There's an intense debate going on in education in the UK. In one corner, those those who favour child-centred teaching and allegedly 'don't want kids to learn anything because they've got Google'. In the other corner, Michael Gove and other 'traditionalists' (my words) who believe that knowledge is key to everything.
For what it's worth I think both extremes (if they even exist) are fighting a pretty meaningless battle - there isn't a classroom in the world that doesn't focus on both skills and knowledge. Today I've been at a science fair in Liverpool watching some highly articulate students present a wide range of interesting scientific research (the Big Bang Fair North West). Are they using knowledge or skills - the answer of course is both. Perhaps there is a debate about the balance and I'm happy to leave this to education researchers.
However, I do think I can make one contribution from my personal experience (both today but more importantly in the past) - and that's to make it absolutely clear that there are '21st century skills' - things that I didn't learn at school in the 20th century but that today's students must learn to help them in life.
How do I know this? Well, unlike most of those debating this issue, I spent the first few years of the 21st century working in a 21st century profession (a marketing consultancy), recruiting and training new staff. We were looking for skills that I didn't have when I left school. Part of our job as teachers must be to make sure our students have these skills and can prove they can have them. (And I know that's not our only job, but with nearly 1m unemployed young people it's a key part!).
So, what are they? Here's my take on what employers want in the 21st century, in addition to the specific knowledge needed for each job. If you don't have them, you are seriously at risk of not being hired (at least by the people I used to work with). Many, as you might expect, are IT-based, but it's amazing how many aren't. And I'm sure there will be new ones next year, but to think all of these are going away in the next 10 years isn't sensible!
Totally new skills:
- Database construction and use (not as geeky as it sounds - this article was written in a research management database (Evernote) and posted online in a content management database (Weebly))
- Using 'Office' programmes (OK, Microsoft Word came out in 1983, but I didn't learn how to use it in school and I left in 1991)
- Design ability and awareness (the ability to communicate ideas in design whether online or in publications)
- Social media awareness and management (remember that Facebook didn't exist until 2004!)
- Email (I sent my first email in 1993 at university but am shocked by how some teachers still can't use the full features of Outlook)
- Understanding and working across cultures (how do you approach people from different backgrounds?)
- Computer programming in a range of flavours (at the very least an appreciation of what computer programming is!)
Skills that existed in the past but are much more important now
- Research, analysis and synthesis (NB - this is not 'using google and wikipedia' - it is researching quickly and efficiently using the modern tools at our disposal - and most importantly drawing conclusions without bias)
- Teamwork (the vertical hierarchies of the past are gone - we all need to work with each other)
- Touch-typing (may seen a strange choice, but if you can't type at 40wpm you will find a lot of jobs difficult nowadays).
- Innovation (looking at problems in a new way)
- Time management (you don't get told when to do things now!)
- Presentation skills (really important in business - so much involves influencing others)
- Sales ability (we're all selling now - even teachers!)
Skills that are always in demand but now have technology to help!
- Writing (good spelling and grammar are important but there is help now - I made 5 spelling mistakes in my first draft...)
- Mental arithmetic and a general sense of numbers and statistics (so that if you make a mistake on the calculator on your phone you spot it)
- Foreign languages (but Spanish, Mandarin and Portuguese rather than French or German)
- Design and artistic ability (difficult to develop, but something vital!)
Please tell me what else matters, or why I'm wrong below...