“21st-century skills” refers to the 4C’s – creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. Educationists throughout the world feel that students need to be oriented to these skills to thrive in today’s world. The 4C’s compliment the traditional 3R’s of education i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic towards academic success.
Today’s students are fortunate enough to have powerful learning tools. They locate, acquire, and create knowledge quickly. Thanks to the advances in internet technology, and search engines. When I was a medical student, the resource for more information was the Institute library. The library used to have fixed work hours. We had to wait to get to dig into the huge books for additional information. We used to pick the brains of seniors and visit the hospital during odd hours to get a hang of interesting cases. We also used to meet our teachers to clear our confusions. Microbiology was the only class where the teacher used an overhead projector. We would look at the white screen, eyes wide with wonder!
Has learning become easy now-a-days? The answer obviously is yes. It is easier to learn about things, get in-depth videos and tutorials, and prepare write-ups and presentations. The 3Rs of education has been greatly enhanced by modern technology. So, what’s the fuss about 4C skills? (www.p21.org) To me, this question holds the secret to differences between academic success and real-life success. A student succeeds in academics by mastering the content in the core subjects. In real life scenarios, success depends on the knowledge of the content plus the execution. And here, knowledge bolstered with the 4Cs – creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration come to the fore.
Let me tell you an incredible real-life experience of mine. This is in my final year of MBBS. I was posted in the emergency department. A patient was brought in. He was choking, was unable to speak, and looked terribly pale. The attendant told us that he was fishing when he suddenly got sick and fell down. To my surprise, the senior doctor immediately gave a nick, and inserted a catheter to clear the airway. And then we took the patient to the OT. And to the utter surprise of all of us, a live fish was extracted from his throat! Apparently, he had tried to unhook the fish with his teeth when it escaped his clutches and lodged itself in his throat!
The emergency insertion of the catheter in his airway saved the patient! And no medical textbook could ever teach this! Only because my senior had applied his critical thinking skills, we could save the patient. This creativity and collaborative spirit was there in our studentship days. And communication was incredibly important too. Information was not always available readily. We did not have access to huge online library, computers, and other gadgets. We did not have classes where teachers could show videos, or project pictures of rare cases. We could not clear our doubts over internet, learn the subjects by using simulation, or virtual lab work. So we needed to communicate, collaborate and brainstorm with our peers to understand, grasp and find answers to our questions. Not every building block of a concept was available. So we needed to apply critical thinking to connect the dots.
Today, information and answers are readily available. Today’s kids can instantly curate information on google. Learn through various apps and videos that abound the internet. And in a way, that can come in the way of collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication. The ‘dots to connect’ are often already available. The mental exercise, wrestling with pieces of information and critical thinking may not get enough practice. And as kids get concepts on their fingertips, collaboration and communication with peers may not get the importance that it deserves.
It is a rapidly changing world! What we learn today, is going to be obsolete in a not-too-distant future. This is why 4C skills are even more relevant today! Children must be able to learn new things. Things they are not necessarily taught in the classroom. Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication come in handy in picking up new things.
So, how do we help kids master the 4C skills? Each kid is born with varying degree of the 4C skills. If someone is naturally creative, we have to see that this never withers away. If a child loves to work in groups, discuss things with friends, then these inherent collaborative and communication skills need to be nurtured. As parents and teachers, we must encourage the natural inclinations of kids. Like any other, these skills also can be practiced. We must find ways to give our kids more practice to develop these. Let’s empower our children so that they can thrive in the rapidly changing world.
Dr. Ananya Chakraborty