21st century skills refer to the skills and knowledge that are vital to the success of a student in today’s world, especially when students move on to college, the workforce, and subsequently adult life. These skills may be career skills, life skills, habits, etc. What is referred to as 21st Century skills is a group of skills that are otherwise popularly known as soft skills. Soft skills today are considered so important that there is a niche of trainers and life coaches that specialize specifically in soft skills.
21st Century Skills Students Need to Cultivate
Even though soft skills are important and the need of the hour right now, some soft skills will be more important than others for different people. This depends on the location of the person, the kind of role they are looking for in their career, and the school striving to teach them the same. 21st century skills include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Civic literacy
- Communication skills
- Critical thinking
- Global awareness
- Information literacy
- Innovation skills
- Literacy skills
- Media literacy
- Social responsibility
- Social skills
- Technology skills and digital literacy
- Thinking skills
Why 21st Century Skills are Vital for Today’s Students
Even though people know they are important, they do not know how or why is important to foster those skills in them. Here are a few reasons it is vital for 21st Century students to garner 21st century skills:
This can be explained very easily and clearly with the help of an example. Consider a person who is a teacher. The teacher has been teaching for the better part of their life, at least 10 to 15 years. Suddenly, an unprecedented pandemic sets in, making traditional methods of teaching completely unreliable. Now the teacher will have to relearn how classes need to be taught in an online setting - something that will be difficult to adjust to, especially if the teacher is not tech-savvy. However, this could have been avoided if the teacher had invested in learning how to teach online even before the pandemic. It is not as if the opportunity or scope was not there - there were a lot of exams and classes that were being conducted online. Teachers who had invested their time in understanding how online classes worked did not find this difficult at all because they were already familiar with everything. Here the 21st century skill the teacher had to learn was digital literacy, something that, in hindsight, was very obviously important.
Finding The Right Information
If you have access to the Internet, you can basically learn anything for free. So the difficult task is not finding the information you need, it is segregating the available information to find the right information for you. Being able to distinguish between what is relevant and what is not requires both digital literacy as well as information literacy. They should have a good understanding of how to go about solving a particular problem and should be able to persevere towards it, all of which are 21st century skills you need to foster.
Solving Problems on the Go
Problem-solving is definitely a necessary skill in itself, but being able to apply that skill in real-world situations and scenarios is also vital. Students need to be able to exit the classroom, get started with their careers, navigate relationships, understand when they are being taken advantage of, resolve conflicts in both their personal and professional life, etc. without anyone's help or support. They need to be able to take the skills that they were taught within the four walls of a classroom and apply them to real-life problems that take place in their lives, which there will be many of.
Having an impressionable character is one thing, but building your character using twenty-first-century skills is foundational for fostering good relationships with people. For example, a person might have to work with people they do not agree with on certain things. They will have to learn how to adapt to an environment where different people give different instructions and there is no coordination in terms of which instruction needs to be executed at what time. It is in situations like this that critical thinking and problem-solving skills need to be applied - and it is hence that people build their character. A character is sculpted through hardship.
This can be seen as an extension of the previous point but deserves its own explanation because it is that important. The world of the 20th century was built around competition, and even though it still holds true today, a collaboration between people, especially students, has now been found to be much more effective in bringing out the best in people. To collaborate, people need to work together, and for that, they need to have those above-mentioned skills for the best output.
Fostering innovation in Society
This can be a culmination, a utopian potpourri, of all the points discussed above, but on a grander societal level. Innovation in society can be brought about only when every person starts putting effort into learning and understanding new concepts and applying them to solve problems in the real world in a diplomatic and responsible manner.
Hence we have seen how 21st-century skills have the potential to break or make the world, both for individuals as well as for society in general. However, learning skills like these take time, so patience is also essential. To move forward in your career, as both a respected professional and a responsible citizen, 21st century skills are absolutely quintessential.