March 12, 2018

Report Explores How Best to Prepare K-12 Students for the 21st Century Workplace

The previous post on this blog focuses on a report published by The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) and sponsored by Google for Education that addresses the need to prepare students with the necessary skills for a successful future. This post focuses is on a subsequent report, Fostering exploration and excellence in 21st century schools, by The EIU that "discusses the results of a study that explores how to best prepare primary and secondary school (referred to in this report as 'K-12') students for the 21st century workplace ('the modern workplace'), where a mix of hard and soft skills are crucial for success. The research, sponsored by Google for Education, draws on a survey of 1,200 educators in 16 countries. It looks at the strategies most effective in developing 21st century skills and how technology can support such efforts."

The EIU's "latest study suggests that a holistic approach, integrating different educational strategies and techniques, is most effective for developing the skills needed for success. Among these, it includes empowering teachers by giving them greater autonomy to innovate and applying teaching strategies that engage students through hands-on and collaborative activities. Implementation of these initiatives faces numerous complex challenges, including resource limitations, but failure will leave many of today's young students unprepared for the life and work challenges they will face as economies and societies develop." Listed below are the research's key insights:

A range of teaching strategies is needed to effectively deliver the types of learning needed to prepare students for the 21st century workplace.
"A large majority of educators surveyed (79%) believe that soft skills need to be developed alongside foundational literacies. Educators most frequently cite the following teaching strategies as 'very importan;” in developing the skills needed in the 21st century workplace: active learning (51%), project-based learning (45%), cognitive activation (42%) and personalized learning (40%). Educators also consider these four strategies as proven to be the most effective in developing needed skills."

Technology can support the effective execution of teaching strategies by promoting interaction, engagement and communication.

"Four in five (82%) educators agree that technology is a valuable tool for developing skills for the modern workplace. Technology is seen as most effective in enhancing the top teaching strategies for developing 21st century skills, as it can be used to promote interaction, engagement and collaboration."

Teacher quality is key. Teacher autonomy also matters and is a significant factor in shaping schools’ preparedness to teach 21st century skills.
"Good teachers need a supportive framework to make the most of their talents, including adequate resources, training and a well-planned curriculum. There is a strong correlation between the degree of autonomy teachers enjoy and schools' readiness to teach 21st century skills. Educators who assessed their schools as having 'much better' teacher autonomy than other schools in their country far more often report being 'very well equipped' to teach both foundational literacies and soft skills, such as communication (48% v 25% for the rest of the sample)."

Budget limitations are the most frequently cited obstacle in adopting new strategies and technologies.
"Educators most frequently cite budget limitations as by far the most significant barrier to adopting both new teaching strategies (51%) and technologies (53%). A lack of technology access in schools and policy gaps are also notable challenges. On a regional level, budget constraints remain a top challenge for innovation, with North American educators most often reporting these as an obstacle to adopting new strategies (59%) and technologies (61%)."

Educators most often favor a cautious approach to adopting new teaching strategies and technologies.
"Opinions vary over how quickly schools should innovate within the classroom. However, educators most often advocate a cautious approach for implementing new teaching strategies (39%) and technologies (40%), allowing for each to be investigated and tested before adoption."

I spend a significant amount of time learning about a variety of topics including future technology trends, successes and failures of businesses across a wide array of sectors including lessons learned by leaders of those businesses, and changes in various risks that may impact, positively or negatively, the performance of any business's. Being a lifelong learner is essential for any individual irrespective of their career stage.

Therefore, I appreciate the opening paragraph of the report's conclusion: "In the light of the transformational nature of new technologies on the world's economies, and the rapid pace of evolution of the technologies themselves, K-12 students of today have an urgent need for a new range of skills. As well as continued emphasis on fundamental literacies, they must develop critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and problem-solving skills, among others. Students will also need to learn how to continue learning as they progress through their professional lives. Their ability to do so is crucial for entire economies, as well as individuals."

Moreover, I concur with the concluding paragraph: "Crucially, teachers themselves are a vital resource with great potential for preparing young students for their working lives. But they need to be supported with resources such as relevant technologies and well-tested policies, as well as the time and space to learn themselves and plan activities geared towards fostering 21st century skills. Given the right tools, they can do the job of preparing the young students of today into becoming the successful working adults of tomorrow."

What strategies and techniques can educators implement in the classroom to support the development of essential skills K-12 students will need to succeed in the modern workplace?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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