Archive for November, 2010

21st Century Skills? Food and water for our tribes.

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

(Responding to George Siemens’ post on

Essential and challenging topic, George. I’m glad you’re engaging with it.
I agree that we should not interpret “21st Century” skills as simply “new” skills. Reflecting your mention of “contextual right answers,” the question could be phrased as “what are the skills appropriate to the 21st century context?” So what is the 21st century context?
I’m going to invite you along a bit of a stroll here, if you’re willing. The 21st Century context is increasingly social and biological, and not necessarily in pleasant ways. I’d suggest that in the short term, we can expect skills to reflect more tribal (roughly = “community”) tendencies, with focus on biological health and on localized and networked mutualism. We will be pressed to work more on fostering interdependencies. We will need to manage our interdependencies with ecosystem carrying capacities, local energy and resources, privately-shared, physical, low-technology systems, along with food, environmental, health, social, and educational needs. Although we are lulled by the primal pleasure from the foraging and gathering we simulate on the internet, we will increasingly need to trade locally, and therefore need to learn how to make contributions to the physical and social well-being of our tribal groups. (tribe = your interdependents). So, 21st century skills are going to be more material, biological, low-tech, and human-scale. One area of increasing interest, of course, is food: Growing food, food sharing, preservation and preparation, knowledge of food systems, food sources, food qualities. Not entirely surprising. Just surprisingly urgent.
But what about high-tech 21st century skills? I’ll suggest that we will increasingly need the skills to read our technological and biological environments, in order to access biological productivity (sustainable resources) and in order to avoid contaminants in unofficially-traded food and water. Citizenship will inhere in the struggle to supply our tribes while avoiding violent conflict. Education will need to support the essential balance between scientific competence and social worth, at the scale of the individual and tribal group, and at the intertribal level in conflicts over resources. It’s where we (humans) are weakest now.
Social science education needs to matter more to the real world (See Bent Flyvbjerg, now at Oxford) to reflect a defensible ethical position. Science education needs to be increasingly grounded in community priorities, as reflected in the increasingly popular Community Service Learning and Community-based Research approaches. The skills here are those that help answer the question: “What will we have tomorrow?” and “How do we share?” Compared with any new approach to education, Siemens’ connectivism, combined with Communities of Practice offers a great deal toward the kinds of literacies that will be required to teach and learn in the increasingly physical 21st century.

Categories: Patterns