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The Need to Prepare Students with Skills for the Twenty-First Century

There has been a paradigm shift in the qualifications needed for job seekers. Economic projections for the next forty or fifty years indicate that for both world economies and the United States’ economy, there will be a paradigm shift in the qualifications needed for those who want to get a job. Due to increased globalization and innovations in technology, new skills are needed to succeed in the global workforce. It is important for schools to take urgent action to keep up with the new demands. As in all reforms, education will play an important role in preparing the next generation of workers. However, the quality of today’s education in the Philippines falls short in providing students with the necessary skills, because education systems are mostly focused on preparing students for standardized testing and increasing the passing rate, but with a lack of research, a lack of textbooks, and a lack of application of the learning. Students are not developing the necessary skills to compete or prepare for the next generation’s economy.

According to Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2008, certain skills such as critical thinking, communication, innovation, problem solving, research, and technological proficiency are important to compete in the new global work force. Yet, the Philippines has not yet utilized its resources to teach and to assess these skills. Potentially, the Philippines might fall behind the other Asian countries because it has not fully understood the link between students’ development and the future of its economy. According to Craig D. Jerald in a paper entitled “Defining a 21st Century Education” published for the Center for Public Education, students need to have newer skills due to changes in automation, globalization, demographics, and personal risk and responsibility because information technology has led to the automaton of many jobs that humans once performed better, faster and cheaper. Both technological and political changes as well as tough competitiveness forces have led economies to be globalized and have changed how businesses operate. They create less hierarchy and supervision and greater autonomy and personal responsibility for workers. For example, hotel front desks could soon be staffed by robots not human beings.

The author of the report continues arguing that a global economy and ever changing technology create a mobile population; therefore, the population demographics of many countries are changing. As a consequence of this, individual risk and responsibility have increased as well. According to a Pacific Policy Research Center report in 2009, Jerald posits that the new skills for the twenty-first century include the following: mathematical literacy, reading literacy, communication and collaboration, critical thinking, scientific literacy, creativity and problem solving. For example, mathematical literacy is something called quantitative literacy. This implies something other than what students do in a classroom, like answering multiple choice or test questions. According to the author even highly educated people can be unsuccessful in understanding real life quantitative information, such as credit card offers or cost comparison. The reason the role of mathematics is very important today, Jerald contends, is because from major public issues, such as health care, to social security, and from international economics to welfare reform—all depend on data, projections, inferences, and the kind of systematic thinking that is the heart of quantitative literacy.

The author argues that another important skill for the twenty-first century is reading literacy, because reading literacy is more about reading to learn rather than learning to read. It is expected that employees are able to comprehend all kinds of documents to carry out all kinds of tasks, such as reading charts, graphs, tables, maps, diagrams, forms, information sheets, vouchers, and, thus, both individual and organizational success is highly dependent upon a high level of literacy. The good thing about the Philippines’ literacy rate is that it is better than many of the countries in the region.

Because of technology and new innovation, our world has become in some ways like a small village. This caused new communication challenges. Even though every school requires students to have good communication skills, including speech, writing, and reading, an increased diversity of the global economy demands a much more complicated and advanced set of skills for communication and collaboration. It requires students and workers to listen well and to speak well, but effective communicators shouldn’t just be able to listen well, but rather should be able to speak with diverse groups, in different languages, and on different topics. It is important that each individual has the ability to work productively and respectfully with diverse groups. According to research, using active learning systems, including project-based learning, game-based learning, and problem-based learning, can help students develop their skills. For a company, critical thinking and problem solving skills are very important because workplace tasks demand that employees do things without having to be told or directed to do so, but the problem is that high percentages of students are lacking in these areas.

The Philippines needs a crucial new skill that will maintain its competitiveness in the global economy, and that is why it always needs to be very creative and innovative. Global awareness is important because we are working with diverse people from different cultures, religions, ideologies, and backgrounds seeking to understand each other and to demonstrate mutual respect. Teaching global awareness will help students to feel closer to global issues and diverse learning communities. Therefore, a new way of interacting will create a new world in which everybody respects each other, respects their decisions and positions, and seeks to solve problems in a civilized way rather than by fighting.

Science is not a favorite subject of many students, but, according to research, all adults need to understand and apply science in daily life. For example, science and technology impact our society and physical world, for good or bad, so that the scientific method is one of the important skills that people have to have for the twenty first century.

The Philippines urgently needs to make significant and far-reaching reforms in its higher education system to prepare students and to equip them with the proper skills to face the fast changing world because these are all important tools for the Philippines’ success in the global economy.

Dr. Aland Mizell is President of the MCI and a regular contributor to Mindanao Times. You may email the author at aland_mizell2@hotmail.com