Expert Q&A | Juliana Rotich
Q: What 21st-century skills will students need in order to be successful in the future?
A: Students will have to have critical-thinking skills because the power to process or calculate information is commonplace. You can use (computational knowledge engine) Wolfram|Alpha to quickly show you the answer to something. So you will be taught the skills to calculate things but more so you will need the skills to differentiate what is relevant and what is useful. You absolutely have to have an objective, almost scientific bent to your thinking, and I think that's what will be even more important in the future. It's not just rote learning, you also have to be creative. You basically will have a lot of information at your disposal so first you have to be disciplined and figure out how you can manage all of that but also to make sense of it in order to make an informed decision. Having advanced analytical skills is key for the future.
Q: What are the challenges of implementing these skills in the curriculum today?
A: I think the challenge is probably how do you do this with technology because technology can be an enabler but it can also be a crutch. At one point, it can give you a lot of information but is the information you're getting what you need? So you almost need a filter. That's when you need the teachers to curate the information for students in a way that makes their time useful. On one hand, technology is fantastic, but on the other hand you have to be careful about how you use it.
Q: How can educators filter this information before they can teach it to their students?
A: They'll have to be a bit more efficient with how they consume information because obviously you can deal with information overload. There are tools like RSS feeds to gather all the information. We have a simple tool called http://crowdmap.com/ that they can experiment with. Another web-based application that can be a very useful site for educators and students alike is www.khanacademy.org.
And I think educators also will have to embrace visualization tools, a way to visually show information beyond pie charts. Pie charts are nice and graphs are fantastic, but I think students could also appreciate different ways of interacting with data. That can be done by web-based applications that provide some other way of interaction, but it requires quite a bit of creativity on the part of the teachers.
Q: How do you think the role of school and educators is going to change in trying to implement these skills?
A: The thing is with educators and with students, it's the process of learning together that's going to be instructive, the idea of participatory learning that I can give information and you can also give information. It's this new way of communicating. It's not just the teacher going, 'Oh here . . . this is all you need to know.' The teacher will need to do that, yes, but the students can also say, 'This is what I learned, this is what I see, this is what's going on,' so it becomes more of a two-way conversation as opposed to a unilateral mode of information dissemination.