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What are 21st Century Skills and why are they important?

21st Century skills have been nicknamed ‘soft skills’, secondary to the more important of traditional favoured and hard-core subjects like Math, English, Science and others. Why? The skills that I speak of are skills like collaboration, grit, time management, creativity, communication, confidence, ethics, self-regulation and critical thinking. These skills are the skills that have been identified as valuable skills for the workplaces of tomorrow. These skills can also be described as ‘personality characteristics’ by some, but are they?  What if we were able to implicitly teach children these essential skills by designing a curriculum that provided learning experiences that developed these?

While some early childhood academics write about the importance of 21st Century skills to ‘prepare’ children for the children, I note their significance and position them differently. I see 21st Century skills as skills for now and for the future. I do not see a child’s life as preparation for the future. Instead, my image of the child is that the child is a participating citizen with rights today, tomorrow and into the future.

Critical reflection is essential in early childhood education, and educators should think about the many contexts that they can provide for children to learn essential 21st-century skills.  One context for learning that is utilised in Reggio Emilia is projects.

Projects have their own meaning in Reggio Emilia, but essentially, they are in-depth investigations with small groups where curiosities are explored, and children’s ideas and theories are listened to and challenged.

Using projects as a context for learning in early childhood, educators can introduce complexity in experiences and plan for children to explore viewpoints, reason, question, investigate, observe, compare and connect, make hypotheses, problem solve, analyse, classify and describe.  

What kind of learning contexts do you create for children’s learning of 21stCentury skills?