21st Century Education


By Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, Head of School 

As usual, the words of Future Shock author Alvin Toffler have proven to be prophetic. The world our children are growing up in has profoundly changed in the last few decades, and a 1960s education will no longer prepare them to thrive in the marketplace of 2020 and beyond. While many schools have not fully adapted to this new reality, as parents we cannot afford to ignore it. Although it may seem like unchartered and even intimidating territory at first, these new challenges are also opportunities that thoughtful and engaged parents will be able to maximize when planning and guiding their children’s education.

Lifelong Learners We grew up in a world where a college degree almost guaranteed success, and in which graduation effectively signified the end of our education. Yes, periodically we may have needed to attend a few classes to keep our license or certification, but ongoing serious learning was something that happened in the past. But the days of a career or even two careers for life are long past. In the new marketplace, our children will need to be able to quickly and flexibly retool themselves for four to five, even possibly as many as seven to eight careers during their life/work cycle. The key to succeeding in such a rapidly shifting environment is the ability to become an active lifelong learner.

Adjusting to this new reality means that increasingly a school’s success will be measured less by the specific content of the curriculum and more by its ability to help students develop the skill set of a lifelong learner, one that will help them move easily from one set of skills to another as they continue to learn and grow. Accordingly, parents need to ensure these lifelong-learning or 21st century skills are at the core of their children’s overall educational program.

So what are these skills for 21st century success, and how do we know when they are in place? The best futurists, economists and human resources professionals suggest that they include the ability to be an active listener and critical thinker, someone who can rigorously examine and analyze facts. Creativity is also important, as is the ability to communicate effectively, speak and write persuasively, articulate interesting questions and explore alternative viewpoints. Finally, the ability to cultivate and support leadership skills in every area in which we operate is vital, as is the ability to follow best practices, and to be forward-thinking and focused on new trends and needs.

The schools that will be successful in helping students develop these skills are the ones that can support them as they learn to operate from their inner drives. Today, we know that successful students have innate inner drives that crave autonomy, self-determination and connectedness. When these drives are liberated, properly fed and supported, students achieve unimagined levels of success and live richer, more reflective lives.

The linchpin of successful 21st century education is, therefore, the ability to focus one’s energies to learn and innovate on an ongoing basis. To that end, our children need their schools to be places where they are constantly learning and innovating and where they are given the tools to master critical thinking and problem solving (expert thinking); communication and collaboration (complex communications); and creativity and innovation (applied imagination and invention).

Ultimately, yesterday’s problems and yesterday’s solutions simply will not do. At best, they will lead to yesterday’s schools. Only by applying creativity and innovation to our curricula and overall education programs, and by helping our children develop into lifelong learners, will we be able to truly prepare them for success in the 21st century.

21st Century Skills

  • Listen carefully
  • Think critically
  • Evaluate facts rigorously
  • Reason analytically
  • Imagine creatively
  • Articulate interesting questions
  • Explore alternative viewpoints
  • Maintain intellectual curiosity
  • Speak and write persuasively
  • Be fully research-based
  • Follow best practices in all matters
  • Keep both eyes focused forward on new trends and needs
  • Be focused on the present and ever more focused on the future
  • Cultivate and support leadership skills in every area of operation

For information

Rabbi Pinchos Hecht is Head of School at The Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School | The Ben Lipson Hillel Community High School. From early childhood through Grade 12, Hillel inspires students to become exemplary global citizens with strong Jewish identity through an innovative curriculum enriched by co-curricular experiences. All of this is set within a nurturing, diverse, traditional community. Hillel is the one of the largest Jewish day schools in the nation, Florida’s first Jewish International Baccalaureate® (IB) World School and the country’s only Jewish – and South Florida’s only private – 2011 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. For information, please visit ehillel.org.