What are 21st Century Skills?

There are around 540,000 words in the English language. Which is about 5 times as many words than during Shakespeare’s time. It is estimated that more than 4 exabytes (4.0x10^19) of unique information are being generated every year which is more than the combined information of the last 5000 years. Another study shows that the amount of technical information is doubling every 2 years.

The world is exponentially changing and yesterday’s focus on memorization and rote learning cannot prepare any students for a fast-changing, increasingly automated and information-saturated world. Preparing a child for the world that doesn’t yet exist is unprecedented and definitely not an easy task for any teacher. So what are the critical 21st century skills every student needs to survive and succeed in our future world? What abilities, traits and means will serve them in a time that is exponentially changing and developing?

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

The consensus is that students need transparency-level skills in these areas:

  • Problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Analytic thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Ethics, action, and accountability

Let’s talk more about why these skills will become increasingly important in the future. We’ll go through each trait separately and talk about it in detail.

Problem Solving

Students of the future should compromise the trait to solve complex problems in real time. Complex problems that we can’t even conceive right now will arise in almost every field of the future. As our society advances, so will the complexity of its manageable conflicts. The more teachers focus on students’ ability to devise effective solutions to real-world problems, the more successful those students will become. This means solving complex problems effectively in real time using unique and carefully designed solutions.
Furthermore, problem-solvers can work independently from higher supervision. They are initiative takers and can take risks, and they are not afraid to get their hands dirty and make mistakes. They also have the trait to learn from those mistakes, and habitually debrief their processes to create more efficient solutions. These are the kinds of people who will be successful in a global marketplace both present and of the future. Such individuals are an asset to any workforce. It’s worth mentioning that in this future we’re talking about, students who are unable to think proactively towards problem solving will have a hard time finding employment.


One of the traits of students that will be important in the future is the ability to think and work creatively in both digital and nondigital mediums to develop unique and useful solutions. Students should be in a constant state of stimulation and neural development with technology use. They are required to be producers and consumers, or prosumers, of information. One of the ways this comes from is doing meaningful tasks that give them challenges to overcome in imaginative ways.

The future world needs students who are constantly searching for ways to express themselves and their uniqueness. The right mix of creativity along with curriculum helps students to be innovative and also encourages them to learn new things in an exciting way. This enables students to grow as good communicators in addition to improving their emotional and social skills. Creativity is also a vital outlet that inspires students to see who they are and what they can do, and to realize what they can accomplish. It is fundamental that this side of any student is allowed to shine forth in during their education.

Analytic thinking

In the future, people will need the ability to think analytically, that is competence in comparing, contrasting, evaluating, synthesizing, and applying their conclusions without supervision. Analytic thinking means being able to implement Higher Order Thinking. As you can see even in todays world, tasks that require linear thinking and routine cognitive work are being outsourced to cheaper workforces. It is crucial to guide students towards being able to perform analytic thinking in order to succeed in life after the classroom.
Students who make it a habit for analytical thinking see data and information in many different dimensions, and from multiple angles. Hence, they are adept at conceptualization, organization and knowledge synthesis. These types of skills are invaluable because they allow students to deal practically with any new problem that arises, whether it be social, mathematical, and scientific in nature. It enables them to make effective and level-headed decisions in their lives and relationships. For above reasons, it is easy to see why critical and analytical thinking skills are important to success beyond school.


Another trait that will be essential for a future workforce is the ability to collaborate seamlessly in both physical and virtual spaces, with real and virtual partners globally. Children of the digital age are social by nature. They text, post, update, share, chat, and constantly co-create with each other through technology. When they are unable to hone this ability in school, they become disengaged and unattached to their learning. The work forces of the future will increasingly globalize due to the Internet. It is now the norm to communicate and market for global demographics in real time. In todays world, even small sized organization’s business partners are halfway across the world, and yet they meet and work with each other every day. The ability to collaborate and communicate effectively in these situations is essential. Simply put, better collaborators make better students—and better citizens of the future.


Unlike the previous century, the future requires students to be able to communicate via multiple multimedia formats such as augmented reality and not just with text, speech and pictures. They must be able to communicate visually via new technologies as effectively as they do with text and speech. Effective communication is a broad skill that incorporates multi-faceted levels of interaction and sharing information. So it’s more than just being able to effectively use digital media, it’s about personal interactions as well.

We must remind our students that responsible communication practice puts forth their best representation of who they are as individuals and as well as effectively getting the message they want to convey across. Whether it be talking face-to-face, blogging, texting, Skyping, or creating a visual product, their values and beliefs are defined by how well they communicate with others. Encouraging students to develop and hone these aspects of their communication skills will serve them well in both their personal and professional lives.

Ethics, actions and accountability

This includes adaptability, personal accountability, fiscal responsibility, environmental awareness, tolerance, empathy and global awareness. A well-rounded global digital citizen practices global, personal, and online responsibilities geared towards creating a better world for everyone. This is a selfless, helpful, and caring individual who is respectful of other cultures and belief systems, and diligent about being at his best with interactions of all sorts, both online and offline. Teaching students about global awareness and internet safety have become mainstream practices in education around the world. It’s lovely to see such skills garnering the attention they deserve.

While it may take some time for schools, teachers and parents are equipped to properly educate in the 21st century but once they are, the results will be dramatic. Students will be more engaged and eager to learn. In fact, if executed properly they will carry on learning at home and over holidays. They will also have the resources they need to keep learning no matter where they are. This ability to foster a love of learning is truly the role of education in the 21st century.