Brookings Editor's Note:
On April 5, the Center for Universal Education will host its annual research and policy symposium on the global movement toward recognizing breadth of skills within education systems, as detailed in this report. You can register to attend the event or watch live and share your thoughts using #BreadthofSkills.
In the Skills for a Changing World project, we are exploring the new demands placed on education in the 21st century and how education systems are responding to them.
There have been increased calls globally for students to develop a broader set of skills during the years of formal education than in the past. Education has typically been seen as a preparation for adulthood and its work-related responsibilities. Recently, however, the focus on academic, vocational, and technical skills (e.g., Brewer, 2013) has shifted toward an aspiration for education to inform both work and life more generally (e.g., Pellegrino and Hilton, 2012). Many frameworks describe the skills or competencies that this 21st century world demands (e.g., Binkley et al., 2012; Lippman, Ryberg, Carney, and Moore, 2015), and in so doing, they display strong commonalities. The frameworks examine what competencies people need to function effectively in society, with descriptions varying from very high level (e.g., Delors, 1996) to very detailed (e.g., Binkley et al., 2012). Differences also emerge primarily in the degree to which skills or competencies alone are identified or whether a wider range of human characteristics are included.
The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2016) acknowledges this shift in the focus of education toward a broader approach. Of particular interest for Skills for a Changing World, Sustainable Development Goal 4 calls for skills beyond literacy and numeracy—including readiness for primary education (4.2), technical and vocational skills (4.4), and skills needed to promote global citizenship and sustainable development (4.7). These targets signal an emphasis on the breadth of skills necessary to prepare children, youth, and adults comprehensively for 21st century citizenship and life.
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