National Responses to Develop 21st Century Skills When Academics Become Change Agents

University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong


Teacher-training for university lecturers was mandated in Sri Lanka for developing student work-life skills, following recommendations arising from a 1989 youth rebellion that killed thousands of youth. Consequently, the ongoing internationally-accredited teacher-training course (CTHE) commenced which facilitated trainee-lecturers to reflectively identify and improve teaching practices to develop effective subject learning alongside related skills. In contrast to subject skills for 'well-defined' tasks such as course assignments and traditional assessment, building 21st Century work-life skills require 'far transfer' of subject skills using 'ill-defined' real-world contexts beyond classrooms, which is challenging. Another CTHE outcome was therefore to develop a sense of agency for lecturers to choose giving the added time and effort needed to develop students' work-life skills using activity-based tasks.

To evaluate the nature and extent of skills-oriented teaching activities that trainee-lecturers undertook, we analysed 984 learning contracts in 107 teaching portfolios. Data showed certain trainee-lecturers to have changed teaching practices to develop skills, targeting skills related to communication (20%,), developing cooperation (12%), task management (5%), respecting diversity (4%), inter-personal contact (2%), with 7% of practices devoted to giving feedback to improve students' skills. As the university-required course outcomes were on improving subject learning, 51% of new practices targeted active learning accordingly, which too develop student skills but sometimes with insufficient specificity to ensure 'far-transfer'. Active learning can develop student engagement as a foundation for 21st Century skills development. The above has motivated a country-wide reorientation of emphasis to develop students' 21st Century skill-sets along with staff reward and recognition policy structures.

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