Learning skills include the needs to think critically and creatively, "out of the box" thinking. Students need to be able to communicate and collaborate with each other. Literacy skills combine information, media, and technology literacy. Life skills mean developing leaders who are productive and can take initiative. Students must have strong social skills and be able to be flexible.
These skills have always been important to students but have not been as valued in practice in the schools. When schools were preparing students to hold jobs in industry, the key skills were knowing a trade, following directions, getting along with others, working hard, and being professional—efficient, prompt, honest, and fair. Schools have done an excellent job of teaching these skills, and students still need them. However, jobs students need to be prepared for are information-age jobs. These types of jobs still depend on students knowing how to follow directions, get along, work hard, and be professional but now they also need to think deeply about issues, solve problems creatively, work in teams, communicate clearly in many different media, adapt and learn ever-changing technologies in order to deal with a flood of information. The rapid changes require students to be flexible, to take the initiative and lead when necessary, and to produce something new and useful.
Unfortunately, schools have been pushed to deal with the new and evolving age of information in a very antiquated manner and have moved into a teach to the test paradigm. We as educators, have forgotten that students are children and because the bottom line is getting the answer right on "THE TEST" schools have been forced to to take away the one best learning strategy a child has to make sense of this new information packed world. We no longer allow a child to learn by doing.
John Dewey was the most significant educator of the 20th century, for that matter, the 21st century as well. Dewey's concept of education put a premium on meaningful activity in learning and participation in the classroom. Rather than the concept of authoritarianism and rote learning which a teach to the test classroom demands, John Dewey believed that students must be invested and engaged in what they were learning. Dewey argued that learning tasks should be relevant to students' lives. He saw learning by doing and development of practical life skills as crucial to children's education.
John Dewey would have most definitely not been a fan of high stakes testing that takes away a child’s creativity and forces them to give just the right answer. On the other hand he would have loved and been a huge supporter of the technology integrated classroom. He would have said that if we want children to succeed as students preparing themselves for jobs that require them to fail and then pick themselves up and try again, to be able to communicate with individuals from across the globe even though they have never left their own backyard, to work with a multitude of different people, we need to teach the 21st century skills as they are meant to be taught. Nowhere could this be done better than in a computer classroom by a teacher trained to integrate technology into a variety of subjects and not just as a separate add on. We need to put away canned drill and kill technology programs and allow students to experience what it means to work on a project that may take a period of time. Students need to be able to think through and solve problems and to realize that sometimes problems may not be able to be solved. We need to build "out of the box thinkers" that can do more than answer a test question.
If the motivation is to build 21st century skills in order to close the achievement gap by focusing on 21st century skills we need to find a way to reach all students. These learning experiences need to be provided to the gifted and talented as well as the struggling learner. Even more imperatively, we need to find a way to get greater computer access because no matter what incredible programs we use, a half hour with technology a week, which is what is standard in many classrooms, is not nearly enough time. Ten years ago Virginia thought that by mandating one ITRT, or instructional technology resource teacher, per every thousand students they could solve the issues of teaching those missing 21st century skills. The ITRT was to work with the classroom teacher helping to plan and co-plan lessons with effective technology integration. There are several problems with this thought. First, there were still some teachers who did not want to use the ITRT at all and of course those students went without the needed instruction. Secondly, since the ITRT was so spread out trying to accommodate the needs of 1000 students (even though the work was done with the teacher) long term projects were not engaged in often. This means the students did not have time to try again or figure out a problem if the project failed the first time.So, rather than attempt project base learning tasks, teachers turned to learning game websites.
A better idea would be to fund one ITRT per elementary building and allowing the ITRT to also man the computer lab. By hiring a full time ITRT we could schedule blocks of time several times a week for the students to visit the computer lab under the tutor-ledge of a highly qualified teacher who knows how to plan and carry out project based learning activities which focus on 21st century skills and incorporate integrated technology. If the teacher would rather, the ITRT could push into a classroom to help with integration ideas that focus on the needed 21st century skills. During the week the ITRT should have time to plan with grade levels built into his/her schedule. Finally, a full time ITRT could, and should be expected to work with students to provide them with ways to use their 21st century skills in real life situations to benefit their communities. This would show students that education has a reason, a purpose.