Integrating 21st century skills in classrooms


Priyadarshini Kelkar
Director, New Era Senior Secondary School & New Era Pre School, Vadodara

Earlier, skills were learnt from elders or were a family tradition. Also there was predominant social division of labour. Today individuals can access knowledge and content on Google and routine cognitive skills are being digitized or outsourced.

Today, much success lies in being able to communicate, share, and use information to solve complex problems, in being able to be more competitive and productive, to adapt and innovate in response to new demands and changing circumstances and being able to command and expand the power of technology to create new knowledge. The complex global mutations and the revolutionary advances in information technologies have stimulated, more than ever, academicians and teachers, to ponder over appropriate mechanisms and strategies to develop a robust ‘culture of quality.’Shared decision-making, information sharing, collaboration, innovation, and speed are essential in today’s enterprises. No longer do students look forward to middle class success in the conduct of manual labour or use of routine skills but the emphasis is on work that can be accomplished by machines or easily outsourced to less expensive labour markets. All of the above will necessitate that our youth learns 21st century skills. A peep into the benefits of learning these skills will show us that they:

  • Create learning practices, human support and physical environments that will support the teaching and learning of 21st century skill outcomes.
  • Support professional learning communities that enable educators to collaborate, share best practices, and integrate 21st century skills into classroom practice.
  • Enable students to learn in relevant, real world 21st century contexts (e.g., through project-based or other applied work).

What are these skills?

  • Communication skills (verbal and written): They refer to the ability of individuals to communicate clearly, using oral, written, and non-verbal languages, and collaborate effectively and responsibly with diverse populations. It is about articulating thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts. They refer to listening effectively to decipher meaning, including knowledge, values, attitudes and intentions, using communication for a variety of purposes (e.g., to inform, instruct, motivate and persuade), utilizing multiple media and technologies, and know how to judge their effectiveness as well as assess their impact . They also mean communicating effectively in diverse environments (including multi-lingual).
  • Attitude towards work: Learners must demonstrate the ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams, exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal. Learners should assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value individual contributions made by each team member (Trilling & Fadel, 2009). Attitude to work also means the ability of individuals to reason effectively; ask pointed questions and solve problems; analyze and evaluate alternative points of view; and reflect critically on decisions and processes.
  • Critical thinking and problem solving: Trilling & Fadel (2009) define critical thinking as the ability to analyze, interpret, evaluate, summarize, and synthesize information.
  • Creative thinking: It isa culture of innovation informed by data, research, and critical and creative thinking. This skill set promotes creative thinking and the ability to work with others. It can be nurtured by teachers and learning environments that encourage questioning, openness to new ideas, and learning from mistakes and failures.
  • Project-based learning: It has significant benefits for students who work collaboratively on learning activities in contrast with students who work alone. An additional research finding was that students who have difficulties with traditional classroom/ textbook/lecture learning benefit significantly from a project-based learning experience which more closely aligns with their learning style and preference (Darling-Hammond et. al., 2008).
  • Problem-based learning: It is a form of project-based learning, which allows teachers to develop, and students to focus on complex, real-world problems using a case study approach. When students work in small groups to research and pose solutions to problems, both a collaborative and multifaceted environment is created.
  • Design-based learning: It has been shown to have the most impact in the areas of math and science (Darling-Hammond et. al., 2008). Popular design-based learning activities include rocketry competitions wherein student teams design, build and then fire their rockets in a series of competitive challenges. Research has found that students who participate in learning by designing projects have a more systematic understanding of a system’s parts and functions.
  • Civic literacy: It speaks of the need for students to be able to understand and influence civic decision-making. This focuses on the importance of staying informed and understanding governmental processes, being able to participate in civic life, and recognizing the local and global implications of civic decisions. Students must learn critical reading, writing, and thinking skills for participation in civic society.
  • Global awareness: Students must be able to learn from and work collaboratively with individuals from diverse cultures, religions, ideologies, and lifestyles in an environment of openness and mutual respect. Students who participated in international collaborative e-learning projects showed heightened motivation in class, improved reading and writing skills, and enhanced engagement (Gragert).
  • Health literacy: Health literacy addresses the need for individuals to be able to access and use high quality information to make health-related decisions. This includes a working knowledge of healthy diet, importance of exercise, diseases and their types and a working knowledge of preventative health measures. This enables them to make choices of food and protect their immediate environment.
  • Visual literacy: The graphic user interface of the internet and the convergence of voice, video, and data into a common digital format have increased the use of visual imagery dramatically. Advances such as smart phones, digital cameras, graphics packages, allow for the use of visual imagery to communicate ideas.

These are the soft skills required to make an individual capable of handling his/her own personal as well as professional life successfully. Apart from these, an individual will need specific vocational training to become competent in work life.

Vocational skills

Vocational education is also a strategic priority. The education system gives equal emphasis to vocational and academic education. Vocational education is geared to the demands of the private sector through the participation of industry in training steering committees and the establishment of “school-based factories” and “factory-based schools.” Schools, teachers and curricula adhere to professional standards, and a national management system tracks all students.

The ways in which such skill education can be imparted could be dual vocational training system. As part of the dual system, you will attend classes at a vocational school and receive on-the-job training at a company. This can comprise of vocational training content, participants, trainer, cost allocation and certification. There has to be cooperation between schools and companies.

This could save India a few years of a working life of a person which otherwise is spent by the employers in training the employee in its specialised field. Companies which operate production plants focus solely and explicitly on initial training and, where appropriate, continue training for skilled workers at intermediate skill level. E.g. Training that Volkswagen provides at its Indian plant in Pune.

The teachers will have to be specially trained in those fields for taking up such teaching assignments. The kind of teaching needed today requires teachers to be high-level knowledge workers who constantly advance their own professional knowledge as well as that of their profession.

In the Indian society, an individual pursuing mainstream education has a glorified status. Vocational education is viewed as a reluctant option for those who are less privileged, incapable of pursuing main stream education or for the vulnerable sections of society.

There should be separate schools for the students who are not able study in professional courses such as medicine, engineering and chartered accountancy etc and for the students who are good at other skills such as carpentry, masonry, electricians course etc. These courses should give certificates and the companies providing apprenticeship should hire them. Then the question of facilities and support regarding properly qualified or experienced teachers, proper syllabus, content, evaluation and certification, investment in land, buildings and necessary equipment and day to day running costs, providing means of livelihood to students will have to be tackled effectively.

Curriculum Design

To incorporate the syllabus for vocational training in a ‘Classical Classroom’ may be difficult for the educators but classroom concept must change. We must look at learning outside the classroom in all settings.

The curriculum designed for pre primary and early primary classes could include the inculcation of soft skills mentioned above. The pedagogy has to be practical; learning can be enhanced through field visits, e-learning, industry driven projects, digital or video inputs and so on.

To make India the skill capital of the world, the school curricula will have to go through a dynamic change.

The work experience program enables the teachers to find out where each student’s capability and aptitude is seen. Introduction to skill training at a young age will by all means give the student an opportunity to explore various options and accordingly, narrow down on a vocation of his/her liking. Ideally, we should introduce vocational skills in secondary and senior secondary levels. The curriculum of a secondary and senior secondary vocational school may be designed such that, one-half includes general academic skills defined nationally by the Ministry of Education while another half is nationally defined content associated with the particular occupation. In a recent conference, the education minister has mentioned reducing the NCERT course content to half, after which the remaining half time schools can spend on skill training.

The auxiliary support needed to impart such training is provided by the government in government schools like ITIs and in private schools by grants through ATAL Tinkering labs. These labs are required to work not only for the school where they are set up but also for the school students in vicinity of the school. It is mandatory for the school to employ skilled personnel for operating the lab. Even the staff of the school may get trained and operate the lab. The schools gradually are getting geared up to set up and run such labs. The only thing is that such grants may be given to more and more schools in a city as each city’s population is large. Also the scheme should be popularised widely.

In India, major industries include mining, power, chemicals, cement, fertilizers, automobiles, textiles, consumer products, entertainment products, medicine, etc. Students should be trained to work in these industries as well as others like Hospitality and Tourism, Handicraft, Healthcare, Textiles, Photography, IT, Retail, Banking, Insurance, etc.

We must find out what sub courses may be developed which could benefit the industry as well as work force directly. These could be certificate courses requiring 2-3 years of training.These can be introduced in school curriculum as has been done by HRD ministry in some states. For instance, if a student opts for healthcare, he could learn to be a blood-collection expert and later can add further courses to become full-fledged pathology technician or a nurse.

A German model of one such course is given below:

Geriatric nurse

As a geriatric nurse,the individual cares for and supports elderly people who need help with their daily routines and in everyday life. In addition, he/she ensures basic medical care.

Course contents: At a school for nursing care, trainees acquire comprehensive knowledge in order to prepare them for their job of caring for the elderly. This includes knowledge about healthcare and dealing with old age, the ability to reliably assess a patient’s health status and first aid. At a later stage, trainees also learn the fundamentals of mental care and providing patients with their medication. In addition, they get to apply this knowledge in practice; this involves caring for elderly patients but also giving advice to relatives.

Special requirements: As a geriatric nurse,one will have to take care of quite a number of elderly people. Therefore, one should have a good memory and be flexible. Nursing requires empathy so that one can understand and respond to the needs and concerns of the people one looks after. As one will be dealing with people most of the time, one’s local language skills need to be particularly good for this job.

The academic leaders if asked would tend to agree that schools must teach 21st century skills. They want seamless integration of technology reducing digital disconnect for students. They must ensure to integrate activities to promote thinking skills — critical & creative, innovation, innovation through exhibitions, debates and public speaking, setting up robotic laboratory. They must encourage curiosity and open enquiry of mind.

The task may seem to be onerous but it is not impossible!

Priyadarshini Kelkar, Director is a post-graduate in Economics, and a teacher in true sense. A visionary, she has brought up the school to be a premier institution. She has worked in several states in various capacities, such as a teacher, educational officer and principal. She has accumulated vast rich experience of over 30 years in the field of education and educational management.

Her initiative has enabled central Gujarat to have a Sahodaya Complex – an association of CBSE Principals. The complex aims at improving quality of education for students. She has been the founder chair-person of the Sahodaya.
She is the recipient of National award constituted by National Council for Education, Research and training for her paper on Innovative practices in School Education. She is CBSE’s master trainer for Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation and has trained teachers from CBSE schools in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. She has submitted many papers in national and international seminars