The purpose of education is the social, academic, cultural and intellectual development of the individual, but it is also to prepare individuals to enter the workforce. Consequently, education systems globally have been attempting to integrate 21st-century skills – Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Communication and Collaboration- into the curriculum. In parallel, the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) movement, has emphasised the role of technology education, as it is believed to be the primary delivery method for inclusion of technology, and can integrate with 21st-century skills. It is assumed that when technology education is well implemented, students will think critically, collaborate, problem-solve, and innovate solutions to extend human potential by applying old and new knowledge. It is thought that the creation of knowledge occurs as students continually practice and apply technical skills.
However, in many schools, the implementation of technology education has not yet provided a broad view of technical literacy to facilitate the development of 21st century skills and knowledge creation. There is a common misconception about the implementation of technology in education. In the past twenty years, social media, digital devices and software applications have dominated technology innovation. This has contributed to the frustrating situation of technology education being limited to computer literacy (the use of digital devices and software applications), as well as, tools used in educational technology. The other concern is how these tools are used in the classroom. While technology in education has evolved in schools globally, opportunities have been missed to create knowledge and teach 21st century skills. Technology has been used to facilitate a continuation of instructionist pedagogies, where students are fed content instead of being encouraged to create knowledge.
This article provides a view of how to better implement technology in education in the K-12 system so that students will be equipped with 21st century technical skills and have the potential to create knowledge. As we speed into what has been called the fourth industrial revolution, where technology is changing the way our society functions and the jobs that exist, there is a sense of urgency for education to adapt (Larsen AME 2018). Education needs to provide the skills that young people need to survive this revolution. Ultimately, this would result in the improvement of our society.
Technology education and the labour force: the need for 21st century skills
Education, and technology education, has not been able to keep up with the demands of labour markets. On one hand, the labour market is becoming increasingly technologically focused, while on the other, many jobs are being displaced by technology, and the ones that remain are those that require the soft skills (i.e., 21st Century Skills). World Economic Forum (WEF) has categorised the sixteen most needed critical 21st century skills into three broad categories: foundational literacies, competencies, and character qualities. These 21st century skills are thought to be necessary for the future labour force.
While challenges around technological disruption are particularly significant, they are compounded by demographic changes, shifting business models and the evolving nature of work. It is estimated that 35% of the skills demanded for jobs across industries will change by 2020 (WEF 2018). According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skillsets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial for jobs today (Leopold TA, Ratcheva V, Zahidi S 2016). Overall, social skills (persuasion, emotional intelligence), content skills (information and communication technology (ICT) literacy and active learning), cognitive abilities (creativity and mathematical reasoning) and process skills (listening, critical thinking) will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming, equipment operation or coding. Therefore, education systems need to be cautious that technical skills are supplemented with strong social, content, processes skills, and cognitive abilities. Education needs to change to equip individuals for this future, with technology education aligning with the needs of future jobs. This is where technology education’s contribution to building 21st century skills and creating knowledge is most important.
The link of technology education to 21st century skills and knowledge creation, and its implementation
The general perception when implementing technology education into curricula is that this encompasses only teaching of limited technical skills (robotics, coding, design, filming, etc.), computer literacy, and the use of digital devices and software applications. Technology education has greater potential and needs to move beyond this narrow view to include knowledge creation and 21st century skills.
Technology education has been defined by International Technology Engineering Education Association (ITEEA) as the opportunity for students to learn about the processes and knowledge related to technology that are needed to solve problems and extend human potential (ITEEA 2000-2007). This definition implies that technology education encompasses teaching technical literacy, having students practice the processes, while thinking of the problems society faces, and creating potential solutions. The technical content should not be limited to a narrow focus on hardware, software and social media, but a broad range of technology and engineering, such as; construction, media, transportation, medical & biotechnology and space technology. During the process of problem-solving, educators need to consciously and actively incorporate 21st century skills, particularly those that lie within the ‘competencies’ and ‘character qualities’ categories of the WEF’s 21st century skills framework.
Technology education is consistent with Papert’s constructionist education theory, which argues that learning is a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge, and students learn best when they are active in making tangible objects in the real world. As Papert argued, during the learning process, new knowledge is created. As the STEAM movement has gained momentum, educators need to aim to make the creation of knowledge come about not only in STEM, but also include the arts (A in STEAM), which includes humanities and social science.
Schools should adopt constructivist and constructionist learning pedagogies to promote the process of knowledge construction in learners. This involves teaching strategies such as project and problem-based learning, as well as student centred and active learning techniques. Educators also need to provide adequate scaffolding, as the implementation constructivist and constructionist pedagogies are based on students’ prior knowledge. Finally, by applying engineering design processes or the design thinking cycle, students’ learning escalates from remembering and understanding to creating, as per Bloom’s Taxonomy. Ultimately, the desire is for students to create knowledge and innovate solutions.
Summary and the way forward
Technology education, if well implemented, has the potential not only to foster the creation of knowledge and facilitate 21st century skills, but also to extend human potential. Successful implementation requires educators to adopt constructivist and constructionist teaching strategies, and employ project and problem-based learning. Yet, a well-implemented technology education system, while important, is insufficient on its own to address the needs of the labour market.
Education systems should work closely with businesses, who would not only provide feedback on the skills relevant for work, but also provide students, early exposure to the world of work. Only through this process can there be the realisation of a true 21st century curriculum.
- Larsen AME, “Podcast: education for the fourth industrial revolution,” World Economic Forum 2018 Jan 26. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/podcast-education-for-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/
- “New vision for education: unlocking the potential of technology”, World Economic Forum 2015, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEFUSA_NewVisionforEducation_Report2015.pdf
- “Closing the skills gap,” World Economic Forum 2018. https://www.weforum.org/projects/closing-the-skills-gap-regional-skills-projects.
- Leopold TA, Ratcheva V, Zahidi S, “The future of jobs,” World Economic Forum 2016. http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/
- ITEEA “Standards for technological literacy: content for the study of technology,” 3rd edition, 2000, 2002, 2007. https://www.iteea.org/File.aspx?id=67767&v=b26b7852
By: Hsing Wen Wang and Lorraine Charles
Hsing-Wen Wang received her PhD in biomedical engineering from Case Western Reserve University. She has taught and conducted medical research at the University of Pennsylvania, National Yang-Ming University (Taipei), and University of Maryland (2006-2015). Since 2015, she is an independent consultant/researcher and teaches technology in American Community School of Abu Dhabi.
Lorraine Charles’ expertise is in the political economy, development, education and livelihoods of the Middle East. She is currently Research Associate at the Center for Business Research, University of Cambridge. She has worked in the private sector and as a consultant with NGO and INGOs, as well as in academia.