Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century

We are more than a decade into the 21st century, yet the phrase "21st century skills" is still used widely to highlight the need to update basic education so that it matches the needs of these times. Proponents of DepEd's K to 12 like to use these keywords to promote the new curriculum. Educators all over the world are likewise pushing for reforms in line with the goal of preparing the youth for the challenges of this century. At this point, it is important to go beyond the surface of these arguments and see what 21st century skills really entail. Without doubt, the set of skills deemed necessary for today's times would actually depend on who is talking. In order to evaluate whether an education program really meets global standards, these skills must be defined specifically. Otherwise, we may be referring to completely different things.
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Two articles are presented here, starting with a post made by Congressman Raymond V. Palatino on his blog This is followed by a description of what "21st century skills" are in the eyes of the National Academies of the United States.



by Cong. Raymond V. PalatinoJuly 18th, 2012
Through K-12, the Noynoy Aquino government plans to equip Filipino students with ‘21st century skills’. This seems a lofty goal considering that majority of public schools are stuck in the 20th century twilight zone. Even the commendable plan to integrate ICT starting Grade 1 seems unrealistic given the poor state of learning infrastructure in most schools. According to the Department of Education, the K-12 model adopted in the 1950s and 1960s known as 2-2 Plan failed because of ‘insufficient preparation before the plan was implemented.’ Scary but it seems the DepEd hierarchy is poised to repeat the blunders of the past.
Why the obsession to launch the K-12 experiment sans pilot testing? Believing that ‘the sad state of basic education can be partly attributed to the congested basic education curriculum’, our top education bureaucrats are confident that education outcomes will improve if we add two more years into the school cycle. But the last time the DepEd decongested the curriculum was only a decade ago when it trimmed the learning areas from ten to five (remember the Makabayan subject?). And what is the official assessment of the agency with regard to the 2002 curriculum? Surprisingly, it concluded that ‘the clamor for quality basic education cannot be responded to by mere curriculum decongestion.’
Apparently, even the ‘forerunner of the K-12 curriculum’ failed to reverse the deterioration of Philippine education.
But let’s assume for the moment that this particular evaluation didn’t take place and let’s briefly agree for the sake of argument that K-12 curricular reforms are necessary today to upgrade the standards of Philippine education. Will the K-12 curriculum deliver the promised results?
Science advocates will probably complain and point out the unusual non-teaching of Science as a separate subject in the early grade levels. Linguists have welcomed the use of Mother Tongue as medium of instruction from Grades 1 to 3 but some still have many questions about the introduction of oral English and Filipino in Grade 1. Curiously, English is the designated medium of instruction in the subject areas of Technology and Livelihood Education or TLE and Music, Arts, Physical Education, and Health or MAPEH. But isn’t it more effective, appropriate, and convenient for both students and teachers to use the local languages in academic subjects that are supposed to enhance youth awareness about our cultural heritage, human body, home economics and local industries?
There are numerous teaching innovations in the Araling Panlipunan (AP) subject. Community history will be taught in Grade 2, local history in Grade 3, and Philippine history in Grades 5 and 6. Primary sources will be used in Grade 7. Interesting that students are expected to be like amateur historians by teaching them how to decipher ancient codes, interpret government records, and classify historical sources. Hopefully, the reconceptualized AP subject will not confuse our teachers who were given a crash course for only a few days last summer. Furthermore, is it really necessary to copy the themes of the United States National Council for Social Studies and apply them to the Philippine education setting? Obviously, K-12 was cleverly conceived to further Americanize Philippine education even under the AP program.
DepEd has to explain why it distributed teaching modules which teachers can only use for two grading periods. The release of unfinished teaching guides reflects the hasty and haphazard implementation of K-12. Worse, the prefabricated learning materials were designed by ‘experts’ in such a way that the only creative task required of teachers is to unpack them, follow the specific instructions in the kit, and then grade the students. Even the learning guides already contained exact examples and details of course content, teaching methods, and test sheets which teachers are required to use inside the classroom. Under K-12, teachers are subjected to a ruthlessly efficient reskilling and deskilling process.
To boost the overall performance of the education processing and sorting machine, national standardized examinations will be administered several times. Tests will be given to students of Grade 3 (to assess mother tongue-based education), 6, 10, and 12 (college entrance). There is also going to be an Occupational Interest Inventory for Secondary Students in Grade 7 and the National Career Assessment Examination given in Grade 8. It seems students will be continually ‘tested’ not educated under K-12. Test scores will arbitrarily determine the promotion of teachers and schools. Manila-based technocrats who devised the exams, and clueless bureaucrats who administered the tests, will exert greater control in educational institutions instead of classroom teachers who are more knowledgeable about the real learning potential of their students.
The crazy competition for numeric excellence will drive schools to abandon the humanistic pedagogic goals and replace them with modern methods (of madness) on how to generate significantly higher test scores every year. K-12 will usher in a new era of scholastic inequality in the country.


Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century

A "who's who" team of experts from the National Academies' division of behavioral and social sciences and education and its boards on testing and on science education collaborated for more than a year on the report, intended to define just what researchers, educators, and policymakers mean when they talk about "deeper learning" and "21st-century skills."

The committee found these skills generally fall into three categories:
  • Cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and analytic reasoning;
  • Interpersonal skills, such as teamwork and complex communication; and
  • Intrapersonal skills, such as resiliency and conscientiousness (the latter of which has also been strongly associated with good career earnings and healthy lifestyles).
..."Transfer is deeply connected to your knowledge base and your skill in an area," said Christine M. Massey, one of the NRC committee members and the education director for the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania. "It's not the case that you can just practice up a set of generic skills and apply that in a certain area. You have to do it on top of a well-founded knowledge base. We really just don't know how to get that cross-discipline deep transfer."

To read more, visit Study: '21st-Century Learning' Demands Mix of Abilities

The study cited in the above article can be read at the National Academies Press website.

Americans have long recognized that investments in public education contribute to the common good, enhancing national prosperity and supporting stable families, neighborhoods, and communities. Education is even more critical today, in the face of economic, environmental, and social challenges. Today's children can meet future challenges if their schooling and informal learning activities prepare them for adult roles as citizens, employees, managers, parents, volunteers, and entrepreneurs. To achieve their full potential as adults, young people need to develop a range of skills and knowledge that facilitate mastery and application of English, mathematics, and other school subjects. At the same time, business and political leaders are increasingly asking schools to develop skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and self-management - often referred to as "21st century skills." 
Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century describes this important set of key skills that increase deeper learning, college and career readiness, student-centered learning, and higher order thinking. These labels include both cognitive and non-cognitive skills- such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, effective communication, motivation, persistence, and learning to learn. 21st century skills also include creativity, innovation, and ethics that are important to later success and may be developed in formal or informal learning environments.  
This report also describes how these skills relate to each other and to more traditional academic skills and content in the key disciplines of reading, mathematics, and science. Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century summarizes the findings of the research that investigates the importance of such skills to success in education, work, and other areas of adult responsibility and that demonstrates the importance of developing these skills in K-16 education. In this report, features related to learning these skills are identified, which include teacher professional development, curriculum, assessment, after-school and out-of-school programs, and informal learning centers such as exhibits and museums.
It is therefore clear that, while the description of 21st Century Skills by the National Academies of the United States emphasizes critical and deep thinking, DepEd's K to 12, sadly, as related by Congressman Palatino, focuses on matters other than cognitive abilities. Congressman Palatino is correct. People should examine closely the DepEd's K to 12 curriculum. People should not stop at the sound bites being used by proponents of DepEd's K to 12. DepEd's K to 12 curriculum is not good. It lacks depth and it is far from equipping the students with transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Its spiral approach and poor instruction of science prove that the sound bites DepEd uses do not really correspond to the reality of its curriculum.

DepEd's K to 12 will be exhibited in shopping malls, but you will not find this curriculum in any peer-reviewed scientific education journal.