Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Homework for the Country

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Homework for the Country

Article excerpt

Build a 21st Century Education System in Public Schools in Order to Help Run the Economic Engine. By Helen Janc Malone

The election of President Barack Obama, pending No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reauthorization and a rise in national reports urging innovations in the nation's schools have resulted in a shift away from basic education and a push towards 21st century skills.

A call for new educational imperatives

President Obama says the country must "build the 21st century education system." From Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman to computer visionary Bill Gates, experts across the disciplines also make this case:

* U.S. students lag behind other industrialized nations on student assessment scores. (For instance, the U.S. is the fourth-lowest performing country among 29 recently surveyed by The Program for International Student Assessment.)

* Low college enrollment rates in math, science and engineering threaten the country's ability to compete globally for white-collar jobs.

* A dropout crisis is leaving too many adolescents behind and unable to gain stable employment. (According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in data from 2005-06, the most current available, 27% of students drop out nationwide, with the rate varying from 12.5% in Wisconsin to 44% in Nevada.)

(This is not the first time schools have been asked to change focus. Similar mandates occurred after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, in 1957; after A Nation at Risk, an influential 1983 report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, cataloguing the problems in American schools, was published; and after NCLB was formulated in 2001 to increase accountability, more choices for parents, greater local control and flexibility and the importance of scientific research in making decisions.)

Key 21st century skills to be learned

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an initiative led by a group of corporate giants, defines on its Web site (www.21stcenturyskills. org) 21st century skills for K-12 students:

* Information and communication skills (information and media literacy skills; communication skills)

* Thinking and problem-solving (critical thinking and systems thinking; problem identification, formulation and solution; creativity and intellectual curiosity)

* Interpersonal and self-direction skills (interpersonal and collaborative skills; self-direction; accountability and adaptability; social responsibility)

* Global awareness

* Financial, economic and business literacy, and entrepreneurial skills to enhance workplace productivity and career options

* Civic literacy

These interdisciplinary - and life - skills permeate education standards, accountability structures, teacher training, classroom instruction and students' overall learning experiences, according to the Partnership.

Tony Wagner in his 2008 book, The Global Achievement Gap, provides a similar concrete set of 21st century skills including critical thinking, problem solving, strong communication, agility and adaptability, entrepreneurialism, ability to analyze data and imagination.

The old school focus on data snippets and factual recall cannot help students navigate the new workforce waters, Wagner notes. Businesses demand workers who can keep up with trends and innovate.

Some schools are already modifying their learning structures, accordingly. …

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