As some of you know, if you’ve read my post A Sign O’ the Times, my boyfriend and I often debate about the uses of technology and 21st century communication. In the spirit of that blog, I want to discuss the need for 21st century education. There is a growing movement called the 21st century skills to promote and utilize the latest technologies; but more importantly, it should incorporate skills of critical thinking, creativity, cultural competence, and literacy skills among students.
Education is so important in the 21st century world and knowledge economy. Globalization in all of its forms is a growing part of the experiences of youth in 2012. Suarez-Orozco explains that education is understood as a transfer of skills, values, and sensibilities to the next generation and basic education is a normative ideal in the world (Suarez-Orozco, 2007). Suarez-Orozco (2007) states that there needs to be cultural sophistication or cultural competence to work within the globalized economy. The biggest challenges that Wagner (2010) states is how to accommodate the current changes in the world with global knowledge economy, information excess, and the impact of media and technology on youth. Due to these current phenomena, he states that there are two achievement gaps: domestic and global (Wagner, 2010).
Many American educators and scholars are concerned with the current state of education in America since it’s ranking has declined among OECD* industrialized countries (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Suarez-Orozco, 2007; Ravitch, 2011; Wagner, 2010). Linda Darling-Hammond (2010) states, “The new mission of schools is to prepare students to work at jobs that do not exist, creating ideas and solutions for products and problems that have not yet been identified, using technologies that have not yet been invented (pg. 2).”
In addition, there are growing achievement and opportunity gaps among students and schools based on demographic information and background such as race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, immigrant/native status, etc. which is also alarming (Noguera and Wing, 2008; Tierney, 2001; Rhodes, 2001; Rose, 2009).
While there is no causation between these phenomena, there could be direct and indirect correlations to show that America’s status in the globalized economy is a reflection of the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Another point is that the low educational standards of the under-privileged, under-represented, and under-prepared minority students are a reflection of the general lowered educational standards in the U.S.
Some scholars blame the lack of accountability of school leadership and teachers, others believe it is the lack of national educational standards, and still some believe it is the changing pedagogy and doctrine of 21st century knowledge economy (Arum and Roksa, 2011; Bassis, 2011; Benjamin, 2011; Blaich, 2011; Darling-Hammond, 2010; Ewell, 2009; Long, 2008; Ravitch, 2011; Rhodes, 2001; Suarez-Orozco, 2007; Tyack, 2003; Wagner, 2010; Wildavsky, 2011. Overall, most educators are not happy about the current state of education and are looking for solutions.
Among educational scholars, there is a small school of thought that believes the cultural differences in American society centering around race, ethnicity, class, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc. are causing the barriers for achievement and democracy in public education (Anderson, 2009; Apple, 1996; Freire, 2000; hooks, 1994; Noguera, 2008; McCarthy and Crichlow, 1993; McCarthy and Mahalingam, 2000; Morrison, 1993; Omi and Winant, 1994; West, 2001). Since students are treated and taught differently intentionally and unintentionally, it is standard to teach, research, or lead differently in order to meet the needs of students. Although difference is good, standard educational quality and processes such as curriculum, pedagogy, and resources should be equitable. In other words, all students should have the access to resources and held to high expectations.
The main concern for the Obama administration is the role of young-adult postsecondary attainment in supporting and raising the country’s competitive position internationally (Obama, 2012). In this respect, the federal government has fully embraced the “public agenda” rhetoric that was pioneered almost 50 years ago. (Ewell, 2009; Swail and Perna, 2002; Tierney and Hagedorn, 2002). In 2008, the federal government increased the Pell Grants and enacted other measures such as a financial assistance calculator on each college website, income-based repayment plans, and notifications of changes or deferment conditions (Obama, 2012). Even more recently, in his State of the Union address, President Obama has initiated a push that the majority of Americans pursue postsecondary education by 2020 (Obama, 2012). In other words, he wants to have the highest proportion of students graduating from college (Obama, 2012). Currently, America is behind countries such as Iceland, Poland, Japan, and Denmark who have a higher percentage of college graduates (OECD, 2009). In order to support this push and emphasis on access, institutions of higher education in America must strategically refocus its attention on the infrastructure of higher education. There is a need for support systems throughout the educational system and clear educational outcomes so that stakeholders (such as government officials, K-12 education, colleges/universities, business/industry, governing boards, and families) can rate student and institutional success.
Linda Darling-Hammond (2010) in her book, The Flat World and Education, “Inequality has an enormous influence on the U.S. The distance between the average PISA scale score for Asian and White American students, on the one hand, and African and Hispanic/Latino American students, on the other, is equal to the distance between the U.S. Average and that of the highest-scoring countries. Indeed, White and Asian American students in the United States score above the average in each subject area, but African and Hispanic/Latino American students score so much lower that the national average plummets to the bottom tier of the rankings (pg. 11).” Darling-Hammond (2010) continues that on the measure of equity, the United States’ poor standing is a product of unequal access for underserved minority students to the intellectually challenging learning measured in OECD’s international assessments. For example, the wealthiest school districts in the United States spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest, and spending ratios of 3 to 1 are common within states (Darling-Hammond, 2010). She states that, “These disparities reinforce the wide inequalities in income among families, with the greatest resources being spent on children from the wealthiest communities and the fewest on the children of the poor, especially in high-minority communities. This creates huge inequalities in educational outcomes that ultimately weaken the very fabric of our nation (pg. 12).”
The nation is committed to education and access; yet, in a postsecondary system as diverse as the U.S., the manner in which this commitment is operationalized and defined is national and state policies. Tierney and Hagedorn (2002) states that community colleges, state universities, and to an extent, public research universities have a mission and ethos to provide access for the broad public. However, federal and state enforced legislation/policies have been more effective in enabling poor and minority individuals to get a college education. Underlying such policies was the idea that public education should be open to everyone, not just the wealthy few (Bowen et al., 2006; Lucas, 1996; Thelin, 2004; Rhodes, 2001).
College access is being pushed as a national imperative due to the high poverty rates and income gaps and more and more is asked of education to combat social inequalities. Yet, the continued gaps in college enrollment and degree completion despite the dedication of such large amounts of resources suggests that a more comprehensive approach to college access and success is needed (Swail and Perna, 2002. Merely making financial aid available for students to attend college is not enough to ensure that all students have equal access to the benefits associated with earning a college degree (Gladieux and Swail, 1998; Swail and Perna, 2002). A variety of factors influence college enrollment behavior, including educational expectations and plans, academic ability and preparation, information about college options, availability of financial aid, and support from teachers, counselors, family members, and peers (Perna, 2000; Swail and Perna, 2002).
P.S. Where do you rate your 21st Century Skills and how can you help students achieve a higher rate for college access?
* Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development