A coalition of high-tech companies and nonprofit organizations has issued a series of free tools to help teachers, administrators, and lawmakers incorporate specific “21st-century skills” into the core curriculum to better prepare students for today’s technology-infused workplace.

The web-based tools were introduced June 22 at the National Educational Computing Conference in New Orleans by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a public-private organization whose members include the AOL Time Warner Foundation, Apple Computer, Cable in the Classroom, Cisco Systems, Dell Inc., Microsoft Corp., the National Education Association, and SAP. The group’s efforts are supported by the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

The tools expand upon the “Milestones for Improving Learning and Education (MILE) Guide for 21st Century Skills,” which the Partnership reportedly has distributed to more than 80,000 people since its release last year.

“As valuable as last year’s tool was, this year’s tools will be even more helpful in giving us plans to actually implement 21st-century skills,” said Dawn Trubakoff, director of the Northern Arizona Regional Training Center, which disseminates educational information to northern Arizona school leaders.

One of the new tools, called “Route 21: An Interactive Guide to 21st Century Learning,” takes education stakeholders step by step through the process of creating “actionable plans” to integrate technology skills into subject areas such as geography, math, and language arts.

“Route 21” also will help schools and districts meet the 2006 deadline for ensuring that every eighth-grade student has proficient technology skills as required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), said Susan Patrick, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology.

“I applaud the Partnership in its efforts. They will go a long way in promoting 21st-century skills,” she said.

Partnership members acknowledge they have a self-interest in developing the tools. They say corporations worldwide still struggle with how to prepare the work force of tomorrow and how to make students successful in the 21st century.

“Every day in the workplace, we see where our employees have gaps,” said Michele Glaze, a spokeswoman for Dell Inc. “We’re just trying to partner with education and schools to help fill in those gaps.”

“We know the only way we can maintain success is by maintaining a highly skilled work force,” said Bill McDermott, president and chief executive of SAP America Inc., in a taped statement.

“Route 21” consists of nine guides, each including a database of examples, resources, recommendations, tools, and self-assessments that have practical use at each level of the educational process.

As educators progress through the program, it saves their information so they can come back and finish later. The topics of the nine guides include getting started, information and communications technology (ICT) literacy, professional development, equitable access, assessment, collaboration, and capacity.

Working with organizations that represent the core academic subject areas such as geography and math, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills is also developing a series of “ICT Literacy Maps,” which give concrete examples of how ICT literacy can be integrated into core subjects.

The ICT Literacy Map for geography is available now, and maps for other disciplines–including math, science, and English–will be released throughout the summer.

A third resource, a policy paper called “The Road to 21st Century Learning: A Policymakers’ Guide to 21st Century Skills,” is designed to help lawmakers and school administrators craft visionary education policies. The report makes several recommendations, including the following:

  • Adopt state standards that incorporate 21st-century tools and learning skills as part of the eighth-grade technology literacy requirement of NCLB;

  • Embed ICT literacy into current standards, curricula, and assessments for core subjects;

  • Create state and local infrastructures that support a 21st-century education;

  • Provide professional development that is strategically aligned to support the goal of offering a 21st-century education to all students; and

  • Engage educators, employers, community members, parents, and policy makers in an ongoing dialogue that provides recommendations and advice about 21st-century education.

“Our policy paper identifies the significant civic and economic imperatives facing us as a nation, and then outlines the education policy necessary to meet these challenges,” said John Wilson, vice chairman for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and executive director of the National Education Association.

Links:

Partnership for 21st Century Skills

Route 21: An Interactive Guide to 21st Century Learning

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Literacy Maps