21st Century Skills

21st Century Skills

Over recent years new terminology has been spreading through the worlds of education and business, 21st Century Skills. In this blog, I will explain where this terminology comes from, what they are, and why they are important for young people today.


When the term 21st-century skills was first coined, is open for debate; what is clear is that the concept was being discussed as far back as the mid-1980s. Like so many of these concepts, it originated in the United States before being taken up by European countries and then around the world, partly through the work of international organizations such as the OECD and WHO. In the intervening years, there have been many definitions of what constitutes 21st-century skills, and there remains no single definition that is accepted internationally. analysts generally use the term ‘21st Century Skills’ as a broadly encompassing concept referring to multiple skills or subcategories of skills that are considered to be required for a person to be equipped for the modern workplace.

Probably the most common definition of 21st-century skills was started in 2002 with the founding of the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills (P21), and this is the definition that I will use in the remainder of this article.

What are the 21st-century skills?

The P21 definition combines content knowledge, specific skills, expertise, and literacies, which it identifies in twelve skills.

1.      Critical thinking

2.     Creativity

3.     Collaboration

4.     Communication

5.     Information literacy

6.     Media literacy

7.     Technology Literacy

8.     Flexibility

9.     Leadership

10.  Initiative

11.  Productivity

12.  Social skills

Each 21st Century skill is broken into one of three categories: 

Learning skills – The Learning Skills are those universal skills that are required in just about any career. They are, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration, often referred to as the 3C’s. The acquisition of these skills teaches students about the mental processes required to adapt and improve upon a modern work environment.

Literacy skills – Information literacy, Media literacy, and Technology literacy, also known as IMT, focus on how students can discern facts, publishing outlets, and the technology behind them. With the high levels of misinformation that can be readily found on the internet, there’s an emphasis on determining trustworthy sources and factual information.

Life skills – Finally, the remaining skills of Flexibility, Leadership, Initiative, Productivity, and Social skills, or FLIPS, take a look at intangible elements of a student’s everyday life. These intangibles focus on both personal and professional qualities.

Why are these skills so important?

While the way some of these skills are applied have changed as we have adapted to new technology and working methods, there is little new in the skills identified as 21st Century Skills. We could easily apply terms like Core Skills or Soft Skills to them. Whatever you choose to call them, they are the skills needed to navigate the ever-changing world we inhabit, and if young people don’t develop these skills, they risk being left behind as the world of work changes.

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