There is no 'education for the 21st century'

Rosa María Torres

Everyone talks about 'Education for the 21st Century':

- 21st century knowledge
- 21st century competencies
- 21st century values
- 21st century students
- 21st century educators
- 21st century schools
- 21st century classrooms ...

Strictly speaking, however, there is no 'Education for the 21st Century'.

The century is just beginning

We can hardly visualize one or two decades ahead, at a high risk of failed predictions. Who can tell what the world will be like in 2050? Nobody can anticipate what can happen in 100 years, and in this century in particular, characterized as one of big uncertainties, rapid changes, major crises and catastrophes.

What '21st century'?

The 21st century does not look or feel the same for everyone. Millions of people throughout the world continue to lack food, running water, toilets, electricity, decent work and housing, transportation, reading and writing, good education opportunities, basic services and basic citizenship rights.

Inequalities - within each country, between countries, between the global North and the global South - tend to become structural: extreme poverty and extreme wealth, hyper-consumption for some and misery for many, overinformation on one side and zero information on the other, the illiterate and the overqualified, the connected and the unconnected.

The Internet - which so many in the 'developed world' seem to take for granted at this point - is still absent from the daily experience of nearly half of the world population.

Evidently, life in the 21st century feels very different for those living with less than 1 or 2 dollars a day (the millions defined as living in extreme poverty) and for those participating in the Information Society, the Knowledge Society, the Consumption Society, the Abundance Society.

What education?

There is no education in singular, as a universal fact and as a homogeneous experience. There are educations, in plural, of diverse natures, purposes and qualities, because realities, cultures, ideologies, aspirations and needs of concrete social groups are highly diverse. And because education is not confined to the education system; there is education in the family, in the community, at the workplace, through the media, participation, social service, etc.

Education and learning needs and experiences are shaped by specific economic, social and cultural contexts and conditions.

Internet-based education and learning continues to be a possibility for a minority. Getting a few computers in schools does not guarantee access to the Internet and basic conditions for teaching and learning.

Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all education formulas for all.

Education for the 21st century?

Rather than education or learning for the 21st century, what we have is education and learning in the 21st century. Education and learning that are placed historically in this century and that do not necessarily correspond to the '21st century' utopia and to the '21st century learning needs' conceived in the 'developed world'.

Related texts in this blog (English)
» Basic Learning Needs: Different Frameworks

5 comentarios:

Cri dijo...

Hi Rose,

I think you are one of the teachers that hits the target but misses the point.
In as much as you accurately describe the gaps between the "abundance" vs. "poor" societies you are wrong in understanding that 21st century skills and values have changed.
You do not need technology to enable students COLLABORATE on long-term projects or during a simple lesson.
You do not need technology to let them OWN their learning.
You do not need tech tools to let them CONSTRUCT meaning in their own way and differentiate tasks.
You do not need technology to let them SHARE their learning to authentic audiences - other students and local community.
Because most of the 21st century values are based on BRAIN and EDUCATION research: how kids learn best. LEARNING is the purpose while TECHNOLOGY is just a tool...

Rosa María Torres del Castillo dijo...

Are you sure you are commenting on this post? Technologies are not even mentioned here!
I understand your comment is in fact related to our brief Twitter exchange. You circulated "The 21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020" and I asked you: "Obsolete, where?" While including a link to this post, I added (two consecutive tweets): "It cannot be generalized. We must admit diversity. The world is a highly heterogeneous and inequitable place. No one-size fits all". Which is precisely what this post talks about.
With regards to brain and learning issues: as we know now from Neroscience research, not even human brains are the same and develop in the same way. Gender, age, economic, social and cultural aspects shape the brain (and influence learning) in the most varied ways.
Rosa Maria Torres

Estela Ripa dijo...

Hola Rosa María,

Recién leo tu post y una vez más me siento plenamente expresada en lo que escribes. Creo que detrás de mucho de lo que se dice para caracterizar la época en que vivimos hay una presunción de homogeneidad desconcertante.

Lamentablemente, a mi juicio, los discursos más visibles son los que adhieren a esa visión unificada y tecnologizada de presente y futuro, desde una perspectiva más entusiasta e ilusionada que crítica y prudente. Con lo cual se da la espalda a una de las sombras más reales de nuestra época, que es el reconocimiento del no saber y la incertidumbre.

Así, a veces pienso que la heterogeneidad real del mundo – me refiero a la que no compromete los derechos humanos básicos- de alguna manera puede ser también una "reserva" frente a la influencia del tipo de vida hiper tecnologizado, consumista, etc. que estamos viviendo y del cual no podemos anticipar ni controlar plenamente sus consecuencias. Usando una analogía científica, podríamos imaginar que es un gran experimento en el cual nos vemos asignados más o menos voluntaria o forzadamente a grupos experimentales y grupos control. Dado que no conocemos el impacto de las consecuencias, ni su reversibilidad, hay un aspecto bueno en el hecho de que haya partes de la población que no sean sometidas al “tratamiento”.

Un cordial saludo, Estela

David Truss dijo...

For me, when I see '21st Century Education', and similar terms, I think not of a singularity, nor does my mind go to places where subsistance is the primary concerns of people... though I do think a global perspective is key to a good education today. What I do think about are the skills my daughters will need to be successful. I think of how Google has shifted the value of information. At one point kings and rulers and religous organizations owned or controled the flow of information and thus power, and eventually they began to educate the children of the elite. Rather spending time weaving this history to today, I'll just use as an example that now my daughter can get information any time she wants, but finding good and relevant and accurate information can be a challenge. Searching the web for relevant information has become a 21st century competency - a challenge that did not previously exist. (If you think back to the 1990's most websites were corporate and informational, now that is not the dominant use of the web.)
Relevant to this, I agree with you that 'diverse are the realities, cultures, ideologies, and aspirations of concrete social sectors and groups.' And yet we are learning how a revolt in the Middle East can have far reaching implications and I can see that cultures (and languages) are sadly disappearing.
To contextualize my own idea of "education for the 21st century", this to me is a transformation from doing things because "that's the way we've always done it", into an education that is responsive and thinking-based (as opposed to information-based). So, in my humble opinion, there is an "EDUCATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY" in that what we currently do must shift or transform from what we used to do... and if we do not recognize the need to change what we do, then we face the risk of having the 21st Century Learning debate into the next decade.
~Thanks for this thoughtful post!

Rosa Maria Torres dijo...

Dave: Thanks for your comment. When talking of "21st century", you think of your daughters, as you say, and on what would be best for them. I think of the inequities of the world, of the majority of the population, the poor and the "disadvantaged", most of them living in so-called "developing countries" like mine. "Global perspective" and "global awareness" mean thus different things for you and me, and have very different implications.
Rosa Maria


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