I first encountered the world of education (as a prospective teacher as opposed to a student) some 37 years ago, in 1975, which by chance marked the dawn of the final quarter of the 20th century. It was a time when design and processed-based education was being pioneered. The phrase ‘throw-away society’ had already be coined, and we all knew about the hidden persuasive power of the media and advertising. And because of the oil crisis in the early 1970s there was much talk of the need for conservation and alternative energy, and public collaboration and for greater participation in new design processes. Quite clearly the end was in sight for the then current approach to the industrial society, mass-production and established design-by-drawing methodologies. By the end of the 1970s the impending impact of the computer on our lives was becoming evident too.
So when I come across the phrases ‘21st Century Learning‘ and ‘21st Century Skills‘, I can’t help thinking that what is actually being discussed is ‘late 20th Century Learning and Skills‘. The need for critical evaluation and problem-solving, creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration was clearly identified way back in the last century, but it has taken 37 years for them to start to become more widely identified and accepted (except of course by the present UK government).
Let’s project forward another 37 years then, to 2049. What are the educational needs of someone actually born in the 21st Century? The oldest will be turning 12 this year, and by 2049 will be 49. But unlike the 1960s and 70s when the next 25 years seemed relatively easy to anticipate, there’s now little indication as to how things will be in the future. The only prediction we can perhaps make, based on the fact that technology has clearly entered a highly disruptive phase, is that the next quarter of a century is completely unpredictable.
Thus the so-called ’21st Century Learning and Skills’ might well be hopelessly out-dated and inadequate to deal with living and working in the later years of this century. I suspect (and hope) they will still have some value, but who knows what things will actually be like in the brave new world our current generation of school-children will find themselves?
Perhaps the most important thing we should be focusing on is to ensure the inhabitants of tomorrow’s world are as flexible as possible in their thoughts and actions, well prepared for and accepting of discontinuous change as something normal, and more than willing to take risks and deal with failure. But surely the most important thing of all is to ensure that 21st Century children gain a positive view of education, and the ability to be able to learn for themselves in whatever future they encounter? Sadly, at present, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Image credit: Photo-Extremist: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thevlue/4839060646