What skills will be needed for the 21st century

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson an advisor to the British government on education, previously Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick,  argues that there are four key skills that we need to teach young people to prepare them for the 21st century; Creativity, Compassion, Composure, and Collaboration.

The key change in the context of education over previous centuries is the complexity and pace of change. This however does not necessarily mean that all the skills that were useful in the past are now redundant instead similar skills are put to slightly different uses in the modern world.

Ken Robinson argues “The capacity for new thinking or turning old ideas into new applications has never been more important”. Since the decline of manufacturing creativity has become perhaps the key skill; everything is about new ideas, products, applications, and innovations. The dominant ideology today is about individualism, a me! me! me! culture, but collaboration is essential for the previous creativity skill. Very few of us have the ability to come up with innovative ideas and put them into practice on our own, what is needed are teams working towards shared goals. As Robinson also argues the problems facing the world – such as climate change - are also becoming larger and requiring collaborative action to resolve.

Creativity and Collaboration are relatively uncontroversial skills in the modern world. Composure and compassion on the other hand, do we really need them. Robinson takes composure to mean “the ability to be centred in yourself”. As such this is perhaps a skill that prevents negatives rather than creates a positive benefit – it avoids us falling into the trap of depression and thinking we cannot do anything. Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is compassion, something which becomes more obvious as Robinson explains it “Compassion is rooted in empathy; our ability to step into other people’s point of view to see the world as they see it, to take their perspective. It comes from the same power of imagination. I think of compassion as applied empathy… to decide to do something about it.”

It is all very well to identify four important skills for the future but how are they taught. Robinson argues they need to be taught to teachers first who then can pass it on, something like IDEA’s methodology of training the trainers. However this does not really answer the question; how do you teach these to teachers?

Perhaps debate might be a part of the answer. It certainly ticks many of the boxes; debate encourages us to think about solutions – where would we be without a practical element to our argument? – so encourages creativity. It very clearly encourages collaboration through teams. It is likely one of the best ways of teaching compassion when it means seeing from someone else’s point of view, it is after all something we do all the time in debate; taking and defending a position that is not our own. And debate also helps to centre people, to provide them with the belief that they can bring about change, something that idea makes use of when teaching debate as an advocacy tool. So if Ken Robinson is right about the most important skills then debate could play in important role in teaching these skills to the next generation. Time to get to work IDEA!

Do watch the interview by Ashoka.

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