T.H.E. Focus :: January 17, 2008

21st-Century Skills

If students are to gallop into the 21st century, many people believe that technology is the horse they'll be riding.

Think about it: What in your life hasn't been transformed to some extent by technology? Maybe you regularly extract $100 from your checking account by using your bank's ATM. Or Email your resume (with that great photo of you hard at work) to companies across the country. Or drive a car that can find its own way to the new pizza place across town. Or participate in video conferences with your business counterparts from around the world. Or organize your entire summer vacation--travel, hotel, attractions--online.

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The 21st-Century Workforce

Recently, a new hire at a friend's company was assigned the task to review, analyze, and write a report about several organizations the company was interested in working with. Andrea Brands, AT&T's director of public affairs, describes the result: "My friend received a poor narrative, just a long summary, and it wasn't comprehensive." The employee didn't use any initiative, didn't go beyond the superficial. The employee was unprepared for the job.

These days, a lot of employers are facing similar situations; they feel that to-day's graduates' of universities, two-year colleges, and high schools' are deficient in "applied skills" such as critical thinking, problem solving, written communications, leadership, and professionalism. An organization called The Partnership for 21st-Century Skills found as much in a 2006 study, "Are They Really Ready to Work?" The study identifies which skills students lack and how important those skills are today and in the near future. People like Andrea Brands are working with educators around the country to help provide those skills to students.

Brands is on the board of the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills. Most of the educators she knows agree that if they infuse the skills into their curricula, students will be better off. As Brands says, "It's just not relevant to memorize where tributaries are in South America." She wants to "make classrooms more relevant . . . so students understand why they're learning this information."

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