Critical 21st Century Skills – Manila Bulletin


Dr. Jun Ynares

“Do you think they have what it takes to succeed?”

That was the question my wife Andeng asked me recently.

We were watching the replay of the live broadcast of a college graduation ceremony, and she had previously admired “the wonderful look of hope and optimism” on the bright, youthful faces of the Class of 2022 members.

She remembered what it felt like to be young and to be so excited about the future and what it held. Her cheerful mood turned to a moment of concern as she wondered aloud if there were enough job opportunities for new graduates and if our education system had given them enough knowledge and skills to ensure they succeed in the professional world.

The question stuck with me. As a member of the local government sector, I am aware that education is one of our responsibilities. Local governments don’t just provide classrooms; they also answer to their constituents for the quality of education in schools within their jurisdiction. The question made me realize that “quality education” also has to do with helping our young people earn their place in whatever profession or industry they choose.

Have our schools given them the skills needed by their chosen profession or industry?
The question reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a professional leadership coach.

In this conversation, the topic of “21st century skills” came up.

My coach friend echoed what we’ve been hearing lately: that these so-called 21st century skills are game changers. They are what gives a person what is known as the “competitive edge” when applying for a job or vying for a promotion.

Skills fall into three categories: learning skills, life skills and literacy skills.

“Learning skills” seem to be the most in demand in large companies today. These include critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. Simply put, the candidate for hire or promotion has a better chance of landing the top job or position if they can prove they have those skills.

“Critical thinking” refers to a person’s ability to inquire; process information and make sense of it; to organize information into patterns and frames and find a good use for it in the real world. “Creativity” means being able to generate ideas; go off the beaten track ; to innovate and find new solutions.

“Collaborate” refers to the ability to work with others and create “interdependence”; share a goal and help others pursue their goals. “Communicate” refers to the ability to convey meaning to others and create understanding.

The presumption here is that candidates are on par with each other in the technical skills required by the job or position. Since not everyone with the said technical skills can be hired, the prospecting organization seeks out and assigns the position to the one with the highest level of 21st century skills.

Interestingly, companies are now giving recognition and respect to these skills.
Recall that a few decades ago, these were referred to as “soft skills” and were considered “nice to have” but not essential and were not considered a “competitive advantage”.

We assume that companies saw these skills as crucial as their operating environments changed. Businesses today need to be able to adapt quickly to rapid change. They also need to be more competitive for customers. The support of their stakeholders matters now more than ever. Thus, companies must be able to think quickly and creatively, find solutions to new challenges and communicate well with a distracted, multitasking and skeptical market.

We recall that we did not learn these skills in school. Of course, our teachers have made efforts to create interaction between the students. We did not interpret the interaction as part of learning important skills.

We learned these 21st century skills in the school called life.

We learned them in the field of public service.

These skills are crucial for an elected official to have the ability to understand and solve the complex problems of society. He needs it to rally his fellow citizens behind a program or a policy. These skills are essential because leadership in the public sphere requires a consensus and the collaboration of often opposing interests.

We are pleased to see that these skills are now in demand by the business sector.
We hope that our education sector will find a way to integrate the acquisition of these crucial skills into the curriculum of our schools at all levels.

These are now important to our young people’s ability to succeed in the real world.

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