Saturday, 11 April 2015

Primary School is the time to start preparing our students for the 21 C workforce.

After researching the term 21 century skills I can report that it refers to a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits and character traits that are viewed as crucial for success in our students’ future, especially in the workplace. It appears we use the term widely but it is not defined consistently, has divergent interpretations and is often related to other terms such as cross-disciplinary skills, transferable skills, and hard and soft skills. I am sure NZ schools would define the term to fit their specific curriculum and values but they would all share a loose consensus.

The list of 21century skills usually encompasses critical thinking, problem solving, reasoning, analysis, interpretation, synthesizing information, researching and questioning, oral, technological and written communication, group collaboration to civic, ethical and social-justice literacy, to name just a few!

We often hear the phrase, 2020 students will need to be prepared for jobs that have not yet been invented. If this is correct, can we specifically define the skills needed? And, what age should we begin the development of such skills?

I have learnt from many years of studying self regulated learning that students should start to develop these skills at a young age beginning with explicit teaching and modelling. Therefore, defining 21century skills and explicitly teaching them should be an immediate focus of all schools.
 recently listened to Phil O’Reilly, Chief Executive of Business NZ, and the country’s largest business advocacy group. He shared the skills most needed in the workforce of the future under hard and soft skill categories. Hard skills are basically knowledge acquisition (literacy, numeracy, languages, STEM subjects, ICT…) whereas soft skills are applying that knowledge using cultural skills such as collaboration, creativity, problem solving, communicating effectively, inter and intra personal skills, flexibility and emotional intelligence. 

Phil O’Reilly believes employers now value employees with the right knowledge but more importantly, knowing how to use it effectively in the right place at the right time. Employers value soft skills over hard skills because employees with a good work ethic, a positive attitude, excellent communication skills lead to greater productivity and success.

On reflection, I believe primary schools provide a combination of both hard and soft skills – offering knowledge acquisition in a structured learning environment but also providing knowledge and skill application opportunities through some form of inquiry learning. Most schools have well defined values and key competency foci with a heavy focus on literacy and numeracy development and a less defined curriculum for the other essential learning areas (science, technology, social sciences, arts, languages and health & PE).

However, the problem is we are professing to prepare students for a 21 century that we cannot even imagine! We are strenuously trying to embrace and keep up with the “hot” new competencies like collaboration and global citizenship, and assimilating new ways to develop creativity, innovation and critical thinking into our practice. We talk personalisation and self directed learning, we provide flexible learning spaces and collaborative teaching but have we really stopped to connect this new practice with a detailed description of our year 6 or 8 leaver in 2020/2025?

With the fast pace of technology I believe we should be specifically defining the skills our practice will produce in the near future. How different will a 2015-year one student look like in 2021/2023? What will be the outcomes of our new emerging modern pedagogy and spaces? How will we know it is having a positive impact on learning and is the positive impact what students need to survive and be successful in the future?

Teacher inquiries are essential to improving current practice and outcomes for students but we must also take time to focus on the near future, the next 5 to 8 years, to ensure we keep the big picture ahead informed by educational research, the business world and global issues.

How often, as a staff do you read and discuss research/articles/video clips associated to areas outside of education, such as business and critically reflect on their message or meaning for schools?

Can you name the 10 future work skills of 2020? If yes, how have you integrated them into your curriculum? If not, don’t stress, I will define them in my next blog!

How often do you re-vision? Is this a MOE Charter compliance or a need identified by the whole school community to ensure we are future focusing on our learners’ needs?

We continue to embrace and immerse ourselves in the educational prophecies and “we know best” messages and practice from world-renowned educationalists. What longitudinal evidence do they present to ensure their messages and practice will improve outcomes for our students in the future?

I am about to undertake a future visioning exercise with my staff using a variety of provocative and informative tools to help them envision and define our 2021 leaver. This will entail defining 21 century workplace competencies that we will develop in our young students, deconstructing the 21 century teacher and imagining self organised learning environments. Watch this space!


  1. I heard an employer talking at the EPIC Hub in the city about the skills/ attitudes/ mindsets they look for in future employees. It was both challenging and affirming to hear what he had to say.
    I look forward to our Teacher Learning Day.

  2. Hi Bridget, I agree it is affirming, we are generally doing it right but the challenging question of how we educate for a future we can't even imagine is one that will be exciting to embrace. Have a great week and keep warm.

  3. I agree, Lyn. We can always do better and it is so important for us to constantly be reflecting on whether we are doing the best we can for our learners.
    See you next week.