In 1993, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century. Its task was to determine what educational changes were needed to equip young people with the necessary skills for the future. In 1996, the commission reported that education systems should focus on four pillars of education:
The commission’s report was influential, promoting conversations about the purposes of education and desirable outcomes for students.
The NZC’s vision statement unpacks what these mean for New Zealand students.
Our vision is for young people:
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) extended the conversation about what young people should be able to do to participate in and contribute to society in the Definition and Selection of Competencies (DeSeCo) project. This project developed a framework, guided by the question: ‘What demands does today’s society place on its citizens?’.
The OECD proposed education reforms that focus on teaching students to understand how knowledge is created and how to appropriately apply knowledge, rather than teaching knowledge recall (OECD, 2005). The OECD described its version of the key competencies in the DeSeCo report and included them in its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 1997.
The OECD key competencies are:
Hipkins (2018) notes that New Zealand’s key competencies originated from initial work for the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) about how best to translate the DeSeCo developments into the New Zealand context. The work was also informed by the Curriculum Stocktake, undertaken by the University of Waikato. This focused on the application of the Essential Skills in the different Essential Learning Areas of the 1990s curricula.
New Zealand’s key competencies are similar to the OECD’s. However, the OECD conceptualises ‘thinking’ as cutting across the other competencies and necessary for their development. In the NZC, ‘thinking’ is a separate competency. The NZC considers all the key competencies to have the potential to be used in combination and that thinking is too complex to be considered only in relation to other competencies (Hipkins, Bolstad, Boyd, & McDowall, 2014, pp. 14-15).
|Name given to competency by OECD|
|Functioning in socially heterogeneous groups|
|Using tools interactively|
|The New Zealand Curriculum version|
|Relating to others
Participating and contributing
|Using language, symbols and texts|
|Thinking (not identified as cross-cutting)|
Adapted from: Hipkins & McDowall, 2013, p. 3.
Several influential international contributors have identified the need for students to have similar capabilities. The following outlines four of the most recent contributions.
Fullan and Scott (2014, pp. 6-7) identified Six Cs, personal and academic qualities and capabilities, that twenty-first century students need. These are:
The Center for Curriculum Redesign (CCR) developed a framework to prepare students for the demands of the twenty-first century. This framework contains four dimensions:
The CCR’s emphasis on metacognition supports the OECD focus on the importance of reflection in relation to learning-to-learn. The notion of resilience features here too, an aspect further developed in the following piece of work.
The importance of students acquiring general competencies was also identified in New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology, produced by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The report identified 16 skills students need to ‘thrive in the 21st century’.
The WEF is specific about the importance of a range of literacies, including ICT literacy. Global literacy (CCR) is not among them. Curiosity and resilience (in the form of persistence and grit) echo the CCR attributes. The WEF introduces initiative, leadership, and social and cultural awareness as important qualities. The report emphasises the value of social and emotional learning. It points to evidence that social and emotional skills lead to better academic performance and career success, together with a range of other measures of lifetime success.
The OECD, as part of the Future of Education and Skills 2030 project, has developed the OECD Learning Compass 2030. This extends the work started by the DeSeCo project. The compass ‘defines the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values students need to fulfil their potential and contribute to the wellbeing of their communities and the planet’.
The graphic is interactive online, providing the detail behind each of the aspects in the compass. The OECD has developed resources, that include commentary by students, to support understanding of these aspects.
Core foundations are the prerequisites upon which every other aspect of learning is built. They are:
As in the WEF report, social and emotional development is recognised as a critical component of learning and, in line with research, emphasises the close link between wellbeing and learning.
The OECD introduces agency with co-agency. This reflects the interrelated world we live in and the importance of students’ active role in their education as individuals and in mutually supportive relationships with others.
The transformative competencies provide a purpose to creativity and critical thinking in the form of ‘creating new value’. They acknowledge the complexities of the world and the need to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty – skills that require empathy, respect and resilience.
Research from New Zealand and international contributors between 2014-2018 share common and related threads in thinking and developing what students need to successfully navigate the future and contribute to the wellbeing of their communities and the planet.