and helping them develop the confidence to practice those skills. With so much information readily available to them, 21st century skills focus more on making sense of that information, sharing and using it in smart ways. One can identify creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration as the ‘Skills for Today’ – skills much needed for every individual’s success. These skills must be included in curriculum mapping and strategic planning and should be part of every lesson in the same way as literacy and numeracy. In fact, there are other skills too, such as inquiry and problem solving and emotional intelligence that are important keys to successful work and relationships.

21st Century Learning program

Investment in education begins with the parents’ decision to bring another life into this world. The child is greatly affected by the parents’ social, emotional and physical state. A happy, healthy parent will bring into the world a happy, healthy child. The child’s learning continues after his birth. Every interaction with the people and the environment around him is a learning opportunity for the young one. Jean Piaget theorised that children took an active role in the learning process, acting much like little scientists as they performed experiments, made observations, and learnt about the world. Maria Montessori too believed that as children interact with the world around them, they continually add new knowledge, build upon existing knowledge, and adapt previously held ideas to accommodate new information. According to Erik Erikson, the child’s personality develops as it successfully resolves crises that are distinctly social in nature. These involve establishing a sense of trust in others, developing a sense of identity in society, and helping the next generation prepare for the future.

Undoubtedly there is little uncertainty that we must focus on building the skills of our learners in the early years. But, one may say that it is one thing to talk about theories, and completely another to translate them into action.

My life’s quest has been to transform a somewhat Utopian vision into tangible reality. I have always dreamt of a world that is characterised by peaceful coexistence- a world peopled with citizens who possess a heightened sense of responsibility, are engaged in meaningful pursuits, lead a balanced life and have a healthy outlook that creates harmony in body and mind.

I have been working in the field of education for almost 2 decades now, and I can vouch that the answer lies in a well structured, carefully planned, accountable and appropriate curriculum that will create children who respond and react positively to the learning environments. The result would be happy, empowered, well adjusted and competent individuals who possess the skills to create a better world and are 21st century ready.

But before all else, we must understand that it is the child who is the curriculum. All planning must be done keeping the child’s needs at its heart and with the awareness that the world around us is dynamic and always in a flux.

An important aspect that has to be kept in mind is that children do not learn only in a school. The entire world is their school: marketplaces, hospitals, cafes, trains, airplanes, home –it is infused into the society.

Everywhere children go, they learn. We must consider that our lives are driven and directed by technology, therefore, to ensure that our children are 21st century ready, we must not exclude this aspect from our curriculum either.

Of vital importance is our perception of the educator. In this age, educators are not just licensed professionals at school. Parents, grandparents, friends, along with every person that a child interacts with are his educators. Thus, a strong home – school connect is truly important.

A curriculum that is planned keeping in mind the changed perceptions and roles of the school and the educator along with the needs of the child will undoubtedly be a successful one. Transaction of the curriculum must be done through activities that focus on integration of curriculum domains and building skills of the children through play. Play, especially for the little ones, is a way of learning. Strangely, many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.

Awareness of different learning styles and multiple intelligences is a must if we want to ensure learning for all. Children do not learn in the same way. How learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment is different for each individual. A mismatch between an instructor’s style of teaching and a student’s method of learning can create potential learning obstacles within the classroom. Therefore, activities should use a variety of teaching modalities to deliver instruction.

We cannot forget that teaching is not about answering questions but about raising questions – opening doors for the children in places that they could not imagine. The learning process can be made meaningful and enjoyable by ensuring that it is self – driven. If we can create an environment for our young learners which is wholesome, challenging, engaging and motivating, we will surely be able to instil an intrinsic motivation within the children to learn. If we are able to achieve this in the learners at the very first stage of their life, rest assured higher education will not pose a challenge.

The bottom line is that meaningful education is one that empowers learners with transferable skills that will hold up to a rapidly changing world, not prescribed content that has been chosen for its past relevance. Therefore, it is important to put the learners at the centre of the learning and allow them to create their own meaning from their experiences and interactions. It is abundantly clear that there is a need for differentiated instruction to engage learners meaningfully. One needs to present information in new and interesting ways and develop skills that make our children 21st century ready.

It’s all about expanding their mental horizons, broadening their thinking, enriching their experiences, empowering them with knowledge and skills, inculcating values, developing their personal social skills, making them self reliant and regulated, imparting awareness about health and safety, building a sense of physical wellness, igniting their enquiry skills and creating a need for citizenship. It is necessary for them to be technologically savvy in order to strengthen their mathematical acumen or vice versa, making them prospective leaders of tomorrow.

We need to nurture within the learners, a rational approach, a progressive attitude and the ability to say YES to life always! We need to fill them with vigour and enthusiasm to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

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