Why is it important for teachers to teach 21st-century skills?

By Aarul Malviya, Founder, Zamit

For twenty-five years, I lived in the belief that I was pretty good when it came to technology. I never considered myself to be a tech genius but tech-savvy enough to know how to use technology to really enhance my teaching. I’d be one of those who’d use the school’s SMART Boards as proper teaching tools with all their interactive functionalities rather than as mere whiteboards.

Aarul Malviya

But then the pandemic hit and I found myself having to first research and then teach the use of various digital teaching and learning platforms and EdTech tools to my colleagues pretty much overnight. That was when I realised that while I managed to demonstrate several 21st-century skills to some extent, including research skills, digital literacy, adaptability, resourcefulness, creativity, problem-solving skills, open-mindedness, and communication skills, I could’ve been much better prepared for the future.

By ‘the future’ I mean, the unexpected, unprecedented, and extreme. Still, I couldn’t complain, I was able to keep my job while many of my experienced, highly qualified, and knowledgeable colleagues were forced to retire, change careers or adjust themselves to lower standards of living. I felt that not only did I manage to keep my job but I was also able to demonstrate that I was an asset to the team. I also realised that nothing I learned during my BA, MA and Ph.D. studies prepared me for what I suddenly had to do. My teachers certainly didn’t prepare me for any of it either. Instead, I prepared myself for it.

The skills I inherited, acquired and taught myself prepared me for it. Unbeknownst to me, I was ready and when the pandemic hit, I managed to cope without anticipating or being formally prepared for what was going to happen. I was one of the lucky ones. But, just imagine how much stress and panic it would’ve saved me had I been actually prepared for it. Not for a pandemic because that truly is an extreme example, but for the real world. How many of my teacher colleagues would’ve been able to keep their jobs had their own teachers prepared them for the real world back in the day … because that’s what having 21st-century skills meant – having life skills and being prepared for the real world. Being an expert in your subject is great and essential for most positions, but who would want to work with you if you didn’t have a strong work ethic, were unreliable, couldn’t show empathy, were late for work, lacked dependability and integrity, or were a bad communicator? Content knowledge is important but not enough.

Teaching your students life skills is as important as teaching content. If you don’t teach them life skills, you’ll disadvantage them. You’ll hold them back and you’ll become a hindrance rather than a contributor to their success in their private, academic, and working lives. You’ll inadvertently stop them from being able to build meaningful personal and professional relationships and successfully overcome life’s challenges. You won’t enable them to stay relevant and useful in society either.

You’ll confine their acquired knowledge and abilities to the classroom rather than help them to apply that knowledge and skills to real situations in the real world. So yes, teach your students 21st-century skills because it isn’t just trendy to do so – they are skills your students need to be successful in the world. If your students don’t have these skills, someone else’s students will and they’ll be the ones who put you and your students to shame.

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