21st Century Problems: Are We Preparing Students for Modern Challenges?

In times of change, it can be difficult to know what’s a passing fad, and what represents a fundamental shift in the bigger system. The pace of change today adds another layer: preparing for the future is like trying to hit a moving target in the best circumstances, and now that target is rocketing along faster than ever. We have to ask, is our educational system preparing students for modern challenges? Here are three 21st Century Problems where we see an opportunity for schools at all levels to better prepare learners.

    1. Underdeveloped Digital Literacy: A recent New York Times piece shared the experience of 10 incoming Harvard first year students who had their acceptances revoked because of content they posted on social media. This, of course, isn’t limited to college, but career as well. Our real life identities have become intertwined with our social media profiles, and our ability to understand what that means is critical for representing ourselves positively.
    2. Poorly Showcased Skills: It should come as no surprise that a system for awarding degrees that originated decades if not centuries ago is running into problems. Employers have used a college degree as an imperfect screening tool for years, but they seem more flawed than ever. For example, at a time when employers prioritize problem solving, communication, leadership, and critical thinking above discipline-specific skill sets, college degrees don’t have much to say. Digital badging, online certificates, and innovative degrees/diplomas are only a first step in helping people highlight the skills they’ve worked hard to cultivate.
    3. Inability to Evaluate Information Critically: Critical thinking has always been an asset, but in the knowledge economy it’s becoming a prerequisite. Whether a person is conducting research for a paper, evaluating their company’s position in the market, or simply trying to discern how much attention to give a Facebook meme, strong critical thinking and information literacy skills can be the difference between success or embarrassment. The problem? While we recognize its importance, critical thinking is not taught in a consistent way at most institutions, varying largely from department to department, and even course to course.

Photo by Thaddaeus Lim on Unsplash