Preparing youth for the 21st century

Defining 21st century learning skills for youth.

The old adage, reading, writing and arithmetic have provided the foundation in developing academic curriculum for youth for hundreds of years.  In the 21st century, however, youth are faced with a globally interdependent world steeped in rapidly changing technology, new environmental challenges and unique needs for education that are not simply found within the context of textbooks. 

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has worked to identify common skills, knowledge and expertise that enhance students learning in order to prepare them for the unique challenges of the century.  According to Michigan State University Extension, the partnership explains that in addition to core knowledge instruction, that which might be found within traditional learning environments, youth must also develop important skills in critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration.  Specific life and career skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills include flexibility, initiative, cross-cultural skills, accountability, leadership and responsibility. 

In addition to the development of important soft skills, youth that are adequately prepared for the 21st century should also receive education in new emerging topics including global awareness, financial literacy, civic literacy, health literacy and environmental literacy.  These topics address important educational themes that are unique to the challenges of today’s world.  These subjects can be addressed through the lens of a traditional textbook, but push educators into new subject areas that may not have historically been an area of focus. 

Imparting these skills to youth may require new educational models, curriculum and unique experiences for them. Fortunately, the responsibility to teach youth life skills and technical knowledge does not rest solely with teachers in classrooms, but can also be delivered through after-school and out-of-school programs for youth.  MSU Extension 4-H Youth Development is grounded in the concept of developing youth life skills and can play an important role assisting youth to be 21st century ready.  The next article in the series will examine the role that Michigan 4-H Youth Development programs can play in enhancing 21st century learning skills for youth.