Canada needs a national vision for 21st Century learning models of public education. There is an urgent need for Canadians to understand the economic and social imperative underlining this debate. The world is shifting to a knowledge economy, fuelled largely by digital technologies. Wealth creation is and will continue to be generated by highly creative and innovative people. Failure to impart 21st Century competencies and skills to a nation’s youth will make that country economically vulnerable to those that do.
The OECD, European Union, UNESCO, and numerous other international agencies and authors have identified the competencies and skills deemed essential to positioning societies for success in the 21st Century. And all are calling for these competencies to be core outcomes of public education.
So where do Canadians stand on this debate? The fact is, while the issue is fundamental to the future sustainability of the nation’s economy, it has received scant attention.
In the United States, a coalition of concerned citizens and corporate entities established the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21). P21 advocates for 21st Century models of learning to become the norm in America’s public education systems. The organization also facilitates forums on best practices. In a few instances private sector members have even partnered to advance a particular aspect of the model, such as Intel, Microsoft and Cisco joining forces to explore 21st Century assessment models and tools.
It is interesting that the U.S. Department of Education recently released Learning Powered by Technology which calls on America’s public education systems to embrace technology in the transformation of that country’s public education system.
Internationally, a number of countries are actively pursuing the creation of 21st Century models of learning in their public education systems. A study by the British Government’s Department for Education and Skills concludes that living and working in Thomas Friedman’s ‘flat’ world will require that a strong global dimension be instilled into the learning experience of all youth.
In Canada, in September 2010 the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) publicly declared the intent of provinces and territories to begin working together to explore how to implement 21st Century learning models across Canada.
Subsequently, in a report released December 2010 by British Columbia’s Premiers Technology Council, entitled A Vision for 21st Century Education, calls on the province to create a 21st Century learning model in that province’s public education system.
Canada’s leaders at all levels of society, from the parent school support committee to the boardrooms of the nation’s largest and wealthiest corporations, need to become actively engaged in this discussion, less other nation’s position their societies to be more creative and innovative, and thus more productive in the knowledge economy of the 21st Century.
A national vision for 21st Century learning would be a good beginning. A pan-Canadian coalition, similar to P21 in the United States, to advocate for and support the changes required would also be of value. A “P21 Canada” has the opportunity to learn from the U.S. coalition’s experience. Advice received from some of the original architects of and current players in P21 in the U.S. suggest a broader and more internationally inclusive membership base would be important considerations for Canada. A P21 Canada, customized to the Canadian reality, must ensure all sectors of society are engaged in this important debate, and that governments across Canada are held accountable for progress.