"A growing number of business leaders, politicians, and educators are united around the idea that students need twenty-first century skills to be successful today. It's exciting to believe we live in times that are so revolutionary that they demand new and different abilities. But in fact, the skills students need in the twenty-first century are not new."
- Rotherham, A. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2010). “21st-Century” Skills. American Educator, 17. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/RotherWill
I entered my initial teacher education (ITE) during the transition from the old curriculum to the National Curriculum (which is not at all national, but that is a different conversation) and actually had to buy the new curriculum for Mathematics and English and the old curriculum for the other Key Learning Areas (KLAs). Throughout the new documents, as well as throughout the discussions in media, rhetoric used by politicians and language used in discussions online, I consistently see references to things such as twenty-first century learning, the new skills or the twenty-first century skills as if these particular skill sets were only discovered post-1999.
Why do we refer to these supposedly new skills as new or as twenty-first century, imbuing them with some sort of mystical innovative and revolutionary qualities? One issue I have with them is that it is hard to pin down exactly what people mean when they refer to these twenty-first century skills. The Four Cs are one example I often hear people refer to as being twenty-first century skills.
"The Four Cs of 21st century learning, also known as the Four Cs or 4 Cs, are four skills that have been identified by the United States-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) as the most important skills required for 21st century education: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity."
I really struggle with thinking of these as being twenty-first century skills. Or rather, I struggle to think about twenty-first century skills as being anything other than a temporal indicator; as indicating in which time period the skill is being used by the person learning it. Do we really think that Plato and Aristotle did not think critically? Do we think that the Indigenous peoples around the world did not communicate? Do we think that the famous Chinese General and philosopher, Sun Tzu did not collaborate with his peers when developing strategy and tactics? Do we really think that Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso or Van Gogh were not creative?
Why then, do these skills, highly useful and versatile to be sure; valuable for a successful life most certainly, continue to be referred to as twenty-first century skills in such a way that it implies a newness, a revolutionary nature to them that they most certainly do not possess. Or have I simply completely misunderstood what people are saying when they talk about twenty-first century skills? Let me know your thoughts.