As each Iowa student is provided access to essential concepts and meaningful learning experiences in the core academic content areas, it is imperative that we also look to 21st century skills to build capacity in students so they are prepared to lead productive, satisfying lives. According to Ken Kay, president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the 21st century skills set “is the ticket to economic upward mobility in the new economy” (Gewertz, 2007). Business and industry is providing a very clear message that students need the skills to “work comfortably with people from other cultures, solve problems creatively, write and speak well, think in a multidisciplinary way, and evaluate information critically. And they need to be punctual, dependable, and industrious.” (Gewertz, 2007).
The Framework for 21st Century Learning stated, “We believe schools must move beyond a focus on basic competency in core subjects to promoting understanding of academic content at much higher levels by weaving 21st century interdisciplinary themes into core subjects” (2007). 21st century skills bridge the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of students from the core academic areas to real life application.
“The primary aim of education is not to enable students to do well in school, but to help them do well in the lives they lead outside of the school.”
-Ray McNulty, ICLE
Iowa High School Summit, December 10, 2007
Descriptions of the new global reality are plentiful, and the need for new, 21st century skills in an increasingly complex environment is well documented. In one form or another, authors cite (1) the globalization of economics; (2) the explosion of scientific and technological knowledge; (3) the increasingly international dimensions of the issues we face, i.e. global warming and pandemic diseases; and (4) changing demographic as the major trends that have resulted in a future world much different from the one that many of us faced when we graduated from high school (Friedman, 2005 and Stewart, 2007). The trends are very clear that each Iowa students will need essential 21st century skills to lead satisfying lives in this current reality.
Descriptions of what constitute essential 21st century skills are plentiful as well. In the 2007 session, the Iowa Legislature established the Iowa 21st century framework as:
Within this 21st century skill framework are the common strands of learning and innovation; communication, information, and technology; and, life and career skills. The development of the Iowa 21st century essential concepts and skills was a collaborative process engaging the expertise of p – 16 educators, business, and industry representatives. Sources used for this work included the 1991 SCANS report, What Work Requires of Schools, and Framework for 21st Century Learning, from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The committee surveyed the literature and endeavored to bring together the common elements of these frameworks. The members have outlined the concepts, dispositions and habits of mind believed essential for success in the 21st century.
The reality of building capacity for the 21st century is that we do not know what the work of the future will be like (Darling–Hammond, 2007) or how technology will influence health and financial issues. The challenge is to prepare students to think critically, to engage in mental activity, or habits of mind, that “…use facts to plan, order, and work toward an end; seek meaning or explanations; are self–reflective; and use reason to question claims and make judgments…” (Noddings, 2008). It may be that our task is not only to prepare students to “fit into the future” but to shape it. “…If the complex questions of the future are to be determined… by human beings…making one choice rather than another, we should educate youths – all of them – to join in the conversation about those choices and to influence that future…” (Meier, 2008).