21st-Century Skills: Education Reform or Marketing Ploy?

By Katie Ash — December 07, 2009 2 min read
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My colleague Stephen Sawchuk has a new piece in Education Week that looks into some of the criticisms of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an organization that promotes the adoption of new academic-content standards, professional training, and assessments aligned with 21st-century skills. Critics of the group say that it is a veiled attempt by technology companies, who make up much of the organization’s membership, to get more of their products in schools. And indeed, there are some strong ties between the partnership and the development of technology products for classrooms. Specifically, members of the organization “can access ‘early intelligence’ about where the education system may be headed in order to help ensure that products and services align with that vision,” Sawchuk found in his reporting.

There’s no doubt that the push for incorporating 21st-century skills into classrooms has made way for numerous products that claim to help accomplish that goal, but that alone doesn’t necessarily invalidate the work of the partnership. The group emphasizes the importance of skills like information and media literacy, critical thinking, creativity and intellectual curiosity, and global awareness—among others—which many other organizations and educators would agree are important skills for students to have.

I wonder if some of the criticisms against this group stem from the tendency of advocates to overstate the power of technology in education. In speaking with Keith Krueger, the chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking, for a story I am writing about the difficulties of writing ed-tech policy, that came up as one of the challenges educators face when wondering how to incorporate technology into the classroom. “We’ve been promised this big revolution, and we haven’t seen it yet. Technology, in the short range, has probably been overpromised,” he said. Krueger added though, that “we often fail to recognize the transformed impact of technology over the longer-term, especially if we rethink the business processes of what we are doing.”

Sawchuk’s article goes into detail about the group’s for-profit affiliations, as well as its structure and mission. But I’m curious to hear what you guys think. Is this whole push for 21st-century skills a ploy for technology companies to get more products into classrooms? Is it an earnest attempt to improve education? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between?

UPDATE: After reading this post the folks at The Partnership for 21st Century Skills called to say they felt some additional information on the group’s work was needed. Take a look at the the statement from the group’s president, Ken Kay, in the comment section below.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.