New evidence to spark the national education conversation

A new study sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning and the Pearson Foundation provides clear evidence linking 21st century skills and student engagement in school with higher quality of work later in life. This study, conducted by Gallup among 18 to 35 year old Americans, validates Microsoft’s education message: 21st Century teaching and learning that provides students with real world problem solving and the right kind of technology experiences are what students of today need to prepare them for successful future life and work.

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Source: Gallup, 21st Century Skills and the Workplace: A 2013 Microsoft Partners in Learning and Pearson Foundation Study

The study’s core findings are clear: “Developing 21st century skills in school is positively correlated with higher work quality later in life. In fact, those who have high 21st century skill development are twice as likely to have higher work quality compared to those who had low 21st century skill development.” Former studies have shown how employers are seeking but not finding new hires with the skills they need. These are skills like collaboration, knowledge-building and real world problem solving that are required to work productively in today’s globalized, knowledge-based technology-driven economy. But this is the first time we have 21st century skills data from the student/graduate perspective. This new data is an extremely important contribution to the national conversation on education, skills and jobs:

· 59 percent of the survey respondents agree or strongly agree that they developed most of the skills they use in their current job outside of school.

· High school graduates report the lowest levels of overall 21st century skill development, compared with those who have college or post-graduate schooling.

· Real world problem-solving is the significant driver of higher work quality; however, among high school graduates, less than half (39 percent) reported developing this skill often in the last year of school.

All of this paints a clear picture for students, parents, teachers and school leaders. In high school, less than 40 percent of U.S. students do not find schooling interesting and, for far too many, this is when they drop out. Students are bored because their school experience seems so irrelevant to what they live and experience outside of school, and to what they expect of their futures. This research shows that 21st  century skills experience in school is deeply connected to a student’s engagement and their future aspirations – but too few high school students have these experiences in school today.

The data shows us there is a huge opportunity to re-engage these students. High schools are beginning to shift towards teaching and learning models that foster real-world problem-solving, applied knowledge-building and using technology in higher level ways for creative and collaborative purposes – the way technology is used in real workplaces. When this happens, students and teachers both rediscover the fun and joy of teaching and learning. Jen Rose is the principal of one of the top public high schools in the country, Bellevue International High School, and sees this daily:

“When students are in classrooms where they are taught and expected to use these 21st century skills, the relevance, purpose and depth of their learning increases dramatically and the walls of the classroom expand to include the entire school and the larger community. When I talk with our seniors about the difference these skills make for them personally, they report that they have much higher levels of confidence about their ability to manage complex and challenging projects, they can demonstrate flexible thinking, they are able to collaborate with all types of people and advocate for themselves and for their work, and they know they will have success in college and the work place. They know these things because they have had the opportunity to do this type of learning and work, with all of the risk-taking and challenge it brings, while still in our school, where support and instruction are there to help them as they assume real ownership over their learning. When these skills are effectively incorporated into teaching and learning, the passion and purpose of teachers and students become exciting and transformative; when our students are working on these skills and in this mode, you can feel the charge throughout the school in the classrooms and the hallways.”

But changing teaching and learning needs to take hold more quickly, like a firestorm across American high schools. Microsoft Partners in Learning and the Pearson Foundation believe that students’ development of 21st century skills combined with increasing student engagement and aspiration during schooling are the keys to unlocking individuals’ future potential. That is why we have invested in the Innovative Teaching and Learning Research project that focuses on how teachers and schools can embed 21st century skills in learning, and why our programs like Microsoft’s Partners in Learning for Teachers and for Schools are all designed to enable schools to carry out this type of learning. Through these programs, teachers and schools from around the world are collaborating to redesign students’ learning experiences in ways that develop students’ 21st century skills and engage them in real-world problem-solving using technology. And where schools are not already changing, Microsoft’s global, company-wide YouthSpark initiative aims to help 300 million youth develop key skills outside of their formal education. What happens in schooling around the world is beginning to change. We invite you to be part of that change with us.

About the Author

Vice President, Worldwide Education, Microsoft