Profile of a Graduate in the 21st Century

A lot has changed since 1893. Unfortunately, says Superintendent Dr. Carol Pallas, the basic model for how we educate children isn’t one of them. The POG committee is comprised of concerned teachers, staff, students and community members. Its charge is complex, but essential for future learners: Design a profile of a graduate that takes into account the many changes in society, education, employment, and workplace competition that have occurred over the past century.

The POG committee is comprised of concerned teachers, staff, students and community members. Its charge is complex, but essential for future learners: Design a profile of a graduate that takes into account the many changes in society, education, employment, and workplace competition that have occurred over the past century.

Profile of a graduate core competencies

The following competencies were decided on by a committee of Schalmont parents, students, staff, and community members. They are the qualities the district wished to instill in future graduates.

  1. Information, Communication and Technology Literacy
  2. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  3. Initiative and Self-Direction
  4. Metacognition, Learning How to Learn
  5. Flexibility and Adaptability
  6. Collaboration and Teamwork

Competencies Needed in the 21st Century

While it is important to reflect on change, we also want to focus on what competencies our young people will need to address all of this change. In this section we want to briefly address some of the 21st century competencies that we should consider in our deliberations about 21st century education.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is not a new skill, of course. What we mean is that critical thinking is, now more than ever, a skill that everyone must possess.

Everyone in the new economy must know how to continuously improve. Monitoring and improving one’s individual performance, as well as the performance of one’s team, is an absolute requirement in flat organizations. You can’t continuously improve without the ability to critically think.

Everyone needs critical thinking skills to be successful in college. David Conley, the country’s leading expert on college and career readiness has observed that habits of mind such as analysis, interpretation, precision and accuracy, problem solving and reasoning can be as or more important than content knowledge in determining success in college courses.

In the current political environment, we must cultivate a generation of citizens who can use their critical thinking skills in electoral and policy processes. Today’s citizens require critical thinking skills to operate in an environment cluttered with competing information that requires them to compare evidence, and make decisions in complex policy areas from health policy to financial regulation policy to environmental policy.


The other skill that is repeatedly deemed by employers to be inadequate in their employees is communication skills. In the report, Are They Really Ready to Work, employers note that although oral and written communication are among the top four skills they seek in new hires, all graduates are lacking in these areas. High school graduates fare the worst, with 72% of employers citing this group’s deficiency in oral communications, and 81% citing their deficiency in written communications. Almost half of employers said employees with two-year degrees were still lacking skills in these two areas, while over a quarter of employers felt four year graduates continued to lack these skills. The ascension of the service economy makes oral communication skills absolutely essential. Almost no one in society will be able to hold their own economically if they can’t effectively communicate.


These days, it is rare for any work to be completed by a person working alone. Yet we continue to place massive emphasis on individual performance in our pedagogy and in our assessments. Employers regularly comment that the individuals who are least successful in the workplace often fail as a result of an inability to work effectively with others.

More and more work today is done in global teams. Whether it’s in the manufacturing or the publishing sector, team leaders oversee groups of employees from all over the world who speak a wide variety of languages, work in vastly different time zones and bring with them a wealth of diverse cultural experiences.

The author James Surowiecki has done a wonderful job of explaining how, in the 21st century, collaboration really leads to knowledge creation. He explains how the “wisdom of crowds” helps to develop new knowledge that is most often more accurate and useful then knowledge created by an individual: “Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.”

Creativity and Innovation

Thomas Friedman, the author of “The World is Flat,” observed: “Your ability to act on your imagination is going to be so decisive in driving your future and the standard of living in your country. So the school, the state, the country that empowers, nurtures, enables imagination among its students and citizens, that’s who’s going to be the winner.” Creativity and innovation are essential ingredients to economic success. You are either going to need to be creative and innovative yourself or be able to effectively collaborate with someone who is.

The works of Sir Ken Robinson, Richard Florida and Daniel Pink are very helpful on this topic. Daniel Pink’s book, “A Whole New Mind,” focuses on the value of creativity and design in the new economy. He discusses the importance of developing an “artistic sensibility.”


Some would argue that we are facing a national crisis in self-direction. They might be right. It is not necessarily that students don’t work hard, it’s that they either want to be told what to do next, or they simply can’t—or won’t—try to figure it out on their own. In the 21st century, that’s a huge liability.

Daniel Pink, in his book “Drive,” has accentuated this issue under the label he calls autonomy. He explains that individuals have an innate drive to be autonomous. The new economy is demanding it from them as well.

Global Competence

Global competence is a concept that embraces language fluency, understanding of global perspectives and the ability to work with people from diverse cultures. Ask any executive from a mid-size or large business and they will tell you that the ability to work in complex global teams with individuals from many cultures who speak many languages is one of the key competencies in the business world today.

In the next two decades one’s ability to work in a global context will become essential to career success in most fields. Also the global nature of citizenship and public policy challenges will continue to become increasingly apparent.

The Asia Society is a recognized leader on this subject. They have developed a network of schools that serve as examples for the teaching of global competence. They have also developed a guide to global competence. Click here to read it.

Financial Literacy

The worldwide recession that began in 2009 has shined a bright light on the topic of financial literacy. As we look back on that financial crisis, we see a real missed opportunity in its wake. Millions of consumers didn’t have the basic knowledge and skills to be wise consumers of basic financial instruments. Many individuals did not, and still do not, understand the basics of loans and borrowing. Many individuals do not understand the basics of mortgages and financing for housing. Many individuals had no knowledge of how much debt they could afford. There is clearly an urgent need for financial literacy programs but they only exist today on a very small scale.

Other Competencies

In addition to the seven competencies we have discussed above we recommend that you look at the Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ full framework, which you can find at You will see a number of other skills that we have not highlighted in this primer:
• Information, media, and technology
• Flexibility and adaptability
• Productivity and accountability
• Leadership and responsibility
• Civic literacy
• Health literacy
• Environmental literacy