The 5 C’s of a School of the Future
Students would be better served if curriculum decisions were driven by the desire to truly prepare them for their future rather than by the sole shortsighted purpose of yielding acceptable test scores.
Literature focused on the skill set that will truly prepare students for their future seems to be gathering consensus around five skills, now generally coined “the 5C’s”: Communication, Collaboration, Critical thinking, Creativity, Character.
Communication, in addition to the mastery of traditional literacy and mathematics skills, now encompasses the most advanced and sophisticated forms of information and media literacy. Schools have the responsibility to empower their students with the mastery of a broad range of communication skills, from traditional ones to fluency in social media, and teach how to use them in ways that are competent, thoughtful, and ethical. As very few concerns remain of a local nature in a “flattened world,” communication skills must also be approached from a multicultural and multilingual angle.
The rapid and exponential growth of human knowledge has rendered collaboration essential to success. Very few of our students, if any, will ever have all the skills necessary to achieve any significant accomplishments on their own. Additionally, new technologies providing immediate access to massive amounts of information and instant connectivity have in effect democratized information sharing and have created a global economy of mass collaboration that students need to learn how to navigate intelligently.
Striving to educate students with the ability to think critically is not a new concept and must remain a fundamental skill embedded in a school’s core curriculum. Information pouring onto our students’ screens, from anywhere, at anytime and at prodigious speed, has made the ability to think through voluminous and eclectic sources even more critical. Think about the skills required to write a research paper ten years ago, let alone twenty years ago, and in 2013.
New variables in our students’ environment have made “right brain,” creative thinking and the ability to innovate essential to student success in this century. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, argues that the 21st century belongs to nonlinear, intuitive, holistic, design-oriented right brain thinkers, with "the capacity to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new." Ultimately, the purpose of transformative teaching should be to move students from passive recipients of information to active creators of new knowledge. The more open-ended and “outside-the-box” problem-solving assignments students have to grapple with, the more likely they are to hone their ability to think creatively.
Character education must be at the core of the experience of our students because none of the skills above matter without the assurance that the future leaders we are educating will have the ability to make courageous decisions founded on a basic respect for human life. Character is not just about discerning right from wrong, as a recent New York Times article, "What if the secret of success is failure?" suggested. Character education needs to address pursuing both “moral character and performance character,” the latter defined as “grit or the ability to bounce back.” Character could well be the most challenging C of the 5C’s.
The skills that our students’ world will demand of them when they are ready to enter the work force will continue to evolve, and we may not fully understand yet what they will entail. What we know for sure is that schools cannot afford to play catch-up. They must have the necessary vision to ensure that students possess the skills that are essential to becoming productive members of their future society.