Expert Q&A | Michael Zwaagstra

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Q: What 21st-century skills can better prepare students for the future?

A: The most important 21st-century skills that our students need are solid background knowledge about the world around them, good reading and writing skills, and an understanding of basic mathematics.


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Of course, these are skills that were essential in the 20th and 19th centuries as well. I include them as essential 21st-century skills because these three things will never go obsolete. Our students will be best positioned for success if they have the necessary background knowledge and skill set to be able to adapt to the challenges of the future.

Q: What are some of the challenges in teaching these skills to students today?

A: The main challenge in teaching these skills to students is that too many schools and education training schools discount the importance of these fundamental skills. There's too much emphasis on the process of learning and too little emphasis on the content of what is to be learned.

Q: How will teaching these skills and literacies to students change the role of schools and educators, both inside and outside the classroom?

A: If we place the appropriate emphasis on ensuring that students are knowledgeable and skilful, this means that teachers will have a greater obligation to have these attributes themselves. We need to ensure that we have the best educated teachers possible, and this means encouraging teachers to focus on their subject areas to a greater degree.

Traditional teaching methods are absolutely essential. Direct instruction must play a major role in any teacher's classroom.

Q: How can teachers and educators learn these skills and literacies themselves?

A: Teachers should be rewarded for upgrading their skills in their specific content areas so that they can pass this knowledge on to their students. Instead of simply taking more courses about how to teach, they should focus on courses that give a better understanding on what they teach.

—Michael Zwaagstra
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