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Profile of a Graduate in the 21st Century Committee considers 21st Century Life and 21st Century Competencies

As you know, Schalmont is currently undertaking a 21st century education initiative. In order to help our parents reflect on the underlying issues surrounding 21st century education we wanted to offer this primer on 21st century education.

The Profile of Graduate in the 21st Century Committee (POG) recently spoke about two topics:

• What is the nature of change in the society over the last 50 years?

• What are the competencies our young people need to address this change?

As an education community, we think these two topics can help us determine which educational outcomes we should focus on for the students in our community.

Perspectives on 21st Century Life

There are many aspects of society that are changing dramatically. We have highlighted eight for the community's consideration, and at the end of this section we would appreciate you giving us feedback about these perspectives.

Perspective #1: The Workforce

Workforce skills and demands have changed dramatically in the last 40 years. Our system of education was built for an economy that no longer exists. Fifty years ago, our K-12 system was largely focused on the routine. Memorization and “following instructions� were the order of the day and they fit nicely into jobs that were routine manufacturing jobs in hierarchical organizations. Those approaches are also well suited for people who would end up in a single career or in just a few jobs in their lifetime. Today’s young people will be competing for jobs that require non-routine complex thinking and interactive communication skills.





















Our education model has not kept pace with these changes.

The workforce of the 1950s did not require critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity skills. They were not a young person’s ticket up the economic ladder. Educational institutions were not purposefully and intentionally focused on these outcomes for all students. As the demands of the workforce have shifted, the underpinnings of the educational model have not.

Perspective #2: The Flat World

Thomas Friedman’s groundbreaking book, The World is Flat, put into context the emergence of the global economy. Friedman presented a new global landscape that was being reshaped by information and technology and networks. He explained how governments, organizations and hierarchies of all kinds were being “flattened� by these new tools. Individuals were being empowered by having information, vast resources and powerful networks at their fingertips. This enabled them to operate with more leverage then they did in traditional hierarchical structures.

In their most recent book, “That Used to Be Us,� Friedman and his colleague, Michael Mandelbaum, make a powerful case for the term “Flat World 2.0:�

“…Flat World 2.0 is everything Flat World 1.0 was, but with so many more people able to connect to the Flat World platform, so many more people able to connect with others who are also connected, and so many more people now empowered to find other people of like minds to collaborate with – whether to support a politician, follow a rock group, invent a product, or launch a revolution – based on shared values, interests and ideals.�

The flat world has implications for every organization and every person in it. Every individual has access to more and more information about their organization, but with it comes the responsibility to do something with it. Thus the flat world requires individuals who are self-directed. The flattening of the organizations means there isn’t room for the management layers of the past. Self-management is a requirement in the flat world.

Perspective #3: The Service Economy

Another trend to consider in the 21st century is the shift to a service economy. Not too long ago, a primary purpose of education was to prepare students for jobs in fields such as agriculture and manufacturing. Those career opportunities continue to wane; now, students must prepare for service-oriented careers. Today, 80% of the country’s jobs are in the service economy, and that number is headed to over 85%.

Service economy jobs run the full gamut of our economy. Educators, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and bankers are all in the service economy. Pretty much everyone in health care and education is in the service economy. Anyone who engages with customers, clients, or patients is in the service economy. PhDs in electrical engineering who sell high end computers are in the service economy.

A service economy requires a host of competencies: listening skills, empathy skills, problem solving skills, customization skills, and collaboration skills.

One hundred years ago, we were largely an agrarian economy. Fifty years ago, we were largely a manufacturing economy. Today, we are largely becoming a service economy. Our education model has not shifted to accommodate this profound change.

Perspective #4: Citizenship

Each of the trends we have just described has focused primarily on jobs and the economy. These trends have also dramatically impacted a primary pillar of our society--citizenship.

The complexities of 21st century public policies, campaigns, and initiatives, are astounding. The role of the media in shaping public opinion has profoundly changed since the 1950’s. The demands of citizenship are much greater today than they were 50 years ago. These challenges require more complex thinking, more empathy, more civility and more sophisticated forms of interactivity than our education systems typically address. They also require a high degree of media literacy. Finally, many of the policy challenges that could be addressed as national challenges a generation or two ago, have become global in scope.

Perspective #5: Pace of Change

In the 1950s, “change� was not an identifying feature of our culture. In just two generations, it has become the hallmark of our culture. Earlier generations of educators did not need to consider a top goal to be “preparing students for a lifetime of change.� For conscientious educators today, it is a must.

Our grandparents prepared themselves for a single career and one or two jobs over a lifetime. Today’s students are facing a very different reality. According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the average number of jobs between ages 18-42 now stands at 10.4.

Perspective #6: Design and Innovation

Another perspective to consider is the growing importance of creativity, innovation, and design in our economy.
In his book, “A Whole New Mind,� the author Daniel Pink has repeatedly talked about this phenomenon. As the economy continues to evolve, design and creativity have become incredibly prized skills and, in fact, major drivers of our economy.

Perspective #7: Information

Another area of major change over the last 50 years is in the nature of information. Most of us over 40 went to school at a time when the nature of information was largely static. The universe of information at our disposal seemed largely fixed. A textbook could be relevant in a field for one or even two decades. But the rate of information change has increased dramatically. The sheer volume of available information is incredibly different than it was just 10 years ago.

Today, students still learn within an educational system that is focused on memorization and content mastery. However, we now live in a world of ever increasing information where mastering content is just one of the many ways in which students need to work with content. Students need to find information, synthesize content, manipulate content and communicate content effectively. Knowing information is not enough.

Perspective #8: Technology

When it comes to everyone’s list of “major societal changes,� technology is always mentioned. Technological advancements are the easiest changes most of us see. They are tangible. We each have our own personal stories about how technology has changed our lives or how our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or young friends are more technologically proficient than adults. The impact is unmistakable.

The POG Committee is currently wrestling with these competencies and how to ensure they are taught explicitly within a K-12 structure. The committee is interested in the Schalmont community's input in this process, so please give us your feedback on 21st Century Life below:

Create your own user feedback survey

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

Please give us your feedback on the competencies needed in the 21st Century by clicking here.


We appreciate your interest in helping Schalmont reflect on 21st century education. We hope this primer on “change� and “competencies� in the 21st century will serve as a useful context for the ongoing discussions in our district.

Part of this discussion will include a screening of a documentary feature film, "Most Likely to Succeed," that explores the "growing shortcomings of conventional education methods in today's innovative world."

The POG Committee has been using the principles of the film to guide its work and will host a screening of the movie on March 19. Save the date and look for more information on the screening as it becomes available! 

We look forward to our continuing dialogue on this topic of vital importance to the future of our students.