21st century skills - a 21st century problem?

07 March 2013

21st century skills are not unique to this century, top education experts agree.

Speaking at a recent Cambridge Assessment debate to evaluate what '21st century skills' today's students are being taught and whether they're being properly assessed and recognised, Daisy Christodoulou of the Curriculum Centre stated that “21st century skills were not invented in the 21st century” and that skills such as “communication” and “collaboration” have been characteristic of humans throughout recorded history. Indeed, Oxford University’s Mike Nicholson said that his institution had been delivering “21st century skills” – with the exception of ICT – for 850 years. 

However, both Christodoulou and the National Foundation for Education Research’s Niel Mclean agreed that an important difference of the 21st century was that it was ever more important that all people possessed these skills rather than the elite as in previous times. 

Cambridge Assessment’s Dr Irenka Suto’s presentation highlighted the many different definitions of 21st century skills, concluding that there was no single widely accepted definition of what they constituted. However, there was consensus among both speakers and delegates that metacognition, communication and collaboration were the most important. 

Guest speaker Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education Policy at the OECD joined the debate live via a videolink from Paris, explaining the benefits and binds of international assessments. He also explained how the tests can reveal how 21st century skills have been embedded into different kinds of instructional systems and to what success. 

Other speakers included Paul Andrews, University of Cambridge; Professor Richard Kimbell, Goldsmiths University of London; Darren Northcott, NASUWT; Simon Lebus, Cambridge Assessment; Ian Mason, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and Tom Sidaway, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. 

The event, attended by over 120 delegates with hundreds more watching online, took place at the British Academy in London and can be watched again here.