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Students need different skills for a changing world

The Japanese want their kids to be better problem solvers. In Finland, they're encouraging expression. In the classrooms of Singapore, children are being taught critical and inventive thinking.

Across the world, many countries are pouring resources into pinpointing the skills, behaviours and new knowledge young people need to successfully navigate life and work in the 21st century.

Governments of all types and flavours are recognising that while obtaining and retaining knowledge remains fundamental, it is but one of many capabilities young people need to survive and thrive.

To flourish in the workforce of the 21st century, they will also need to be able to solve problems. To think creatively. To have strong social skills and high emotional intelligence.

Many of these competencies were also needed in the past, but their status has increased considerably. Yes, they are not new. However, they are newly important.

While this curriculum reform is under way across the world, different countries are prioritising different skills, depending on their particular geopolitical circumstances, social constructs and workforce needs.

Though some defenders of the status quo (including those with an uncritical view of traditional approaches to schooling) would want to portray it as such, this focus should not be dismissed as a fad.

Japan is not undertaking its “Zest for Life” reform to be fashionable. Finland has not prioritised seven competencies in its new curriculum to further bolster its popularity. Singapore has not developed its central 21st Century Competencies Framework because everyone else has one. The Canadian provinces haven’t changed their curricula just to be noticed.

Further, the OECD, as the architect and manager of PISA has not broadened its scope to assess areas such as collaborative problem solving, global competency, creative thinking, and social and emotional skills because it craves attention.

Of course, some aspects of schooling should not change. No one is seriously questioning, for example, the need for students to acquire solid foundations in literacy and numeracy.