Much is made of the unimaginable world our current teens will face in the future. Fifty years ago, teachers indeed would not have predicted that everyone would walk around with the internet in their pocket. They likely would not have predicted the internet at all! It would be nearly impossible to predict what the world might be like in 50 years – or even 20 years when our current teens are at the height of their professional careers.
While we may be unable to predict accurately what teens will do for work, we can certainly help them to develop skills that will translate to any rapidly changing situation. Apart from the flexibility to change in sync with the world around them, several major education stakeholders have identified skills that every teen should have. The Common Core Standards and the International Baccalaureate both identify key core competencies that all young people should gain through their formal education. The overlap in these competencies lies in what some have deemed the "Four C's."
The need to problem solve will be essential in any profession and any field, and a creative mind provides the ability to look at a problem from multiple angles and to propose various solutions. The ability to "think outside of the box" is critical when we face problems we can't yet define. It is also likely, with the advent of social media platforms and many creative platforms that today's young people will be the creators of many new products, procedures, applications, and technological devices. Fostering a sense of creativity will give them the foundation to find unique ways to face any challenge.
2. Critical Thinking
One thing the Common Core Standards did in the United States was to eliminate the long list of facts that every student should know to be deemed proficient in a subject. Now, the standards focus on the ability to "determine" and "analyze." There is a decidedly more clear emphasis on the process than on the product. These skills are indeed under the umbrella of critical thinking, and teens who know how to analyze rather than memorize have an advantage in solving problems and developing solutions.
Additionally, critical thinkers look at problems from multiple angles. They integrate knowledge from a variety of subjects and experiences to find answers. They are able to think procedures through from beginning to end and can look at situations from various points of view.
This skill includes both the ability to share information and to receive it. In a world filled with references to social media, young people are encouraged – if not pressured – to communicate all of the time. Strong communication skills will be necessary in any field as information must be shared not only internally with coworkers but with a larger world. Developing communication skills as a teen sets up young people to not only share information but to receive it with a critical eye. In doing this, they heighten their critical thinking skills and learn to synthesize and utilize information in a variety of ways.
With the increase of technology, many say that the world is shrinking. It is so easy for us to communicate with colleagues all over the globe instantly and in real time. It stands to reason that a need for collaboration will only grow as the world continues to become more interconnected. Today's teens would benefit from robust collaboration skills, particularly those that encourage them to work in partnership with various people who have varying interest in a project. Learning to lean on others and be a dependable worker are skills that would apply to any profession – even those we can’t imagine yet.
Other education organizations identify additional skills, such as flexibility and a sense of ethics. The key to preparing for the 21st century then seems to point back to innovation and personal relationships. Helping our young people to develop skills under these two umbrellas will provide them with the flexibility to adapt to any new situation they find themselves in.