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May 6, 2014 > What is a 21st Century Education?

What is a 21st Century Education?

Submitted By Laurel Skurko

March was an important month for educators and students across the country: this is the time when elementary- and high school decision letters come back to the students and families who had submitted their applications. Many learn which schools accepted them, and then, over the course of a one-week period, make a final decision about the school they/their children will be attending. What is on many peopleÕs minds is Òthe future of our education.Ó We ask ourselves, ÒWill the school that these students attend provide them with the skills and qualities they will need for college (four years from now) and life after college (10-60 years out)?

The term that educators and policy makers use to define the concept of an education that is relevant into the future is Òa 21st Century Education.Ó

When our family started the high school application process last year, I started to hear this term for the first time. As a member of the business community, I had not been exposed to it. It was my hunch that this was an industry-specific term. To test this assumption, I asked my business colleagues what the term meant to them: most replied that they had never heard it before, nor had the educational professionals in other countries to whom I had posed the same question.

I decided to learn more about the concept in two ways: (1) by looking at online educational resources; and (2) by surveying business and education professionals across several industries and cultures to see what they thought what skills would be needed by those in the work force into the future.

I found when looking at educational resources, the results were fairly straightforward: it seems that educators had supplemented the Ò3RÕsÓ (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) with three additional zones. These included the Ò4CÕsÓ (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical thinking), along with other points that seemed logical to the uninitiated. These included ÒLife and career skills,Ó in addition to another category called ÒInformation, media and technology skills.Ó

While this sounds comprehensive, one has to wonder if there may be shifts in priorities as we continue to travel through the 21st Century (we still have over 85 years to go). There will be inevitable changes in what we consider crucial to a 21st century education because of natural developments in the world around us. It is for this reason that I believe that monitoring the market for our educational system over time is essential.

With this in mind, I took a simple, second approach. This method involved surveying people in various industries Ð those making decisions about how students are educated and who will be hired. I asked these decision-makers how they defined a 21st Century Education.

Over the last couple of weeks, when, in the normal course of doing business, I ran into one of these individuals, I asked the following questions:

ÒHow do you define a Ô21st Century EducationÕÓ?

ÒWhen you are hiring people to work with your teams, what skills and qualities are most relevant? What kind of training do you hope is available for students in schools in our community?Ó

The first question, unless I had asked an educator, was met with a puzzled look. This is the reason I asked the question the second way. It opened up a wealth of impassioned responses.

Here, I am sharing a small sampling of some of those answers, as I believe they provide a snapshot of the skills and qualities that educators and those interested in expanding their careers need to focus on today. If we continue to survey those around us in this way, we will all understand where our educational system needs to be headed for the next 85 years, and beyond.

ÒRunning a startup in San Francisco, you quickly realize that success is gated by the availability of software engineers. Marketing (as Facebook proves) has become a technical skill. Hailing a cab (as Uber proves) is a technology business. Even caring for a parent (as CareZone proves), is made easier via software. Those are the skills that will continue to transform industries everywhere.Ó (Jonathan Schwartz, CEO CareZone, formerly CEO Sun Microsystems)

ÒRather than ÔbrilliantÕ lecturers, our educators need to find ways of deeply understanding the context of the students whom they serve. If they have an appreciation of their lives, their neighborhoods and their communities, they can provide them with the skills and tools their students will need into the future.Ó (Kevin K. Kumashiro, PhD, Dean, USF School of Education)

ÒWe need problem solvers. Rather than people who can follow along a dotted line, we need those who will ask critical questions to get to the most effective solution. Designers are specifically trained to do this. In the high tech industry, design-thinking and creative-thinking are highly relevant skills that are needed to solve the types of challenges posed by our clients.Ó (Francisco Delgadillo, Creative Director, Oracle)

ÒAs we look at shaping the future of medical school education, we are focusing on both ÔblendedÕ and ÔadaptiveÕ learning. ÔBlended learningÕ is the integration of online learning opportunities to compliment classroom experiences. This provides the opportunity for students to progress based on individual learning styles and preferences (Ôadaptive learningÕ) and makes education much more effective and targeted.Ó (Clay Johnston, MD, Inaugural Dean, Dell Medical School, The University of Texas at Austin)

ÒThe most successful people in our organization are those who can be creative solution providers. They are able to think and work in an interdisciplinary environment. Many come with a background in the arts. This way of thinking is essential, as they are trained in finding different approaches, improvising and thinking on their feet. Ultimately, we need those who can react to a changing situation, and yet have a creative vision that keeps them grounded in their approach.Ó (Jim Nadel, Executive Director, Stanford Summer Jazz Festival)

ÒIt is an entrepreneurial mindset that will give our youth the skills they needfor success in the 21st century. Specific skills include being able to recognize and create opportunity, think critically, delay gratification, to take risks and to assume ownership for outcomes.Ó Krista Katsantonis Bloome, Executive Director, The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship)

ÒWe are looking for the nimble Ð those who can turn on a dime and are able to re-prioritizeÐmany times just adding more work to the priority list. Things move fast in a start-up and the more, well-rounded, Òcan doÓ anything types who are also happy to work in a fast, kinetic and always-changing environment, the better.Ó (Elissa Hambrecht, COO, NewCo)

ÒOur company has a very small staff-to-sales volume ratio. This means that we have no time or resources for training. We look for those who have both industry-experience and a high degree of maturity. This means that they are able to take in new information and act on it efficiently. For myself, I found that my education enabled me to see the world around me from a broader vantage point. This was of enormous value in my work today.Ó (Sarah Garcia, President and Ower, Pacific Produce)

ÒWe need employees who are both excellent communicators and problem solvers. If you have a great idea, it needs to make sense to others, even to a client who does not have the time or interest in understanding it. It is a given that all job applicants are technically proficient, but insuring that they are of the most value to the organization means that they will be able to translate their knowledge to our clients.Ó (Francisco Delgadillo, Creative Director, Oracle)

ÒI look for people who have both broad perspective on the marketplace, as well as a detailed, technical understanding of the product itself. That is to say that our staff needs to understand our customers and competitors and general trends in the market place, on the one hand. On the other hand, we rely on everyone in the chain of distribution (from manufacturer to vendor to salesperson) so have a true, technical mastery of the product itself. If any one person in the chain is not a product specialist, the entire system breaks down.Ó (Xiao Yan Zhu, CEO, Pinnacle Interior Elements LLC)

ÒIt is my hope that educators and policy-makers continue to tap the market to unearth new areas of demand, as they arise. Using various methods to insure that our educational institutions match the real-life needs presented across industries is critical. For those who are concerned with issues surrounding future productivity and the relevance of our educational system, perhaps the insights from professionals shared in this piece will provide a means of opening up the dialogue and will motivate continual improvement.Ó (Laurel Skurko, Principal, Linc Marketing)



Background on Laurel Skurko:

Laurel Skurko, Principal at Linc Marketing, works with local, Silicon Valley based, organizations, in addition to global businesses in the healthcare, education, and technology sectors. She serves organizations ranging from start-ups and non-profits to Fortune 500Õs. Her objective is to spread the word about valuable resources in the community using digital marketing techniques and her network in The Bay Area and beyond. She grew up in Silicon Valley and global citizen, having lived and worked extensively in America, Europe and Asia. She has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA in Human Biology from Stanford University. She is also a parent of three children in San Francisco, ages 9-15, and is passionate about the interface between education, industry and technology.

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