May
06

The “Four Cs” of 21st Century Education

Most of us know that “there is a profound gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need in typical 21st century communities and workplaces.” So states the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a national organization comprised of both business (Apple, Intel, Adobe, HP) and education (National Education Association, Pearson, Scholastic) leaders, committed to “fusing the three Rs and four Cs.” As an advocate for the skills of innovation, I’m thrilled to see attention now placed on these Four Cs, with 14 states, including Illinois, having signed on to adopt the Partnership framework as a way to ready K-12 students for the 21st century. Most of us know the three Rs are reading, writing and arithmetic, but what are the Cs?

In the Partnership framework above, the Four Cs make up the “Learning and Innovation Skills” and are as follows:
1. Creativity and Innovation
2. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
3. Communication and Collaboration

For creativity and innovation, the framework emphasizes Thinking Creatively (brainstorming techniques, creating new ideas, refining and evaluating ideas), Working Creatively with Others (communicating new ideas, being open to diverse perspectives, demonstrating orginality, viewing failure as part of the process) and Implementing Innovations (Acting on creative ideas and contributing to a field). These are terrific guideposts.

So the question is, how do we really teach creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration? These are right brain skills, those that are most difficult to teach in a codified, regimented way. With most school systems now fixated on measurable outcomes (usually test scores), how do we make these Four Cs a priority when they are so hard to measure? Illinois, for one, has charged “core content teams” with several tasks including to “ensure that the Illinois Learning Standards embody the fusion of the three Rs and the four Cs.” I’m looking forward to delving into this question and learning more about what states are really doing to embrace the framework. Let me hear from you if you know more about the progress being made.

In this Pearson Foundation video here, “Teaching Teachers to Teach 21st Century Learners,” we hear from various leaders from the worlds of business and education as they discuss the importance of 21st century learning and the need for change. Partnership for 21st Century Skills President Ken Kay begins to describe the skills needed with this distinctive pairing: “Non-routine thinking” and “complex communications.”

The education world has long been averse to change — in many ways we are still preparing students for a world that no longer exists. The fact that the Four Cs have been defined and already embraced by many leaders is a promising step. The conversation is happening. We’ll see if that can lead to real change and better learning for our kids in the near future.

More from Adam on his Innovation on my Mind blog

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