2.1 21st Century Skills

For years, educators have grappled with the issue of how to modernize education systems in order to equip young people with the skills and expertise needed to confront global challenges and contribute to rapidly-transforming economies. 21st century skills refer to the portfolio of skills needed by young people to navigate changes in the world and workplace due to globalization, technology, and market forces. Numerous interpretations of 21st century skills abound but most agree that they refer to a core set of skills, such as digital literacy, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking, that young people will need to thrive 1. Educating young people in 21st century skills is not about supplanting traditional academic subjects (such as math or language arts) but rather helping young people learn how to apply the content or knowledge they have learned to real-life challenges. 21st century skills mentioned frequently in the GYEOC included entrepreneurial skills, ICT skills, and people or “soft skills.”

The entrepreneurial component of 21st century skills is of particular interest to stakeholders in the YED sector. Everyone can benefit from entrepreneurial skills. A young person does not have to start a business to benefit from innovating, analyzing, planning, budgeting, decision-making, and the follow-through that business creation entails. As Gabriele Zedlmayer, Vice President for Sustainability and Social Innovation at HP commented, “We need employees who invent all the time. We need employees who are entrepreneurs.” Thus, all education systems, but particularly secondary and tertiary education, must address 21st century skills in their curriculum and teaching or risk alienating young people from the labor market.

What do young people think? The following graph details some of the non-technological skills that young people participating in the HP Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs (LIFE) program identified. They provide a unique window into youth perceptions of the broad spectrum of skills they consider useful.