Microsoft Partners in Learning, Pearson and Gallop have just released a fascinating report on 21st Century Skill Development in schools.  

The study found that students who developed “21st Century Skills” were significantly more successful when they reached the work force than other students. Unsurprisingly, they were also far more engaged with school and had more positive post-school aspirations.

The skills included real world problem solving, online collaboration and global awareness. Of these, real world problem solving was the most significant driver of higher work quality.  

It is becoming increasingly obvious that global thinking and engagement with real world problems is one of the more important things a school can nurture.  

Our students are constantly exposed to random, scary and non-contexturalised news stories relating to significant global issues.  Teachers are increasingly required to incorporate an understanding of these into the curriculum and develop problem solving skills.  

Yet the study found that these skills were developed in only 22% of high school graduates.  

However this low level of skill development is probably not surprising.  

In our experience, it is a big ask for teachers to be experts in the complexities of many international issues. Sometimes it  is hard to process what is going on ourselves - let alone explain it in a balanced, supported way.

There are few school resources for teachers to use. Those which exist are not updated constantly – and global issues by definition tend to be evolving all the time. 

The resources also need to be age appropriate.  Most global issues are assessed by professional talking to other professionals – not by those creating age appropriate content for students.

Thus teachers tend to do a lot of their own research – in “spare” time around marking, teaching and admin work.  It is not surprising that it isn’t easy for most teachers to construct complex global issues lessons when relying on a Google search in their limited time. 

As a result many rely on the latest documentary they have seen or website uncovered and use that as a starting point for student enquiry.  However, this doesn’t allow them to develop enough of an overview to know if the resource is well-researched, reliable or age appropriate.  

Depth of understanding is important too.  Whether you are explaining the complexity of the war in Syria, the root cause of pollution problems in China, or supply chain pressures for the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh – you need to understand the background behind the news stories to really help students apply problem solving techniques.  

It is not always straightforward to help students assess whether a resource is a slickly produced but potentially harmful piece of biased coverage – as the infamous Kony 2012 was – or something with more intellectual credibility. 

Lastly, the challenge comes with the application part.  How do you help kids to create real meaningful impact - beyond the ubiquitous bake sale?  It is one thing to get students to care about an issue but you risk compassion fatigue unless they can be creatively involved in some kind of solution.

Not easy - but infinitely important.

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