The ASEM Forum on Lifelong Learning gave a fresh contribution to the discussion about how to define 21st century competencies. On the basis of this Forum, the ASEM LLL Hub Secretariat has made the following recommendations: 21st century competencies should enable us to master interdisciplinary approaches for creative problem solving in specific contexts. Success thus requires respect for learning cultures. Across the ASEM countries and across different learning cultures, there appears to be an established consensus on the need for investment in ICT pedagogy, on what is adult educators core competencies, and on a concerted effort to identify which competencies future lifelong learner must be able to acquire by using digital technologies.
By Claus Holm, Chair of ASEM LLL Hub, and Anders Martinsen, Head of ASEM LLL Hub Secretariat
ASEM countries are challenged in making its citizens capable of living in a society characterized by constant change. This brings along an imperative that briefly is articulated by the phrase ’you must learn to change your life’. That is to say that you not only have to learn to change yourself throughout your life, but also that learning is about life and for life. The reasons for this ever-formulated demand for change by developing competencies are different - from technological changes to global and local crises of both climate and economic nature to multicultural communities arising through migration, etc. The consequences are that the individuals, institutions and states across the world are changing and improving their educational efforts to better match the future society. In short: Education is now a question about preparing people to meet future challenges; it is not only a question about performing known and well-defined functions. But how is this done in the best way? How to formulate strategies for the competencies that are needed in the future? How to deal with technological development? And how do strategies in the best way possible take account of the difference of learning cultures when 21st century competencies are being formulated?
From 3-5 October 2016, the ASEM LLL Hub held the biennial ASEM Forum on Lifelong Learning with the title 21st Century Skills at the Danish School of Education in Copenhagen, Denmark. This contributed to the following research-informed recommendations in three main areas:
If you read the three questions, you quickly become aware that there is a difference between the language used in the title of the Forum and the areas above. The reason for this is that the Forum was partly influenced by a discussion about the importance of talking about knowledge, skills, education (or bildung or formation) and competency and partly reflected that the world is preoccupied with identifying competencies for the 21st century.
1. HOW TO IMPLEMENT NEW STRATEGIES FOR THE REALIZATION OF 21ST CENTURY COMPETENCIES IN EUROPE AND ASIA?
New strategies for the contribution of the states and the universities to the 21st century global citizens are met with a sense of urgency. If the education system does not get it right, the needed competencies will not be available, economy will operate below capacity, people will be unemployed, investment in education will be a waste of money, etc. On the other hand, there is also an invitation to reflect on two matters. The first of these is that you cannot easily change the traditional ways of doing things. The second matter is that not all processes of change and solutions are equally suitable for the different countries. Overall, this means that if you want to get a good result you often have to be careful in standardizing and accelerating the implementation of the change. So with these considerations in mind what can be recommended in relation to the question about which strategies should be implemented for the realization of 21st century competencies?
2. ARE NEW DIGITAL ‘DRIVERS’ CREATING MAJOR SHIFTS IN THE EDUCATIONAL LANDSCAPE? AND HOW SHOULD WE MAKE SENSE – SPEAK – ABOUT THESE KINDS OF POSSIBLE SHIFTS?
There is consensus that digital drivers are contributing to a shift in methods used for teaching and learning. This vision has for at least 30 years been a driver for heavily investing in getting ICT-systems in place. The consequence is e.g. that open course ware and similar tools via ICT globally turns curriculum into the same. But one thing is the technology and the tools. In many places it is in place. The next step is to identify the types of pedagogy that determines whether the technology is being used to turn all students into masters of adaptability and adjustment as well as masters of control and use of ICT-facilitated changes. So with this technological development and investment in ICT-systems, the question is what kind of educational efforts that are needed in order to have all schools, teachers and students become a part of an ICT-related competency development in educational institutions as well as on work?
3. WHAT DOES THE DIFFERENCES IN LEARNING CULTURES IN ASIA AND EUROPE MEAN FOR THE FORMULATION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF 21ST CENTURY COMPETENCIES IN RELATION TO ADULT EDUCATORS?
It is often said that Asian learning cultures emphasize self-knowledge and shared social responsibility, while European learning cultures are emphasizing creativity and innovation at work. We know on the one hand that there is of course a risk of exaggerating the differences between education in Asian countries and in European countries. But on the other hand differences are present – and these differences should also be kept in view for 21st century competencies that tend to be formulated as more holistic and future-oriented. So the challenge is to answer a question like: What do the differences between learning cultures mean for the way you comprehend and interpret the question of adult educators’ development of 21st century competencies? This is an open, but also pressing question to be further clarified.
Most of these competencies are related to teaching and learning, but competencies are more than that. Competency means the ability to offer qualified performance outside the education sector in specific contexts. Accordingly it is just as important to teach students to apply what they learned in future practice as it is to teach them to learn.