Institute of Education

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International Consortium Discusses 21st Century Skills Agenda in School-age Learning Environments

On June 5–6, the HSE Institute of Education welcomed a seminar by the International Academic Consortium working as part of the Key Competencies and New Literacy project, a joint initiative between IOE and Sberbank’s Investment in Future foundation.

The first half of 2017 has been a vibrant and eventful period for the HSE Institute of Education marking the launch of several large-scale and far-reaching academic endeavors. These include the Sberbank-sponsored Key Competencies and New Literacy international project, which aims to design best-practice roadmaps for implementing the 21st century skills agenda in Russia, with a special focus placed on school-age learning environments as the key settings shaping the next-generation talent’s intrinsic values, attitudes and abilities.

At the Project’s kickoff in late February, IOE hosted a series of scoping and foresight discussions where representatives of the academic and business communities were collaborating to better align their Project visions and to map out the overall framework & delivery approach.

As the endeavor is now entering its principal research phase, on June 5–6, IOE welcomed a seminar by the Project’s International Academic Consortium, a dynamic venue to take insights into the global framework of key 21st century competencies & literacies, to analyze their implications for Russia, and to outline approaches to school curriculum upgrades drawing on evidence from comprehensive country-case comparisons.

In a globalized world of accelerating digital move and transdisciplinary innovation, nations have seen drastic changes in their economic and social landscapes. With major redistributions in sectorial economic powers and resulting transformations in the labor market, concerns over securing a steady supply of 21st century-proof talent have become part and parcel of socioeconomic sustainability & growth agendas, including policy, industry, and education.

The Project’s Academic Consortium, which closely cooperates with the OECD Education 2030 program and the UNESCO International Bureau of Education, brings together a number of leading hubs of academic expertise from across the globe: University College London (the UK), Boston College (the UK), the University of Helsinki (Finland), Peking University (China), Seoul National University (Korea), Toronto University (Canada), Evidence Institute (Poland), and Moscow City University (Russia).

Moderated by IOE Academic Supervisor Isak Froumin and Project Director Maria Dobryakova, the event also involved school teachers and executives at Sberbank’s Investment in Future foundation, which is the Project’s grantmaker. 

As today’s international discourse on 21st century skills has had a good deal of ambiguity with respect to the most fundamental concepts and definitions, the Consortium team primarily aimed to bring more clarity and consistency to the underlying terminological framework, including through making generic conclusions from country cases the participants were presenting.

Emeritus Professor, University of Helsinki (Finland)

An actively reshaping industry environment, with a host of novelty production and consumption models, has fueled a major reframing in the labor market. Some jobs have seen cuts in demand and others, by contrast, have been growing fast accompanied by the emergence of new trans-competency areas, all of this calling for ongoing upgrades in an individual’s core functional competencies as well as expanded mental abilities and social capacities. 

In particular, employers broadly cite leadership, self-efficacy and strong multicultural communication skills, ICT savvy and information literacy, flexibility and cooperativeness, critical thinking, visionary strategic acumen, and the ability to deliver resourceful, outside-the-box solutions as the most wanted attributes of a future-ready professional, with the majority of global industry chiefs reporting scarcity of such key skills as the biggest hindrance to meeting efficiency and growth challenges.

As a result, ‘competencies’ were classified as a range of pragmatic capacities enabling one to best achieve specific life goals. In particular, the following competency groups were singled out: 1) cognitive (e.g., critical thinking, creativity); 2) social and emotional (e.g., cooperativeness, communication skills); and 3) those attributable to self-regulation (e.g., planning, adaptiveness, self-directed learning, etc.).

Literacies’ were defined in terms of two interlinked categories: 1) functional skills (e.g., reading, math, digital literacy, etc.) and 2) basic disciplinary knowledge (e.g., financial, legal, environmental and healthcare, etc.). A key factor hampering social engagement, build-up learning and efficient labor, any lack of these core capacities leads to human capital impairment and talent loss. On a broader scale, consequences of short supply in these skills may include more severe inequality, growing exclusion among the most vulnerable population groups, and rising societal tensions.         

In the course of the seminar, the Consortium team also analyzed various approaches to designing and delivering the 21st century skills syllabus, with particular consideration given to the Canadian and Finnish models, where specialized modules are factored into the curriculum, and the extracurricular-based South Korean model.

Executive Director, Sberbank’s Investment in Future foundation (Russia)

The seminar has given a host of cross-border insights into systemic education upgrades, and there is a lot for us to source from these foreign practices, as some of them are particularly relevant for Russia. This primarily refers to Canada’s Ontario case, and it was also interesting to learn about Britain’s modernization experience, including their successes and missteps, from Gemma’s coverage. 

What is of special importance about the Chinese model is that it sees holistic and multi-dimensional human development as its utmost priority – something that has been getting increased recognition on a global scale. By and large, while I am pretty convinced Russia has been taking the right course, some more vision and flexibility will be required in future to ensure cross-country best practice is not just replicated, but carefully tailored for the local context to bring the greatest payoff.

Looking ahead, outcomes from the seminar discussions will form important groundwork to draw upon in making next Project steps as part of a large-scale comparative study the Consortium is about to commence. At this stage, further cross-country insights into best-practice examples and shortcomings in local schooling upgrades will be taken to allow more representative conclusions both at the international level and with respect to national scenarios.


Gemma MOSS,
Professor, University College London (United Kingdom)

Unlike much of today’s technology innovation, which may take just a while to yield mass effects, talent upgrading is a way slower process with learning reforms and their respective socioeconomic outcomes often separated by years and decades. 

Bearing this in mind, education strategies should prioritize the multigenerational approach to upskilling whereby competency and literacy additions will reach the widest possible population band, including preschoolers, millennials and senior age groups, for effects from talent gains to add up and reinforce each other at all levels, which also means greater equity and social capital synergies.

The key deliverable for this phase, a two-volume report on the subject, is slated to come off the press in summer 2018. The document will render a comprehensive perspective on such areas as the global 21st century skills context and its implications for Russia, socioeconomic impacts and inequality risks, psychoeducational facets of talent upgrades, including instructional and moral & ethical areas, best experience from both formal and informal learning settings, etc.