New skills

Some people talk about 21st century skills, some people talk about digital literacy (or even digital literacies) and some people talk about AtL (Approaches to Learning) or AtLD (Approaches to Learning Digitally). All in all, even if the “labels” are worded slightly differently, we are all talking about the same thing(s): skills that our students/pupils/learners need to make sure they are flexible and can adapt to an unpredictable future. 1-2-environment-transparent

George Orwell’s 1984 predicted a world in which Big Brother would be watching one’s every move. The world described in Orwell’s novel is on our very doorstep: whether we talk about algorithms or AI (Artificial Intelligence), technological advances have a huge and unpredictable impact on our society, our culture, the way we experience reality and our place in this new world. Sometime in the near future, we’ll reach a point where we’ll neither know where we are coming from (that’s not really new) nor where we are heading to. We’ll be “in-betweeners” tiptoeing in the dark while at the same time contributing to the unfolding of an uncertain and therefore challenging future. 


Now, for those “in-betweeners” (we are most certainly “in-betweeners” ourselves), the main goal will be to acquire a number of skills that will allow them to navigate as safely as possible those scary waters. As we saw above, those skills or tools are given various names and/or labels; however, the most important among those skills keep coming back whoever or whichever country, institution or company might be listing them.


After I had a look at the 13 Essential 21st Century Skills for Todays Students list put together by Envision (their list is already summarising a number of other essential 21st century skills lists), I tried to simplify the list while at the same time defining each category as clearly as I could. The rearranged list of skills (along with description/definition) appears below: 



  • Collaboration & Teamwork
  1. Ability to see other people’s ideas as better than one’s own
  2. Ability to remain positive
  3. Ability to motivate oneself and other people
  4. Ability to realise that teamwork can be more powerful than individual work
  5. Ability to reflect on and solve problems as a team
  • Imagination, Creativity & Innovation
  • Imagination:

“If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative”

  • Creativity:
  1. Ability to come up with unusual solutions to new problems
  2. Ability to turn new and imaginative ideas into reality
  3. Ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena and to generate solutions
  • Innovation:

Ability to implement a new or significantly improved product, service or process that creates value for business, government or society

  • Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is about stepping out of your shoes and the ability to step in someone else’s shoes: 

  1. Ability to communicate with others
  2. Ability to overcome native egocentrism and sociocentrism and being open to new ideas
  3. Desire to get more information and to seek evidence
  4. Healthy questioning attitude about new information
  5. Ability to question given arguments and conclusions
  6. Ability to make reasoned judgments that are logical and well-thought out
  7. Ability to admit that your opinions and ideas can be wrong
  • Problem Solving
There are four basic steps in solving a problem:

  1. Defining the problem
  2. Generating alternatives
  3. Evaluating and selecting alternatives
  4. Implementing solutions
  • Flexibility & Adaptability
  1. Ability to engage in innovation and creativity
  2. Ability to be intellectually agile
  3. Ability to embrace change
  4. Ability to expect and accept the emotions inherent in change while supporting those involved
  5. Ability to respect the unique qualities of others and self
  6. Ability to purposefully and thoughtfully respond to disruptions
  7. Ability to acknowledge and respond to dissonance in productive ways
  8. Ability to reflect on positive and negative outcomes of risk-taking
  9. Ability to develop proactive and reactive approaches to change
  10. Ability to acknowledge ambiguity inherent in a changing environment
  • Mindfulness & Global/Cultural Awareness
  1. Ability to be mindful of oneself and others
  2. Ability to be aware of one’s own cultural constructs
  3. Ability to move from ethnocentrism to cultural relativism
  4. Ability to understand that the world is not driven entirely by one’s own personal life experiences
  5. Ability to judge others through a variety of cultural norms
  6. Ability to appreciate cultural difference
  7. Ability to reach out to people of other cultures and to try and understand them
  • Information & Technology Literacy
Information Literacy: ability to define problems in terms of their information needs and to apply a systematic approach to search, locate, apply and synthesise the information and evaluate the entire process in terms of effectiveness and efficiency
Technology Literacy: ability of an individual, working independently and with others, to responsibly, appropriately and effectively use technology tools to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, create and communicate information
  • Leadership & Initiative
Leadership: establishing a clear vision, sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly, providing the information, knowledge and methods to realise that vision and coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders
Initiative: an individual’s action that begins a process, often done without direct managerial influence. 
  • Civic Literacy & Citizenship
Civic literacy:

  1. Ability to participate effectively in civic life through knowing how to stay informed and understanding governmental processes
  2. Ability to exercise the rights and obligations of citizenship at local, state, national and global levels
  3. Ability to understand the local and global implications of civic decisions 



Ability to understand the duties, obligations and functions of a citizen

  • Oral & Written Communication Skills
Ability to communicate accurately both in speaking and in writing.
  • Social Responsibility & Ethics
  1. Ability to see individuals as accountable for fulfilling their civic duty
  2. Ability to see the actions of an individual as beneficial to the whole of society
  3. Ability to see a balance between economic growth, the welfare of society and the environment


I quickly realised that most of those skills could be grouped under specific headings and/or subheadings. Below is the diagram showing their hierarchy and connections to each other (click here to open the document):

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 20.42.25

The skills listed above are essential skills, they could almost be called “unalienable skills” in the sense that every single student/pupil/learner should have the right and should demand the right to be equipped with them. Education is evolving, most schools and teachers are aware of the urgency, but just like the Titanic, our boat might be too large, the communication between our stakeholders might be too slow and the order to change direction might come too late…

Let’s remain optimistic though: we just need a few great school leaders with great ideas and great vision to rewrite the last chapter of our novel and make the next stage of our educational journey a success story!

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