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  • Published: 25 November 2019

Developing student 21 st Century skills in selected exemplary inclusive STEM high schools

  • Stephanie M. Stehle   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4017-186X 1 &
  • Erin E. Peters-Burton 1  

International Journal of STEM Education volume  6 , Article number:  39 ( 2019 ) Cite this article

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There is a need to arm students with noncognitive, or 21 st Century, skills to prepare them for a more STEM-based job market. As STEM schools are created in a response to this call to action, research is needed to better understand how exemplary STEM schools successfully accomplish this goal. This conversion mixed method study analyzed student work samples and teacher lesson plans from seven exemplary inclusive STEM high schools to better understand at what level teachers at these schools are engaging and developing student 21 st Century skills.

We found of the 67 lesson plans collected at the inclusive STEM high schools, 50 included instruction on 21 st Century skills. Most of these lesson plans designed instruction for 21 st Century skills at an introductory level. Few lesson plans encouraged multiple 21 st Century skills and addressed higher levels of those skills. Although there was not a significant difference between levels of 21 st Century skills by grade level, there was an overall trend of higher levels of 21 st Century skills demonstrated in lesson plans designed for grades 11 and 12. We also found that lesson plans that lasted three or more days had higher levels of 21 st Century skills.


These findings suggest that inclusive STEM high schools provide environments that support the development of 21 st Century skills. Yet, more can be done in the area of teacher professional development to improve instruction of high levels of 21 st Century skills.


School-aged students in the USA are underperforming, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. National Assessment of Educational Progress (U.S. Department of Education, 2015a ) scores show that in science, only 34% of 8th graders are performing at or above proficiency and 12th grade students at or above proficient US students drop to 22%. Similarly, mathematics scores show 33% of 8th graders and 22% of 12th graders were at or above proficiency (U.S. Department of Education, 2015a ). Additionally, the US mathematics scores for the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 2015 were lower than the scores for 2009 and 2012 (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; OECD, 2018 ). US students not only underachieve in mathematics and science, but are also not engaging successfully in engineering and technology. At the secondary level, there are relatively few students in the USA that take engineering (2%) and computer science (5.7%) (National Science Board, 2016 ). The NAEP technology and engineering literacy (TEL) assessment found that for technology and engineering literacy, only 43% of 8th graders were at or above the proficiency level (U.S. Department of Education, 2015b ). This consistent trend of underperformance has focused many national, state, and local efforts to improve student experiences in integrated STEM subjects (cf. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2010 ; Texas Education Association ( n.d. ) for school-aged students and beyond.

The efforts for improvement in STEM teaching in K-12 environments have yielded a slight increase in the enrollment of STEM majors recently (National Science Board, 2016 ). However, roughly half of students who declare a STEM major when entering college either switch majors or drop out of college (National Science Board, 2016 ). One approach to helping students persist in undergraduate education is a stronger foundation in content knowledge, academic skills, and noncognitive skills (Farrington et al., 2012 ). Academic skills, including analysis and problem solving skills, allow students to engage with content knowledge at higher levels of cognition. Noncognitive skills, including study skills, time management, and self-management, assist students in optimizing their ability to gain content knowledge and use their academic skills to solve problems. Students who possess these skills have high-quality academic behaviors, characterized by a pursuit of academic goals despite any setbacks (Farrington et al., 2012 ).

Because academic skills, noncognitive skills, and content knowledge have fluid definitions and may not be directly observable, for the purposes of this study we used 21 st Century skills consisting of knowledge construction, real-world problem solving, skilled communication, collaboration, use of information and communication technology for learning, and self-regulation (Partnership for 21 st Century Learning, 2016 ). Graduates who possess 21 st Century skills are sought out by employers (National Research Council, 2013 ). In the environment of rapid advancements in technology and globalization, employees need to be flexible and perpetual learners in order to keep up with new developments (Bybee, 2013 ; Johnson, Peters-Burton, & Moore, 2016 ). There is a need to ensure that students who graduate the K-12 system are adept in 21 st Century skills so that they can be successful in this new workforce landscape (Bybee, 2013 ).

Not only do 21 st Century skills help students be successful in all areas of formal school, these skills are also necessary for a person to adapt and thrive in an ever changing world (Partnership for 21 st Century Learning, 2016 ). One movement embracing the need for the development of student 21 st Century skills is the proliferation of inclusive STEM high schools (ISHSs), schools that serve all students regardless of prior academic achievement (LaForce et al., 2016 ; Lynch et al., 2018 ). ISHSs promote student research experiences by using inquiry-based curricular models to scaffold independent learning and encourage personal responsibility (Tofel-Grehl & Callahan, 2014 ). The goal for ISHSs to facilitate this type of student-centered learning is to build students’ 21 st Century skills such as adaptability, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and self-management (Bybee, 2013 ; Johnson et al., 2016 ; LaForce et al., 2016 ). Although there has been some evidence that not all ISHSs are advantageous in offering STEM opportunities (Eisenhart et al., 2015 ), there is an accumulation of evidence that ISHSs can increase college and career readiness for students from groups who are typically underrepresented in STEM careers (Erdogan & Stuessy, 2015 ; Means, Wang, Viki, Peters, & Lynch, 2016 ). As the number of inclusive STEM schools continue to increase across the USA, there is a need to understand the ways these schools successfully engage students in 21 st Century skills. The purpose of this paper is to systematically analyze teacher-constructed lessons and student work from seven exemplar ISHSs in order to better understand how teachers are engaging and developing student 21 st Century skills.

Specifically, this study looked at the extent to which teachers at these exemplar ISHSs ask students to practice the 21 st Century skills and at the level of student performance of the following categories: (a) knowledge construction, (b) real-world problem solving, (c) skilled communication, (d) collaboration, (e) use of information and communication technology (ICT) for learning, and (f) self-regulation (SRI International, n.d. -a; SRI International, n.d. -b). An examination of the lesson plans and student work products at exemplar ISHSs provides insight into effective development of student 21 st Century skills in a variety of contexts.

Conceptual framework

In an attempt to clearly define the skills, content knowledge and literacies that students would need to be successful in their future endeavors, the Partnership for 21 st Century Learning (P21; 2016) created a framework that includes (a) life and career skills; (b) learning and innovation skills; (c) information, media, and technology skills; and (d) key subjects (Partnership for 21 st Century Learning, 2016 ). The first three parts of the framework, (a) life and career skills, (b) learning and innovation skills, and (c) information, media, and technology skills, describe proficiencies or literacies students should develop and can be integrated and developed in any academic lesson. The fourth piece, key subjects, suggests 21 st Century interdisciplinary themes or content to engage students in authentic study (Partnership for 21 st Century Learning, 2016 ).

Due to the need to build 21 st Century skills, this study focused on the teaching and learning of (a) learning and innovation skills; (b) information, media, and technology skills; and (c) life and career skills at exemplar ISHSs. In order to operationalize and measure the three categories, we searched for instruments that measured the learning of 21 st Century skills. Microsoft, in collaboration with SRI Education, developed two rubrics that are designed to assess the extent to which 21 st Century skills are present in lessons and the extent to which students demonstrate the skills from these lessons (SRI International, n.d. -a; SRI International, n.d. -b). The 21 st Century Learning Design Learning Activity Rubric examined the proficiency of teacher lesson plans for the development of 21 st Century skills while the 21 st Century Learning Design Student Work Rubric examined the level of competency for each 21 st Century skill. Although the rubrics did not align exactly with the P21 Framework, we felt that there was enough alignment with the categories that the rubrics would be useful in measuring the extent to which lessons in ISHSs taught 21 st Century skills and the extent to which students demonstrated these skills. The rubrics had the same categories for lesson assessment and student work assessment: (a) knowledge construction, (b) real-world problem solving, (c) skilled communication, (d) collaboration, (e) use of ICT for learning, and (f) self-regulation in teacher lesson plans and student work samples (SRI International, n.d. -a; SRI International, n.d. -b). Table 1 shows how the categories assessed in the two rubrics align with the categories in the P21 Framework. Further, as we reviewed the literature on these categories, a model of their relationship emerged. Our literature review discusses the individual categories followed by the conceptual model of how these categories work together in 21 st Century skill development.

  • Knowledge construction

Knowledge construction occurs when students create new knowledge themselves rather than reproducing or consuming information (Prettyman, Ward, Jauk, & Awad, 2012 ; Shear, Novais, Means, Gallagher, & Langworthy, 2010 ). When students participate in knowledge construction rather than reproduction, they build a deeper understanding of the content. Learning environments that are designed for knowledge construction promote self-regulated and self-directed learners as well as building grit (Carpenter & Pease, 2013 ).

Although knowledge construction helps students to build deep understandings and skills to be self-directed and resilient learners, many students are unfamiliar with this approach to learning and frequently need scaffolding to take on joint responsibility of learning (Carpenter & Pease, 2013 ; Peters, 2010 ). When transitioning to a more student-centered learning environment that supports knowledge construction, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator rather than a lecturer (McCabe & O’Connor, 2014 ). A student-centered learning environment encourages students to shift from a paradigm of expecting one convergent answer and toward deeper meaning-making when learning (Peters, 2010 ). Knowledge construction anchors the development of 21 st Century skills because students need to be able to have background knowledge in order to perform the skills in an authentic context.

  • Real-world problem solving

Sometimes called project-based learning (Warin, Talbi, Kolski, & Hoogstoel, 2016 ), real-world problem solving is characterized by students working to solve problems that have no current solution and where the students can implement their own approach (Shear et al., 2010 ). When solving a real-world problem, students work to identify the problem, propose a solution for a specific client, test the solution, and share their ideas (Prettyman et al., 2012 ; Warin et al., 2016 ). The design aspect of the process encourages students to be creative and learn from failures (Carroll, 2015 ). When using real-world problem solving, students develop knowledge in a meaningful way (White & Frederiksen, 1998 ), must regulate their cognition and behavior in a way to reach their goals (Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, & Campione, 1983 ; Flavell, 1987 ), and gain experience defending their choices through evidence and effective communication skills (Voss & Post, 1988 ).

Teachers can develop real-world problem solving skills in their students by modeling inquiry after research actual scientist are involved in, using databases with real-life data, and evaluating evidence from current events (Chinn & Malhortra, 2002 ). Designing real-world problem scenarios for the classroom provide a framework by which students can engage in 21 st Century learning and can help to encourage a more positive attitude towards STEM careers (Williams & Mangan, 2016 ). Together, knowledge construction and real-world problem solving create the foundation from which students can engage in self-regulation, collaboration, and communication.

  • Self-regulation

Self-regulation is a key 21 st Century skill for independent learners. Students who are self-regulated plan their approach to problem solving, monitor their progress, and reflect on their work given feedback (Shear et al., 2010 ; Zimmerman, 2000 ). During the self-regulation process, a student motivates himself or herself to control impulses in order to efficiently solve problems (Carpenter & Pease, 2013 ; English & Kitsantas, 2013 ). Fortunately, these skills are teachable; however, students need time to accomplish regulatory tasks and guidance for the key processes of reflection and revision (Zimmerman, 2000 ). Therefore, long-term projects give a more appropriate time frame than short-term projects to hone these regulatory skills.

Students have different levels of self-regulation (English & Kitsantas, 2013 ) and teachers may need to integrate strategies and ways of monitoring students into lessons (Bell & Pape, 2014 ; English & Kitsantas, 2013 ). Incorporating self-regulated learning strategies helps students to stay engaged and deal with any adversity that may come up in the process (Boekaerts, 2016 ; Peters & Kitsantas, 2010 ). A tangible way teachers can support student self-regulation is by using Zimmerman’s ( 1998 ) four-stage model of self-regulated learning support: modeling, emulation, self-control, and self-regulation (Peters, 2010 ). First, teachers explicitly model the target learning strategy that the student should acquire, pointing out key processes (modeling). Second, teachers can provide students with verbal or written support for the key processes of the learning strategy while the student attempts to emulate the modeling from the teacher (emulation). Once students can roughly emulate the learning strategy, the teacher can fade support and have the student try to do the learning strategy on their own (self-control). After students attempt it on their own, the teacher provides feedback to the student to help them improve their attempted learning strategy (self-regulation). When a student can successfully perform the learning strategy on their own, they have become self-regulated in that aspect of their learning. Students who have mastered self-regulated learning have the ability to be proactive in knowledge building and in problem solving, which are characteristics that STEM industry employers value.

  • Collaboration

Collaboration occurs when students take on roles and interact with one another in groups while working to produce a product (Shear et al., 2010 ). Collaborative interactions include taking on leadership roles, making decisions, building trust, communicating, reflecting, and managing conflicts (Carpenter & Pease, 2013 ). Students who collaborate solve problems at higher levels than students who work individually because students respond to feedback and questions to create solutions that better fit the problem (Care, Scoular, & Griffin, 2016 ). Collaboration is an important skill to enhance knowledge building and problem solving. Conversations among peers can support student self-regulated learning through modeling of verbalized thinking.

  • Skilled communication

“Even the most brilliant scientific discovery, if not communicated widely and accurately, is of little value” (McNutt, 2013 , p. 13). For the purpose of this paper, skilled communication is defined as types of communication used to present or explain information, not discourse communication. Skilled communicators present their ideas and demonstrate how they use relevant evidence (Shear et al., 2010 ). An important part of being able to communicate successfully is the ability to connect a product to the needs of a specific audience or client (Warin et al., 2016 ). In doing so, the students need to take into account both the media they are using and the ideas they are communicating so that it is appropriate for the audience (Claro et al., 2012 ; van Laar, van Deursen, van Dijk, & de Haan, 2017 ). Like collaboration, skilled communication is a necessary process to successfully employ knowledge construction and real-world problem solving.

Use of information and communication technology for learning

When students use information and communication technology (ICT) for learning, they are designing, creating, representing, evaluating, or improving a product, not merely demonstrating their knowledge (Koh, Chai, Benjamin, & Hong, 2015 ). In doing so, they need to choose how and when to use the ICT as well as know how to recognize credible online resources (Shear et al., 2010 ). The effective use of ICT requires self-regulation in order to use these tools independently and to keep up with technological advances. Given the continuous advancements in technology, it is essential that students know how to manage and communicate information in order to solve problems (Ainley, Fraillon, Schulz, & Gebhardt, 2016 ).

Conceptual Model of 21 st Century Skills

The six 21 st Century skills presented above are critical for students to develop to prepare for both college (National Science Board, 2016 ) and the future employment (Bybee, 2013 ; Johnson et al., 2016 ). Twenty-first century skills do not exists in isolation. By building one skill, others are reinforced. For example, knowledge construction and real-world problem solving can be enhanced by self-regulation. Likewise, collaboration requires skilled communication to build knowledge and solve problems. These skills coalesce to build the necessary toolkit for students who can learn on their own. Figure 1 shows a working hypothesis of how these six skills, (a) knowledge construction, (b) real-world problem solving, (c) skilled communication, (d) collaboration, (e) use of ICT for learning, and (f) self-regulation, interact to foster lifelong learning for student.

figure 1

Working hypothesis of how 21 st Century skills work together to build a 21 st Century student

Knowledge construction and real-world problem solving are the keystones of the model and typically represent the two main goals of student-centered lessons. Knowledge construction is the conceptual formation while real-world problem solving represents the process skills that students are expected to develop. Knowledge construction and real-world problem solving feed each other in a circular fashion. Knowledge construction is built through the inquiry process of real-world problem solving. At the same time, real-world problem solving requires new knowledge to be constructed in order to solve the problem at hand. The connection between knowledge construction and real work problem solving is mediated by collaboration and communication.

While communication and collaboration allow a student to work with others to build their conceptual knowledge and work toward a solution to their real-world problem, self-regulation is an internal process that occurs simultaneously. The student’s self-regulation guides the student’s individual connections, reflections, and revisions between knowledge construction and real-world problem solving.

Information and communication technology provides tools for the students to facilitate communication and collaboration as well as other 21 st Century skills. ICT helps to simplify and assist the communication and collaboration for groups of students. ICT can help streamline the process of analysis and record keeping as well as facilitating the sharing ideas with others. It allows students to more easily document their progress and express their ideas for later reflection. Although ICT is not directly connected with other elements in the model, the use of ICT allows for the learning process to be more efficient.

The six 21 st Century skills addressed in this study, (a) knowledge construction, (b) real-world problem solving, (c) skilled communication, (d) collaboration, (e) use of ICT for learning, and (f) self-regulation, are important facets of STEM education. This study documented the extent to which each of the 21 st Century skills were present in both lesson plans and in student work at seven exemplar ISHSs. Given that the schools in the study were highly regarded, understanding the structure and student outcomes of lessons could provide a model for teachers and teacher educators. With that in mind, the study was driven by the following research questions:

To what extent do teacher lesson plans at exemplar ISHSs exhibit 21 st Century learning practices as measured by the 21 st Century Learning Design Learning Activity and Student Work Rubrics?

Do teacher lesson plans and student work samples from exemplar ISHSs show differences in rubric scores by grade level?

During the analysis of these questions, a third research question emerged regarding the duration of lessons. The question and rationale can be found in the data analysis section.

This study is part of a larger multiple instrumental case study of eight exemplar ISHSs. The larger study (Opportunity Structures for Preparation and Inspiration in STEM; OSPrI) examined the common features of successful ISHSs (Lynch et al., 2018 ; Lynch, Peters-Burton, & Ford, 2014 ). OSPrI identified 14 critical components (CC; Table 2 ) that successful ISHSs possess (Behrend et al., 2016 ; Lynch et al., 2015 ; Lynch, Means, Behrend, & Peters-Burton, 2011 ; Peters-Burton, Lynch, Behrend, & Means, 2014 ). Three of the 14 critical components involve the application of 21 st Century skills in the classroom. This study addresses these three critical components: (a) CC1: STEM focused curriculum for all, (b) CC2: reform instructional strategies and project-based learning, and (c) CC3: integrated, innovative technology use.

Cross-case analysis of the eight schools found similarities in how the schools addressed two specific critical components: CC1: college-prep, STEM focused curriculum for all and CC2: reform instructional strategies and project-based learning. From these two critical components, curriculum and instruction, four themes emerged: (a) classroom-related STEM opportunities, (b) cross-cutting school level STEM learning opportunities, (c) school-wide design for STEM opportunities, and (d) responsive design (Peters-Burton, House, Han, & Lynch, 2018 ). The theme of classroom-related STEM opportunities was characterized by the expectation that teachers act as designers of the curriculum and look beyond the typical textbook for resources. While designing the curriculum, teachers took a mastery learning approach and provided students multiple opportunities to master the material. Through the use of collaborative group projects, summative projects, culminating projects, and interdisciplinary studies, the schools demonstrated a cross-cutting school level approach to the STEM learning. School-wide STEM opportunities included a rigorous curriculum, incorporating engineering classes and/or engineering design thinking, emphasizing connections between the curriculum and real-world examples, as well as building strong collaboration between teachers. Finally, these ISHSs had systems such as data-driven decision making and supports for incoming ninth graders built into their schools as a responsive design. In summary, these schools worked to improve students’ 21 st Century skill such as collaboration, problem solving, information and media literacy, and self-directed learning (Lynch et al., 2018 ).

Research design

This study was designed as a conversion mixed methods approach (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2003 ) in that qualitative data were transformed into quantitative data using established rubrics. Document analysis was used as a tool to identify occasions of evidence within lessons plans and student work products related to the identified 21 st Century skills (Krippendorff, 2012 ). In this conversion approach, the 21 st Century skill demonstrated qualitatively in the documents was scored using the rubrics, ergo integrating qualitative and quantitative methods in the analysis.

Participating schools

The eight exemplar ISHSs for this study came from the same quintain as used by the OSPrI project (Lynch et al., 2018 ). Because this origin project was a cross-case analysis and the IRB did not allow for school to school comparison, the data collected from individual schools was aggregated as one data source. Protocol for inclusion in the OSPrI study was that the school had no academic admission requirements, self-identified as a STEM school, was in operation for grades 9 through 12, and intentionally recruited students typically underrepresented in STEM. For more information on the demographics of the schools and the selection process, see Lynch et al., 2018 . Of the eight schools that were in the original OSPrI project, seven provided teacher lesson plans and/or student work samples during the school visit. All schools have given permission to use their actual names. The sample size from each school was inconsistent, therefore, we treated the data set as one combined group that included all seven schools.

Data sources

Student work samples and teacher lesson plans were collected during OSPrI site visits to the seven schools, which were each visited once between 2012 and 2014. Researchers requested paper copies of typical lesson plans and student work that resulted in an average performance from the lesson plan that was observed at all eight ISHSs during the site visits. Because this was a convenience sample, not all teachers submitted lesson plans, and only a few teachers submitted the student work products related to those lessons. Unfortunately, few parents consented to release student work products. As a result, 67 teacher lesson plans and 29 student work samples were collected from seven of the eight schools. We decided to keep the student work products in the descriptive portion of the analysis, but not the inferential analysis in the study because this is a unique opportunity to gain even a small insight into student work from STEM schools that were considered exemplary and served students who are typically underrepresented in STEM. Table 3 describes the content matter and grade level(s) associated collected teacher lesson plan and corresponding student work product.

Each teacher lesson plan was analyzed using the 21 st Century Learning Design (21CLD) Learning Activity Rubric and each student work product was analyzed using the 21 st Century Learning Design Student Work Rubric (SRI International, n.d.-a; SRI International, n.d.-b). These instruments were found to be valid and reliable for use in high school classrooms, and Shear et al., 2010 reports the details of the development and validation of the rubrics. Although the student work products were related to the teacher lesson plans, they were analyzed independently according to the protocol of the 21CLD rubrics. The 21CLD Activity Rubric and the 21CLD Student Work Rubric were designed by Microsoft Partner’s in Learning with a collaboration between ITL Research and SRI International (SRI International, n.d.-a; SRI International, n.d.-b). These two 21CLD rubrics were the result of a multi-year project synthesizing research-based practices that promote 21 st Century skills (Shear et al., 2010 ). The rubrics, each 44-pages in length, are available online for public use ( https://education.microsoft.com/GetTrained/ITL-Research ). The 21CLD rubrics assess teacher lesson plans or student work products on six metrics aligned with 21 st Century skills: (a) knowledge construction, (b) real-world problem solving, (c) skilled communication, (d) collaboration, (e) use of ICT for learning, and (f) self-regulation (SRI International, n.d.-a; SRI International, n.d.-b). Collaboration, knowledge construction, and use of ICT score ratings range from one to five while real-world problem solving, self-regulation, and skilled communication score ratings range from one to four.

Data analysis

The teacher lessons and student work samples were assessed on (a) knowledge construction, (b) real-world problem solving, (c) skilled communication, (d) collaboration, (e) use of ICT for learning, and (f) self-regulation using the 21CLD Learning Activity and the 21CLD Student Work Rubrics respectively. Examples of excerpts from teacher lesson plans and student work products for each category can be found in Table 4 . Two raters were used to establish interrater reliability. Both raters have a background as secondary science teachers and were trained on the use of the rubric. One rater has a terminal degree in education and the other rater is a doctoral student in education. The two raters met and discussed the rubric scores until the interrater reliability was 100%. Once consensus scores were established, tests for assumptions, descriptive, and inferential statistics were run.

During the analysis of research questions one and two, unique trends of short-term and long-term lesson plans were noted. From this, a third research question emerged from the analysis:

Are there differences in the 21 CLD Learning Activity scores of short-term lessons and long-term lessons?

The 21CLD Learning Activity and the 21CLD Student Work Rubrics required a lesson to be long-term order to assess self-regulation. The rubric defined long-term as “if students work on it for a substantive period of time” (SRI International, n.d.-a, p. 32). From our reading of the lesson plans, lessons that were scheduled for three or more days met the criterion of a substantive period of time, while lesson that were scheduled for 1 or 2 days did not meet this criterion. For the purposes of this study, we decided to refine the definition of long-term to be a lesson lasting three or more class periods and a short-term lesson lasting less than three class periods. The analyses for all research questions separated lessons into long-term and short-term in order to clarify the category of self-regulation.

The data were checked for normality, skewness, and outliers; only the teacher lesson plans met all assumptions for an ANOVA (comparison of grade levels) and t test (long-term versus short-term). Due to the small number of student work samples collected (see Table 6 ), the data related to student work did not meet the assumptions needed to run a t test therefore was not included in this analysis.

Overall rubric scores

To answer the first research question, a descriptive analysis was run for each of the six categories on the rubric and the total score (found in Tables 5 and 6 ). The average score for all teacher lesson plans was less than 2 for all six categories (out of a total of 4 or 5). Likewise, overall student work sample averages scored below 2 except on the category of Knowledge Construction. Table 6 also shows the median score for long-term student work sample categories to better describe central tendencies of the data. Figure 2 shows the distribution of total rubric scores for all teacher lesson plans. Seventeen of the 67 lessons scored a 6, the lowest possible score. Only 16 of the 67 lessons scored higher than 13 points, half of the total possible points. Out of those 16 scoring over 50%, only three lessons scored 20 points or more out of the possible 27.

figure 2

Distribution of total 21CLD rubric scores for all lessons

Figure 3 illustrates the quantity of 21 st Century skills found in each lesson. Nearly 75% of the teacher lesson plans included at least one 21 st Century skill in the lesson and 67% addressed two or more 21 st Century skills. Although most of the lessons at the ISHSs introduced multiple 21 st Century skills, the overall scores for the quality were low.

figure 3

Distribution of number of 21 st Century skills addressed in a lesson

21 st Century learning by grade

To answer the second research question, an ANOVA was conducted to compare lesson scores by grade level. There were no statistically significant differences between grade level scores for the total rubric score. Data were separated into short-term and long-term lessons by rubric category. There were no significant differences in short-term lessons by grade level (Fig. 4 ). However, there were significant differences across grades for long-term lessons. Total rubric score for grade 12 lessons were significantly higher than grade 9 ( p = 0.023) and grade 11 ( p = 0.032). Difference in total rubric scores for grade 12 lessons were approaching significance with grade 10 ( p = 0.063). As seen in Fig. 5 , category scores for long-term learning activities have small differences in 9th, 10th, and 11th grades but peaks noticeably in 12th grade. The exception to this trend is use of ICT which peaks in 11th grade.

figure 4

The average rubric metric scores for short-term lessons, sorted by grade level for the lesson

figure 5

The average rubric metric scores for long-term lessons, sorted by grade level for the lesson

Long-term versus short-term assignments

To answer the second research question, a t test with Bonferroni correction was performed to compare long-term and short-term lessons for each of the categories. A statistically significant difference was found between short-term ( N = 35) and long-term ( N = 32) lessons on total score, knowledge construction, use of ICT, self-regulation, and skilled communication (Table 7 ). The effect sizes for these categories as calculated by Hedges g (Lakens, 2013 ) were all above 0.8 indicated large effect size (Table 7 ). In all of those categories, long-term lessons scored higher than short-term lessons (Table 5 ). The category of real-world problem solving was approaching statistical significance with the t-score not showing significance [ t = − 2.67, p = .001] but a statistically significant confidence interval [− 1.23, 0.003] and a medium effect size (Table 7 ).

  • 21 st Century skills

Overall, the teacher lesson plans collected at the ISHSs showed evidence of addressing 21 st Century skills. Nearly 75% of the lessons included at least one 21 st Century skill with 67% addressing two or more. Although the majority of lessons addressed multiple 21 st Century skills, the rubric scores for these lessons were low because they addressed these skills at a minimal level. For example, a minimal level of collaboration would be instructions to form a group. A high level of collaboration would include defining roles, explicit instructions on how to share responsibility, and evidence of interdependence. Only five lessons showed evidence of multiple 21 st Century skills implemented at the highest level, as measured by the 21CLD Learning Activity Rubric.

While assessing the lesson plans, we noted that more explicit instructions in the teacher lesson plans would have resulted in higher rubric scores. Placing students in groups, structuring peer feedback, and having students design a final project for a particular audience are three small changes not seen frequently in the lesson plans that are articulated in the Lesson Plan rubrics to encourage multiple 21 st Century skills. When students work in groups, they improve their collaboration and communication skills while constructing knowledge and solving problems (Care et al., 2016 ; Shear et al., 2010 ). When teachers incorporate peer feedback into their lesson, students engage in collaboration. Peer feedback also gives students the opportunity to revise their work based on feedback, increasing self-regulation (Shear et al., 2010 ; Zimmerman, 2000 ). When students design their final project for a specific target audience, rather than simply displaying their knowledge for the teacher, they work on their skilled communication processes (Claro et al., 2012 ; van Laar et al., 2017 ; Warin et al., 2016 ). In summary, placing students in groups, structuring peer feedback, and having students design a final project for a particular audience provides opportunities for students to practice 21 st Century skills.

When lessons addressed more than one 21 st Century skill, they usually demonstrated the use of collaboration or communication in real-world problem solving and knowledge construction (Care et al., 2016 ; Carpenter & Pease, 2013 ). Thirty-three lesson plans in which real-world problem solving or knowledge construction was evident, 31 showed evidence of collaboration or communication. Similarly, 13 of the 18 student work samples showed evidence of collaboration or communication when real-world problem solving or knowledge construction was practiced. The results from the indirect measures of the rubric build support for a conceptual model connecting the components of 21 st Century skills (Fig. 1 ). There was some evidence demonstrating the support that collaboration and communication have for knowledge construction and real-world problem solving.

The findings of this study point to the likelihood of self-regulation being connected to other 21 st Century skills. Each time self-regulation was present in a teacher lesson plan, there was evidence of at least one other 21 st Century skill in that lesson. Seventeen of the 23 lesson plans addressing self-regulation included at least three other 21 st Century skills, showing evidence that self-regulation is a skill that is related to knowledge construction and real-world problem solving. Our findings reflect the findings of other researchers, in that self-regulation guides the students’ individual connections, reflections, and revisions between knowledge construction and real-world problem solving (Brown et al., 1983 ; Carpenter & Pease, 2013 ; Flavell, 1987 ; Shear et al., 2010 ).

Evidence from the lessons showed that there was no consistent connection to the use of ICT and the presence of the other 21 st Century skills. ICT was seen in both low-scoring lessons as the sole 21 st Century skill, as well as in high-scoring lessons in tandem with multiple other 21 st Century skills. As in our model, technology is a tool to help facilitate but is not necessary in the development of the other 21 st Century skills (Koh et al., 2015 ; Shear et al., 2010 ). After examining the data, our model remained unchanged for all 21 st Century skills and their relationship to each other.

Grade level differences

Overall, there were no statistically significant differences in the total 21CLD scores across grade levels. This is consistent with the missions of the ISHSs in this study to shift responsibility for learning to the students by weaving 21 st Century skills throughout high school grade levels (Lynch et al., 2017 ). When looking at trends in long-term projects, there was a jump in total 21CLD score for 12th grade. Again, this aligns with the participating schools’ goals of creating an environment where students have a more independent learning experience during their senior year internships, college classes, and specialized programs CC1 (Lynch et al., 2018 ). This is consistent with the goal of many of the schools to have the students work independently during their senior year either by taking college classes, completing an internship, or taking a career specific set of classes.

Short-term vs. long-term lessons

The data showed that long-term lesson planning had significantly higher scores on the rubric as compared to the short-termed lessons. This difference is consistent with the literature regarding the need for students to have time to develop and practice skills (Lynch et al., 2017 ; NGSS Lead States, 2013 ). The extended time allows students to monitor and reflect on their progress while working toward self-regulation of the skill (Carpenter & Pease, 2013 ; English & Kitsantas, 2013 ). To truly become self-regulated, students need repeated supported attempts to be able to do it on their own (Zimmerman, 2000 ).

Although not significant, collaboration was the only rubric metric where the short-term lessons averaged a higher collaboration score than the long-term lessons. Evidence from the lessons show students worked in pairs or groups, but infrequently shared responsibility, made decisions together, or worked interdependently. This leads to the possibility that incorporating the higher levels of collaborations is difficult, even in long-term projects. In addition, evaluating the higher levels of collaboration is difficult to make based solely on documents. Observations would be required to evaluate how the students within the group were interacting with one another.


Because this study used data collected as part of a larger study, there were several limitations. The work collected is a snapshot of the work students were doing at the time of the observation and does not allow for a clear longitudinal look at student growth over time. As stated before, the small student work sample limited what we were able to do with the analysis.

By only analyzing paper copies of the student work, it was not possible to determine a true collaboration score for many of the projects. Higher levels of collaboration such as sharing responsibility, making decisions together, and working interdependently require observation or more detailed notes from the students or teachers. Some lessons may have scored higher in the metric of collaboration had the student interactions been observed or noted.

This study confirmed the presence of all identified 21 st Century skills in the lesson plans at the selected exemplar ISHSs serving underrepresented students in STEM: (a) knowledge construction, (b) real-world problem solving, (c) skilled communication, (d) collaboration, (e) use of information and communication technology (ICT) for learning, and (f) self-regulation. In light of the patterns that emerged from the rubrics, we posit that in the lesson plans communication and collaboration are the core 21st Century skills that facilitate knowledge construction and real-world problem solving, while student self-regulation creates efficiencies resulting in improved knowledge construction and real-world problem solving. We also saw in the lesson plans that ICT provides tools to support communication and reflection which leads to knowledge construction and real-world problem solving. To further develop knowledge about how 21 st Century skills addressed in lesson plans help to support student work, our model can be a hypothesized starting point to investigate interactions.

While teachers were successful at including 21 st Century skills into lessons, very few lessons practiced higher levels of those skills. This could be an indication that high levels of 21 st Century skills are difficult to teach explicitly at the high school level. Future studies may investigate why teachers are not frequently incorporating higher level 21 st Century skills into their lessons to answer questions as to whether teachers feel that (a) they need more training on incorporating 21 st Century skills, (b) students need more practice and scaffolding to build up to higher levels of 21 st Century skills, or (c) they need more time for long-term projects to work on the higher level skills.

The use of the 21CLD rubric is a tangible way for teachers to self-assess the level of 21 st Century skills in their lessons. Self-evaluation helps encourage reflection, promote professional growth, and recommendations for new aspects of lessons (Akram & Zepeda, 2015 ; Peterson & Comeaux, 1990 ). This can also help teachers make the instructions for the development of 21 st Century skills more explicit in their lesson. In conducting a self-evaluation, teachers may realize that they do not have a deep understanding of the characteristics of 21 st Century skills. If teachers are new to incorporating these skills into their lessons, the teachers may need time to learn the skills themselves before they can incorporate them into their lessons (Yoon et al., 2015 ). Further studies may examine how teachers use the 21CLD rubric to improve their lesson.

Students need time to grapple with and learn new skills (Lynch et al., 2017 ; NGSS Lead States, 2013 ). While we were able to see evidence of higher rubric scores for 21 st Century skills for 12th grade students in the lesson plans, due to the convenience sampling of lesson plans and student work samples, we were not able to look at how students’ 21 st Century skills were built over time. There is a desire to better understand how ISHSs successfully develop these skills. This includes how schools incorporate and build the 21 st Century skills (a) within multiple lessons in one course, (b) across multiple classes over the course of a school year, and (c) throughout the students’ entire high school sequence. Future research may look at a longitudinal study that follows one student’s work over an entire school year to see how the 21CLD scores change. In addition, future studies may also look at how the short-term projects build the skills needed for the students to incorporate higher levels of 21 st Century skills in long-term projects.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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Critical component

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This work was conducted by the OSPrI research project, with Sharon Lynch, Tara Behrend, Erin Peters-Burton, and Barbara Means as principal investigators. Funding for OSPrI was provided by the National Science Foundation (DRL 1118851). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of endorsement of the funding agency.

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Stehle, S.M., Peters-Burton, E.E. Developing student 21 st Century skills in selected exemplary inclusive STEM high schools. IJ STEM Ed 6 , 39 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40594-019-0192-1

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  • 1 Academic Enhancement Division, Sunway University, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
  • 2 Centre for American Education, Sunway University, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

The recent emphasis on refining the quality of higher education has incited insightful debates about numerous education reforms. Due to the demands of our ever-changing world, many institutions have begun to embed the 21st century skills into the curriculum design to better prepare the students for workplace success and lifelong career development. Despite its importance, there are disparities in regards to establishing an in-depth understanding of its significance. Thus, this study is aimed to investigate the perspective of undergraduate students in Malaysia on the importance of the 21st century skills for career readiness This study employed the quantitative research design wherein purposive sampling was utilized. The findings assert that data literacy is an essential skill to excel in the workplace, and similarly, problem-solving skill helps develop critical thinking skill, which contribute to the development of creative thinking skill. Recommendations are further deliberated.


Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are deemed as among the prominent catalysts in nurturing the skills demanded by various industries. Whether they are taught directly or indirectly, these skills are often predominantly embedded into the curriculum to cultivate important characteristics for students to be successful, both in the context of their education and eventually work ( Ball et al., 2016 ). 21st century skills characterize and denote a representation of the past professional skills which are now deemed obsolete due to the rapid technological change ( Kereluik et al., 2013 ; Mahmud and Wong, 2022 ). These skills are defined by broad categories comprising of thinking (e.g., creativity and innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, learning to learn), working with others (e.g., communication, collaboration/teamwork), facility with tools (e.g., information literacy, communications technology literacy), and general life skills (e.g., citizenship, life and career management, personal and social responsibility, cultural awareness). Typically, these skills are embedded into the design of higher education curriculum in preparation to join the workforce. Numerous educational and economic organizations have acknowledged the collective demand for the 21st century skills ( World Economic Forum, 2016 ; Van Laar et al., 2017 ). Nevertheless, it is argued that developing the skills can be challenging ( Jang, 2016 ; Winberg et al., 2019 ). In this regard, students must be equipped with the 21st century skills like data literacy, problem-solving, programming, and creative thinking for them to remain competitive ( Lavi et al., 2021 ). In the workforce, employees with these skills are more likely to be valued by employers ( Habets et al., 2020 ; Rios et al., 2020 ). The emergence of advanced technologies has contributed to the significant emphasis placed on the 21st century skills. Researchers predict that activities such as translating languages, driving a truck, working in retail, and even working as a surgeon will be replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI) with better performance in the next 10 years ( Grace et al., 2018 ). The majority of HEIs have recognized the need to make changes to the existing curriculum in preparation for the needs of the 21st century, including the emphasis on new skills. As part of an ongoing effort for educational reform at the institutional level, numerous HEIs are actively engaging stakeholders to enhance and revamp the necessary 21st century skills development. Therefore, it is important for students to prepare themselves to avoid from being eliminated by their future workplace. Graduates who keep up and adhere with their organizations (i.e., employers) by completing assigned tasks with excellent performance are believed to be well-equipped with the 21st century skills, subsequently justifying its importance for graduates to secure and develop their career progression ( Ghafar, 2020 ). Despite the established significance of acquiring the 21st century skills, it is surprising to notice that many people have limited exposure to it. The majority of them believe that such issue resulted from the absence of clear and proper guidance on how to develop these critical skills, thus making them to feel helpless despite their eagerness to learn. Eventually, these people will lose advantage over others who are well-equipped with the 21st century skills when dealing with problems in the modern society ( Joynes et al., 2019 ). Previous studies revealed that 21st-century skills are essential to be acquired due to its importance in the workforce and society. However, there are limited assessments that can evaluate 21st century capabilities. Meanwhile, standardized examinations can only examine a small portion of the critical skills and information acquired by students. According to Silva (2009) , the 21st century skills are not new yet it is essential as younger employees must be able to identify and analyze information from other sources and use it to make decisions and create new ideas. Therefore, it is important to raise the awareness of undergraduate students in grasping 21st century skills. Thus, this study aims to examine the importance of the 21st century skills required by undergraduate students in the digital age.

Literature review

Previous studies defined the 21st century skills as a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that educators, school reformers, college professors, and employers believe to be critically important for students to succeed in today’s world, particularly in collegiate programs as well as contemporary careers and workplaces ( The Glossary of Education Reform, 2016 ; Rajaratenam, 2019 ; Davis, 2021 ). The basic premise behind the concept of the 21st century skills is that students must be taught with in-demand and universally applicable skills. Therefore, educational institutions like schools, colleges, and universities must prioritize on the effective teaching of such skills to students. In other words, 21st century students need to learn relevant skills that reflect the demands placed upon them in the global modern world rather than skills learned by students in the 20th century ( Aabla, 2017 ). In the subsequent paragraphs, four 21st century skills are deliberated to homogenize the current educational initiatives with the fourth industrial revolution and its associated innovations and technologies ( Miranda et al., 2021 ). In a similar vein, a conceptual framework, TPACK framework by Koehler et al. (2014) , and 21st century framework developed by Education Performance and Delivery Unit Malaysia (PADU) were also utilized the guiding principles. One of the critical 21st century skills required by university students is data literacy, which is the ability to read, understand, and interpret data. It plays an important role in social studies education where the prevalence of data visualization encountered by students will only be increased by the improvement and access to technologies. In this regard, educational institutions like schools are regarded as a preferable place to begin accumulating data literacy knowledge as it helps individuals to engage on the inundation of information at an earlier age ( Raffaghelli, 2020 ; Robertson and Tisdall, 2020 ; Shreiner, 2020 ). Some universities even offer extra workshops to improve data literacy skill among their students along with recommending and providing them with access to data literacy tools. this subsequently enables them to master the skill before entering the job market. Furthermore, data literacy skill also acts as a data-sharing tool. According to Enakrire (2020) and Palsdottir (2021) , researchers equipped with data literacy skill are more likely to understand the existing data presented and link various data together to convert it into useful information for their own use. For instance, studying the number of COVID-19 cases every day facilitates the effort to tabulate a graph that illustrates the amount of daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 that allows researchers to examine the trend and prepare for upcoming situations. Therefore, being proficient in data is an important skill for university students to stay competitive in the 21st century. The popularity of data visualization viewed by students will only grow as a technology that improves and becomes more accessible. Furthermore, researchers equipped with data literacy skill are more likely to comprehend current data and combine disparate datasets to create usable information.

Often referred as the ability to identify underlying problems and actively seeking for solutions, problem-solving has been propounded as another crucial skill to be acquired by students in the 21st century. Within the education sector, several authors ( Furino, 2012 ; Karakoyun and Lindberg, 2020 ; Demir, 2021 ) mentioned that problem-solving has been highlighted as an essential skill in schools after the digital literacy skill and it is now introduced into students’ learning process to stimulate their higher-order thinking skills. Based on the recent systematic review studied by Mahmud et al. (2021) , it reveals that the students possess different skills, including strategic thinking and problem-solving skills in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. This can be further exemplified when schools started to modify their syllabus by inserting higher-order thinking questions to encourage students to think deeply and more critical. Moreover, problem-solving is the most investigated 21st century skill after digital literacy and critical thinking particularly when it comes to determining the 21st century skills within individuals. Generally, there are many ways to assess the problem-solving ability of a person. A commonly used method is performance test ( Arslangilay, 2019 ; Van Laar et al., 2020 ) by recording the number of attempts that a person used to solve a problem. In summary, past studies advocate on the need for students to equip themselves with problem-solving skill in this modern era. Following such awareness, the education sector has also begun to include higher-order thinking questions to boost problem-solving skill among their students. Additionally, problem-solving skill is highly involved in 21st century studies to examine its significance to the era of big data.

Another important 21st century skill that has been emphasized in the curriculum is programming, which refers to the ability of writing a computer program to ease in data processing. Programming skill can foster the skills and attitudes that are strongly associated with 21st century and digital competency. Therefore, basic computing courses should be introduced since primary school because it builds cognitive dimensions and benefits students with programming and computer skills along with other learning competencies across various subjects at an early age, which are essential for their future career. It also provides students with impactful learning experience, which can be proven by the high level of students’ overall satisfaction ( Kunpitak, 2019 ; Theobold and Hancock, 2019 ; Nouri et al., 2020 ; Wong and Cheung, 2020 ). Moreover, programming skill is broadly needed in various sectors nowadays. Instead of the need for coding skill among programmers, there are numerous careers that require coding skill. Important infrastructures such as healthcare, communication, transportation, and defense also expect improvement in software technologies to support their digital platforms ( Mittal, 2020 ). For instance, the medical department uses mathematical modeling to predict how social distancing can affect the number of COVID-19 cases. Hence, the result can be analyzed and efficient regulations of hygiene measures can be introduced to the public to reduce the number of cases. In conclusion, programming skill is one of the important 21st century skills that should be acquired by students as it builds their cognitive dimension, provides them with fruitful learning experience, and prepares them for their professional careers.

The ability to think creatively is crucial because it allows individuals to see problems and situations in innovative ways. However, the development of students’ creative thinking skill has received limited attention. As a result, many graduates struggle to secure job opportunities due to a lack of creativity ( Wyse and Ferrari, 2014 ). As creativity is dependent on information and does not occur in a second, many employees wish that they are more creative and were exposed to creative thinking during their schooling years. However, people rarely use their creative thinking skill to its full potential. Some academics even claim that the educational system inhibits their creativity as most educational institutions do not focus on teaching, practicing, and applying current information to generate creative ideas and problem-solving solutions. Furthermore, creative thinking skill allows people to stand out at the workplace when providing constructive ideas to deal with problems. As mentioned by Anjarwati et al. (2018) , Atmojo and Sajidan (2020) , and Azid and Md-Ali (2020) , thinking fluently, which correlates to creative thinking, enables people to solve problems with a wide range of solutions. This is because they can easily produce ideas and solutions when faced with challenges. In such instance, more solutions can be generated with their ability to think outside the box instead of merely generating one or two general ideas. Occasionally, producing unique solutions is the way to achieve differentiation which allows one to be prominent from others. Generally, people who are well-equipped with creative thinking skill can integrate different situations quickly as compared to others as well as having the ability to generate various kinds of ideas when they are faced with problems. Therefore, it is important to invest prominent attention on equipping students with creative thinking skill to avoid them from having a lack of imagination towards an object as well as the tendency to avoid any challenges in the future.

Research methodology

This study had employed the quantitative research design by distributing a self-developed survey to the undergraduate students to examine their perceptions towards the importance of data literacy skill, problem-solving skill, programming skill, and creative thinking skill in the digital era. The survey used in this study comprised four sections pertaining to data literacy skill, problem-solving skill, programming skill, and creative thinking skill. Cronbach’s Alpha and Explanatory Factor Analysis (EFA) was conducted to determine both the reliability and validity of the instrument used. The data collected from the survey was analyzed using descriptive statistics. In this regard, frequency and percentage was used to calculate the number of respondents who considered data literacy, problem-solving, programming, and creative thinking as important 21st century skills. The Graduate Tracer Study Executive Report 2010 by the Ministry of Higher Education discovered that 24.6% of the 174, 464 graduates were jobless 6 months after graduation ( Ministry of Higher Education [MoHE], 2021 ). The circumstance raises questions on the HEIs “product,” and this is consistent with the study target population–students pursuing their undergraduate courses in Malaysia. The group was purposively sampled, and deemed suitable as the study probed at scrutinizing the importance of the 21st century skills among the undergraduates, considering the immense number of graduates entering the labor market. The study began by reviewing past articles and studies on the 21st century skills to identify the existing arguments and empirical evidence. This was done by extracting information from more than 300 academic journals and transferring it into a review matrix, which helped in the process of constructing the research objective and research questions. The survey questionnaire was then designed, finalized, and validated. It was then distributed to the targeted respondents via social media such as Telegram, WhatsApp and Instagram. A total of 101 completed survey questionnaires were gathered from undergraduate students between 18 and 25 years old who enrolled in a bachelor’s degree course in Malaysia. The respondents provided their responses to 25 items using a 5-point Likert scale, from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). All data were then processed and analyzed in order to find the answers to the research questions.

Findings and discussion

Table 1 shows the analysis results on the importance of data literacy skills among the undergraduate students in the digital age. It can be seen that the majority of respondents agreed with Item 1 where data literacy skill can be applied to solve numerous problems in the social studies sector, such as to predict future outcomes. Following that, 44 respondents strongly agreed with Item 2 while 18 respondents had stated their neutral stand. This suggests that people are now living in a big data era; therefore, it is better to equip this skill at the first opportunity to fit into the current situation. A study by Robertson and Tisdall (2020) mentioned that introducing data literacy into the school curriculum is highly recommended because the younger generation is curious about data, possesses a high concern about data sharing issues, and wishes to have a deeper understanding about the matter. Furthermore, 47.5% of the respondents strongly agreed with Item 3. As data becomes more accessible, students are willing to investigate data and use their data understanding in different contexts. This not only allows them to express themselves but also makes them become more knowledgeable and skillful ( Deahl, 2014 ). As a result, these students are more intelligent when dealing with challenges. In addition, Item 5 had the highest percentage of respondents (55.4%) who strongly agreed with the notion. This might due to the fact that students are dissatisfied with their current data literacy knowledge and would like to have a closer approach to this skill. This is supported by Bhargava and D’Ignazio (2015) who stated that data literacy tools can better assist learners’ competency in data literacy by providing a stronger support system. On the contrary, Item 4 had the most disagreeing respondents (3.0%). One potential reason for this result is that respondents consider data literacy as an indispensable skill in school, especially when dealing with data for their coursework. As noted by Sickler et al. (2021) , students require data literacy skill to transfer the underlying meaning of professional and large-scale data into their coursework based on their understanding. According to Chinien and Boutin (2011) , data literacy is recognized as one of the most beneficial skills for the 21st century as it brings positive impact to a valuable knowledge-based economy.


Table 1. Data literacy skill.

Table 2 presents results on the significance of problem-solving skill among the undergraduate students in the big data era. It was found that 90.1% of the respondents agreed with Item 1 where problem-solving skill should be embedded in the curriculum of undergraduate courses. This is because the majority of university students wish to excel in this skill. According to Rodzalan and Saat (2015) , lecturers are encouraged to provide students with challenging tasks that can prompt them to perform critical thinking when solving the assigned problems. Whereas, Item 2 received the highest number of strong agreement from a total of 65 respondents. One possible reason is that students believe that the problem-solving process can stimulate other 21st century skills within them, such as innovation and perseverance. As noted by Furino (2012) , problem-based learning provides students with the opportunity to experience potential problems that they may encounter in real life. Next, 13 respondents held a neutral stance on Item 3 while 46 and 42 respondents agreed and strongly agreed with the notion. Such result can be due to the students’ mindset where improvement in ICT literacy skill can lead to better thinking skill, which indirectly links to the improvement in problem-solving skill. This is supported by Karyotaki and Drigas (2016) who believe that ICT tools can provide support to students during the entire problem-solving process to enhance their elaboration and the making of evidence-based reasoning. Meanwhile, Item 4 yielded the highest number of agreement (94.1%) where 43 respondents agreed and 52 respondents strongly agreed with the statement. One possible explanation is that when solving a problem in a group, students need to actively engage with their groupmates and think critically to produce an ideal solution. Therefore, it is suggested to include problem-solving skill into the curriculum as it is crucial for the acquisition of the 21st century skills ( Demir, 2021 ). Following that, Item 5 had the second-highest number of strong agreement with a total of 62 respondents who strongly agreed with the statement. This is because at the workplace, individuals are often required to solve problems in a good manner to avoid conflicts between employees. According to Karakoyun and Lindberg (2020) , problem-solving is the second most important skill after digital literacy in the 21st century workforce. Meanwhile, no disagreement was recorded for Items 2 to 4. The respondents who held a strong agreement for all 5 items contributed to an average of 91.5% of agreement.


Table 2. Problem-solving skill.

Table 3 contains results on the importance of programming skill for the undergraduate students in the big data era. It can be seen that Item 1 yielded 80.2% of agreement from the respondents. This is because almost everything is digitalized nowadays and this makes programming as among the highly demanded skill for one to keep pace with the current trends. Other than developing computational skill, programming education can also aid in fostering a more general character attitude that is related to the 21st century skills and digital competency ( Nouri et al., 2020 ). Furthermore, Item 4 received an agreement of 79.2% from the respondents. One possible reason is that the young generation must be equipped with programming skill to keep up with the digital transformation where programming skill is broadly needed in various sectors nowadays. Moreover, the importance of programming skill in this big data era is no longer limited to programmers but also various other careers. This is supported by Mittal (2020) who stated that important infrastructures such as healthcare, communication, transportation, and defense also expect improvement in software technologies to support their digital platforms. Whereas, 85 respondents agreed with Item 5, which deduced that programming encompasses the ability to write codes as well as the ability to analyze a situation and recognize critical components, model data, and processes in order to design specific programs. As mentioned by Wong and Cheung (2020) , programming skill can strengthen students’ thinking skill, problem-solving skill, and creativity by requiring them to set up their own games, subsequently enhancing their programming knowledge during the programming curriculum. Ergo, given the importance of attaining these skills, it can be postulated that programming is one of the 21st century skills that has great importance for future generations, being a process of applying various command sets for computer programming, problem solving and performing a specific task by computers ( Business Dictionary, 2017 ). The majority of respondents agreed with almost all of the items except for Item 3 where 30.7% of the respondents had a neutral stand while 9.9% of them disagreed with the statement. A possible explanation for this result is the respondents believe that primary students are too young to learn programming skill. According to Antonitsch (2015) , there is another viewpoint that sees potential disadvantages in children’s development when they are exposed to the computer at an early age. Such viewpoint can be found in both the educational thought of anthroposophical philosophy and the well-known scientific publications. All the items received disagreement from a small proportion of respondents.


Table 3. Programming skill.

Table 4 presents results on the importance of creative thinking skill for the undergraduate students in the big data era. For item 1, 60 respondents agreed, 36 respondents were neutral, and 5 respondents disagreed that the development of creative thinking skill has less focus in the educational system. Elder and Paul (2001) have emphasized the importance of fostering creative thinking skill in students’ education because it allows them to handle both academic and non-academic situations with proper solutions. This indicates that educational institutions should put more attention on practicing critical thinking skill as it allows students to think critically and effectively find solutions, thus helping them to succeed in the future career path. Meanwhile, the majority of respondents agreed with Item 2 where creative thinking is not only important to their daily life but also to jobs that require interaction between individuals. Finkelman (2001) highlighted that professionals who work in the human health field, such as psychologists, counselors, and educationists, must think critically in both practice and management. Creative thinking also leads to higher leadership skill, particularly in managerial roles. Next, Item 3 received a high agreement level from the respondents. Despite the ability to generate ideas from their own experience and knowledge, individuals with creative thinking skill can also obtain ideas from their surroundings ( Allen and Gerras, 2009 ), thus enabling them to identify the perfect solution to any difficulties experienced in the future. Besides, Item 4 had the highest percentage of agreed respondents (90.1%). One reason for this result is that the respondents believe that individuals with creative thinking skill can immediately generate unique ideas when seeing a problem at first glance. According to Atmojo and Sajidan (2020) , individuals with creative thinking skills can produce alternative solutions to problems easily while tend to obey the originality rule of ideas. Furthermore, 86.1% of the respondents agreed with Item 5. One possible explanation is that problem-based learning requires students to think out of the box and from various perspectives to obtain the desired solution. As noted by Anjarwati et al. (2018) , problem-based learning encourages high students involvement by motivating them to find self-concept. It also allows students to think and solve problems creatively using their own ideas.


Table 4. Creative thinking skill.

In summary, this research aims to identify the importance of data literacy, problem-solving, programming, and creative thinking skills in the big data era from the perspective of undergraduate students in Malaysia. The findings indicate that the majority of respondents agreed that data literacy is indeed a necessary skill in the digital world because it allows people to effectively deal with data-related issues. It was also found that data literacy skill possesses an important role in educational institutions. Therefore, the respondents proposed that data literacy skill should be integrated into the school curriculum to expose it to the young generation and cultivate their interests to data at an early age. Additionally, data literacy is also known as a medium for data sharing. Such skill is particularly helpful for students to interpret any forms of data. Hence, it is important to equip students with data literacy skill so that they can easily disclose information presented in raw data. For young learners to gain the 21st century skills, problem-solving skill should be incorporated into the learning process. The survey results showed that problem-solving skill should be included in the curriculum for students to increase their academic achievement and become more adventurous and creative. Furthermore, the findings also showed that problem-solving skill can help to develop critical thinking skill and improve collaborative problem-solving skill. Thus, students must be exposed to problem-solving skill as they will be required to solve problems and issues in their future careers. The results also reported an overall agreement on the strong interrelation between programming skill and the 21st century skills. Programming has become an essential skill in the 21st century. Therefore, every individual should be equipped with such skill to keep pace with the digital revolution as every sector now requires a digital platform, which is linked to the use of programming skill in platform design. As most educational institutions have begun to introduce programming skill into their curriculum, most respondents agreed that programming skill can strengthen their thinking skill, problem-solving skill, and creativity. They further advocate that the younger generation should be introduced to programming at the early stage skills for them to keep up with the digital transition. However, a small proportion of the respondents believe that it is unnecessary to embed programming skill into primary school education. From the findings, this study concludes that students should have creative thinking skill because it is a must-have ability to remain competitive and relevant in the 21st century. However, most educational institutions are lacking in the attention to creative thinking skill, hence causing graduates to face significant difficulty to secure their jobs. Thus, students must be encouraged to develop creative thinking skill as it allows them to generate unique ideas. This is in line with the respondents’ agreement that creative thinking enables them to think and produce solutions to 21st century problems from various perspectives.


Due to the importance of data literacy skill in this data-saturated world, students will require such skill to study and process the open data for them to be relevant. It is recommended that problem-solving skill to be incorporated into the learning process in which real-life situations can be utilized to solve problems independently while receiving minimal guidance. This will train them to expect future events and be prepared to handle any potential problems and issues in the future. However, problem-solving skill is limited to specific courses only. Therefore, educational institutions may want to revise their curriculum to integrate problem-solving skill across a wider range of areas. Echoing similar notion, programming skill should be introduced at school level as students will likely start to develop interest at that juncture. For instance, schools can organize free programming courses and host programming competitions to encourage students’ participation and interest in programming. This will cultivate an impactful learning experience to students and boost their interest in this field. In addition, this study also found that creative thinking skill can develop students’ creativity to solve real-life problems. Thus, it is recommended for the government to improve the current education system by integrating more problem-based learning to improve students’ creative thinking skill such as group-based activities to apply real-life solutions. This in turn will prompt them to think creatively in solving the assigned tasks with their group members, which will eventually help them to simulate creative solutions when faced with similar problems in the future workplace. Consequently, this will produce future employees with the competency to provide constructive and creative solutions to problems. Besides, educators must also be encouraged to review best strategies for engaging students to develop the 21st century skills by connecting the content to real-life experiences to promote the sound application of the 21st century skills in actual field of work. Today, technology holds the power of transforming our present into a radiant future. Evolving skills set such as digital literacy and digital citizenship needed to undergo digital transformation are in high demand. There is a need to have a common understanding of digital literacy and skills that can be adopted by all stakeholders as a global standard, which can be seen as part of digital intelligence (DQ), which is recognized by the IEEE SA (2021). Therefore, it is recommended for future research to elicit further elaboration from a research emulating a tracer’s study to track the progress of 21st century in order to gain more insights for more accurate conclusions to be drawn. Future research can also use cluster sampling to ensure that the number of participants from each age group is the same. This will ensure the accuracy of responses as all age groups will be equally represented, thus eliminating bias among the respondents. In conclusion, the education system should consider problem-based learning as a possible technique to enhance creative thinking skill among students.

Data availability statement

The original contributions presented in this study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Author contributions

MM: conceptualization, data curation, and writing – original draft. SW: formal analysis and writing – review and editing. MM and SW: investigation and methodology. Both authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

This work was supported by the Sunway University.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords : 21st century skills, digital age, undergraduates, workplace, curriculum

Citation: Mahmud MM and Wong SF (2022) Digital age: The importance of 21st century skills among the undergraduates. Front. Educ. 7:950553. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2022.950553

Received: 23 May 2022; Accepted: 05 October 2022; Published: 01 November 2022.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2022 Mahmud and Wong. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Shiau Foong Wong, [email protected]

This article is part of the Research Topic

Education and Innovative Perspectives in Higher Education

Twenty-First-Century Teacher Competencies and Trends in Teacher Training

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In the context of digitalization, globalization, and internationalization, the twenty-first century has changed societies as well as their institutions and concepts, significantly affecting powerful communication technologies and the speed and forms of access to information. Being employable, coping with global competition, and having the appropriate equipment and skills for the professions of the future have become more important than ever in an information-intensive economic structure. The question of how education will function in adapting to the new work order and managing and categorizing knowledge has been important. Considering the success teachers have in achieving the purpose of education, what the skills of both the learner and the teacher should be in order to adapt to the rapidly changing world has become more important. Changing learning environments and styles, new student profiles, and transformations in social life and the business world are critical issues for the role of the teacher. This study discusses the skills teachers should have and tendencies toward teacher training within the scope of twenty-first-century standards. We make the following recommendations: having holistic goals for teachers’ pre-service, in-service, and professional development; providing opportunities for national and international mobility; promoting better salaries and working conditions; providing continuous professional development opportunities for teachers just starting their profession; lightening the curriculum while preserving wages; participating in guidance programs; facilitating access to resources; providing opportunities to systematically associate theory and practice; supporting consultation with colleagues; and encouraging the selection of mentors only from qualified and experienced specialist teachers in both in pre-service and in-service teacher training.

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The Making of Teachers for the Twenty-First Century: Australian Professional Standards and the Preparation of Culturally Responsive Teachers

  • Teacher qualifications
  • Teacher training
  • Twenty-first-century skills

Many studies have expressed the central position teachers have in successful education. Teachers’ personal and professional characteristics are critical for students’ learning, harmonious communication skills, and adaptation to the requirements of the age in which one lives, starting with self-adaptation. With digitalization accelerating and technology having become an important part of daily life these days, significant and rapid changes are experienced on social and global scales. Efforts to improve education systems and transform them with radical reforms in order to healthily respond to technology-centered rapid changes constitute the agendas of many countries from different economic levels. The organization of teacher education is a central issue in efforts to improve and strengthen education systems. Considering the importance education has both in ensuring society’s adaptation to the changing conditions and in countries’ efforts to reach local strategic goals, many studies are found on teachers’ responsibilities and the skills they should have in order to fulfill these responsibilities.

Expectations about teacher competencies have been important in every period of world history. The proficiency criteria created with different motivations have also been determinant regarding teachers’ social status, responsibilities, and areas of authority. Societies’ values, priorities, goals, and economic structure have been among the determining factors in perspectives on teachers and what is expected from education in every period of history. However, because digitalization these days has impacted these determinants, the issue of education in general and teachers in particular has to be addressed under new dimensions. Repositioning all individuals and institutions involved in the organization of education to take and reviewing educations’ basic concepts and theories have become essential. As an important issue of the period when this study was written, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a period when all studies have analyzed digitalization in the field of education and the new functions education should have. Changes in many areas such as new forms of communication, the transformations in the classroom and the school, the diversity of educational resources, the flexibility of curricula, management styles, learner profiles, and parent profiles have led to discussions on how to develop and update teachers’ skills. What makes a good teacher? What makes learning meaningful and relevant? Which learning methods and principles are critical for an employable generation to achieve the economic level wanted by society? What constitutes the main motivation for today’s teacher competencies? What knowledge and skills teachers have and should have and in which educational atmosphere will they use their knowledge and skills are fundamental questions. Therefore, teachers can be said to be faced with an unusual proficiency scale, both for the healthy functioning of education and for the ability to manage the skills students are expected to have in the future.

While the new forms of relationships established in the twenty-first century have completely reconstructed education, teachers are also evaluated according to the competency standards formulated as twenty-first-century skills. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) views twenty-first-century skills as critical for keeping up with the new forms in the knowledge-based society and ensuring employability in the new economic order (OECD, 2009 ). Reform studies in education have become inevitable for responding to the new social and economic needs of society.

Overcoming the Challenges of the Digital Revolution in Education Systems

The way the digital world presents information, particularly with the great impact artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have on all informational processes, has created a new learning environment. This learning environment, which points to a certain spatiality in the current education literature, has gained a new dimension in the digital world. This world represents unlimited, multilingual, multicultural truths defined with different motivations and has created new areas of discussion not only about the learning environment but also on critical issues such as the nature, sources, and truth of knowledge. While online learning processes have been vital for the continuation of education during the COVID-19 process and are an important practice for the future of learning environments, they are also a test process that has revealed new areas of discussion. By containing important clues about the physical conditions of tomorrow’s school and classroom, this experience obviously will also be a pioneer in matters such as how to create and present education curricula.

The relationship information technologies establish with education is actually a reflection of the entire society on education. When dealing with education, today’s learners prefer the new learning style known as digital learning. Therefore, knowledge management and the ability to problem-solve using computers have become mandatory for today’s learners (OECD, 2016 ). New technologies have students residing in an area constructed with an unlimited variety of learning tools where they keep everything at their fingertips and are able to easily access different cultures, beliefs, and information. Students’ ability to easily access unlimited information resources can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. It has the potential to turn into an area where students can increase their desire to learn and facilitate their learning or, when not managed properly, can be an area that exposes them to harmful content and causes them to fail at managing their time. Contrary to expectations, Internet addiction, having become a significant issue for adults, may adversely affect the opportunities of digital learning because, while some studies show families expect the Internet to increase their children’s academic success and future job opportunities (Ortiz et al., 2011 ), other findings show youths to use technology for entertainment rather than school responsibilities (Becker, 2000 ). Teenagers use the Internet for games, chatting, and social networks; a significant increase in technology use has occurred among young children as old as 8 (Schleicher, 2019 ). Among the subjects studied is the effect technology use has on students’ imagination and learning skills. In particular, some studies have shown handwriting to be more effective in the development and productivity of the human brain than typing with a keyboard (Beringer, 2009 ; Bounds, 2010 ). As a result, the type of technology and its use can be said to determine its effects (Bavelier et al., 2010 ).

Social media accounts as the entertainment centers of technology are among the new learner profile’s areas of difficulty. Spending more time on social media accounts can negatively affect students’ social life, health, and academic success. Opposite these disadvantages are also found advantages such as encouraging independent learning, making learning fun, enabling students to plan their life by providing access to education without going to school, preparing students for the future, facilitating and encouraging learning together, and saving time accessing information (Aggarwal, 2000 ; Bhakta & Dutta, 2016 ). This process has turned into a challenge for students and made having teachers balance students use of technology inevitable as their primary goal.

The distance between theory and practice is seen to have narrowed in the learning process through new technologies. The theoretical structure of curricula will become open to practical areas by taking advantage of technology’s opportunities. People and institutions will be able to transfer concepts and theories to the classroom with more accessible evidence beyond books and other written sources. Abstract topics that are difficult to grasp will become easier to understand and learning will become more enjoyable. Both national and international sharing will become possible. As new learning styles for students, these changes will also become sources of new teaching styles for teachers. These changes require teachers to be more prepared and more versatile than ever and will force them to plan their lessons on a national and international scale by collaborating more with students and colleagues in the learning-teaching process.

Social media is a powerful communication tool of the digital world and has significantly changes society in many ways. In particular, changes in language, culture, values, and lifestyle are areas of change that can be observed with the naked eye. Profiles with multiple followers, known as influencers in social media, can present themselves as role models offering identities, fashions, and lifestyles for young people and even adults (Alpaydın, 2018 ). For this reason, having representations of information, people, ideas, values, and facts on social media that the education system wants to place in the world of students for raising awareness has become inevitable (Alpaydın, 2018 ). Teachers will need support in order to attract the attention of their students who listen to fun, lively, and colorful speakers through social media channels and to produce materials in a style and content appropriate to the students’ jargon (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014 ).

Saying the knowledge-intensive economy is the main motivation for the education system reforms of the twenty-first century would not be wrong because education is an important investment tool in human capital. When considering the great importance human capital has for a society, the process we are in is one in which we have to meticulously analyze the type of educational understanding in which the future workforce should be trained. The educational policies designed today are critically important for sustainable and strong economic growth. In this respect, the general perspective in Turkey focuses on providing in-demand vocational skills and quality to this vocational training to prepare people for the labor market. Turkey’s educational policies are seen to be shaped according to this perspective, and the demands from families develop in this direction (Taşdemir et al., 2019 ). The workforce of the future being an important determinant in education planning is inevitable. However, robots with artificial intelligence will obviously have a greater place in production in a knowledge-intensive economy. The process we are going through requires preparing for future professions that do not exist yet and also reveals that some existing professions will become useless over time. Taşdemir et al. ( 2019 ) stated that people will have difficulty working in the same sector or doing the same job for a long time in a period where creatively destructive processes and sectoral shifts will be experienced much more frequently. Therefore, raising a society with the skills and equipment is essential for ensuring its adaptation to these structural changes. Here, the main responsibility is generally given to education systems, particularly to teachers. Bozgeyikli ( 2019 ) stated that teachers should aim to provide their students with the ability to learn any skill quickly and effectively rather than specific professional knowledge.

Based on the studies conducted after individually discussing the basic motivations of twenty-first-century skills (Applied Education Systems [AES], 2019 ; Partnership for twenty-first-Century Learning [P21], 2015 ; Trilling & Fadel, 2009 ; Wagner, 2008 ), learners’ twenty-first-century skills can be listed as follows (Fig. 1 ).

figure 1

Twenty-first-century learner skills

As an opportunity of new technology, easy access to information can cause an information overload for learners who access too much information at once. The need obviously exists for new skills in accessing, evaluating, and organizing information in the digital environment. In order for learners to survive information overload, they must develop the capacity to make correct inferences, strong analyses, and accurate evaluations. Critical thinking skills are essential for this, allowing one to be able to evaluate issues from different perspectives and gain interdisciplinary learning ability (P21, 2015 ). While creativity expresses thinking outside the box and being open to innovations (Brookhart, 2010 ), collaboration means effectively working with others in harmony by creating a common goal and working harmoniously toward that goal (AES, 2019 ). Communication as a learning skill refers to speaking with others about ideas, solutions, questions, and problems clearly and understandably. Both OECD’ 2030 Learning Compass and the Council of Europe’s Recommendation CM/REC (2018) highlight learning and higher level thinking, socio-emotional skills, and creativeness. The OECD 2030 Learning Compass identifies these competencies as key to meeting the hardships of a unsteady, uncertain, and complicated world that uses digital mediums and artificial intelligence (Council of Europe, 2013 ; OECD, 2018 ).

Information, media, and technological literacy are critical for students’ to be able to distinguish reality from fiction, access correct information, and reach necessary and useful information.

Life skills are important for students’ academic development, social life, and personality development and include flexibility in adapting to changing conditions; not making change an obstacle; setting goals, establishing a team in line with these goals, and collaborating with the team; being entrepreneurial in making projects, strategies, and plans on one’s own; being efficient in completing work on time; meeting with others around common goals or benefits; and forming networks (AES, 2019 ).

Schools are central in learners acquiring twenty-first-century skills. Both families and students need school support regarding adapting to change, efficiently and effectively using technology, and preparing for the future because families’ technological literacy and ability to receive and organize information may be insufficient. However, the fact that access to technology still requires a certain level of welfare is another limitation. When schools cannot provide sufficient support in this sense, the inequality gap in the society may widen. In general, school and teacher performance will be effective in reducing inequalities and highlighting the advantages of technology use (Gottschalk, 2019 ).

Twenty-First-Century Teacher Qualifications

Concepts such as information processing, reasoning, questioning, critical thinking, and problem solving in relation to twenty-first-century skills include some familiar skills that have been at the center of school learning for many years while the basic framework of teacher competencies is determined by the characteristics of qualified teachers and what competencies they need (European Commission, 2013 ). Changes in social life, economy, and educational environments are compelling motivations for what qualifications teachers should have.

Many studies are found to specifically have tried limiting the competencies twenty-first-century teachers should have (Darling-Hammond, 2006 ; Landmann, 2013 ). Importantly, many of these studies have confirmed the point of convergence between teacher education and the needs of schools to often lay in teachers’ competences (Day, 2002 ; Landmann, 2013 ). The global reality fraught with social and technological changes forces one to rethink schools’ role in the future and which skills twenty-first-century teachers should possess.

The impact of information and communication technologies is remarkable in terms of twenty-first-century skills. When teachers have better problem-solving skills in environments with good technological opportunities, students also have better problem-solving skills and performance in math (OECD, 2019a ). The focus has always been on the powerful effects teachers’ competencies have on student achievement. The effects from teachers explain 75% of the effect school has on student achievement (Rivkin et al., 2005 ). Therefore, teachers’ effective use of new technology in the classroom will also effect both students’ skill development and turn disadvantage into advantage by producing alternatives for students with longer more challenging learning processes.

Being a good learner is among the most basic needs a teacher should have. This is the prerequisite for students’ learning, creativeness, and openness to development and change. Having teachers strengthen their teaching practices, monitor innovations in their field, and share these effectively with their students is critical in terms of having students adapt to areas of change such as the above-mentioned changing social life, new student profile, changing educational environment, and new economic order.

Various studies have been carried out globally by institutions and countries’ ministries of education on twenty-first-century teacher skills. The European Commission ( 2005 ) stated within the framework of European Qualifications in its report “Common European Principles for Teacher Competences and Qualifications” that education and training contribute to the economic and cultural aspects of the information society and therefore should be seen within their social contexts. According to the report, teachers should be able to (Table 1 ).

The European Commission draws attention to the fact that pre-service training will not be sufficient for teachers to gain the qualifications stated here and that teachers must acquire a professional lifelong learning habit aimed at professional development. In this direction, the European Commission shared the following recommendations with policy makers and practitioners:

The teacher must be equipped.

It is important that teachers have graduated from a higher education institution or equivalent. It is critical that those who become teachers in the field of basic vocational education are qualified and have the necessary teaching skills.

To secure their place in the European higher education arena and to increase opportunities for career advancement and mobility within the profession, teacher education programs should be offered in all three cycles of higher education.

Practices based on evidence and research should be encouraged for the development of new knowledge about education and training.

The teaching profession should be viewed as a process that includes initial teacher education, starting in a job position, and maintaining professional development.

Aiming to ensure the continuous development of teachers, subject-based and pedagogical education-oriented activities for lifelong learning should be planned. The content of initial and continuing professional development programs should reflect the importance of interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches to learning.

Mobility in the teaching profession should be encouraged.

Mobility projects for teachers are an integral part of initial and continuing professional development programs. Mobility should be facilitated and encouraged for all teachers.

It is important that initial and continuing professional development programs are supported by European cooperation knowledge and experience so that teachers can respect and value cultural diversity and train their students to be EU citizens and responsible for all humanity.

Opportunities to study European languages, including the use of specialist vocabulary, should be available and encouraged during initial teacher education and in continuing professional development programs.

It should increase trust and transparency in teacher qualifications in order to increase the possibility of mutual recognition and mobility in Europe.

Teachers should work in partnership with other stakeholders.

Cooperation between institutions where teachers will be employed and higher education institutions that train teachers should be increased. In order for the education process to be carried out effectively and efficiently, the development of innovation networks on a global and local scale should be encouraged.

Teacher competencies indicated in research on measuring and teaching twenty-first-century skills that twenty-first-century teachers should have are shared in four groups:

Ways of Thinking

Creativity and innovation

Critical thinking, problem solving, decision making

Learning to learn

Working Tools

Information literacy

Information and communication technologies literacy

Ways of Working


Life in the World

Local and global citizenship

Life and career

Personal and social responsibilities

Teachers’ thinking skills, relationship with knowledge, problem-solving skills, and innovative attitude are seen as necessary competencies for teachers to be able to develop strategies in accordance with students’ situations and learning environment and for meaningful learning to take place. Since teaching is characterized by ambiguity, teachers need adaptable mastery, such as the capability to adapt their plans and practices to fulfill students’ learning requirements (Hatano & Oura, 2003 ; Vogt & Rogalla, 2009 ). Using information literacy and information communication technologies correctly within the scope of working tools is important for accessing and organizing information as well as distinguishing the right information and being a producer of information in the unlimited world that information communication technologies provide in accessing information.

Communication skills form an important part of teachers’ skill sets, and their being inclined toward cooperation/teamwork is critical for them to be able to perform the requirements of the profession. Strong awareness of the impact the stakeholders in the learning field have on meaningful learning emphasizes the importance of gaining the habit of working collaboratively in proportion to a teacher’s communication skills. The ability of the learning atmosphere to offer safe, flexible, innovative, and rich content is closely related to how good a team leader a teacher is. Therefore, having teachers cover all roles by fully understanding and distributing the potential of the whole team starting with themself is important (Caena, 2017 ).

Having teachers maintain their professional development is very important both for increasing educational performance and effectiveness as well as for increasing teachers’ commitment, identity, and job satisfaction. Teachers also need to be able to keep up with scientific, pedagogical, and technological developments in their world; to closely follow the needs of a society in constant change; to seek the best for their world; and to view serving society as a responsibility.

Studies on twenty-first-century teacher competencies (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005 ; Feiman-Nemser, 2001 , 2008 ; Geijsel et al., 2009 ; González & Wagenaar, 2005 ; Hagger & McIntyre, 2006 ; Hatano & Oura, 2003 ; Kelly & Grenfell, 2004 ; Krauss et al., 2008 ; Mishra & Koehler, 2006 ; Williamson McDiarmid & Clevenger-Bright, 2008 ) have shown the main motivation of competencies to be increasing people’s employability in the twenty-first-century economic structure. These studies show promoting technology-supported learning in a knowledge-intensive economic structure to be a priority for teachers.

International measurement tools (e.g., Programme for International Student Assessment [PISA], Teaching and Learning International Survey [TALIS]) and studies such as the Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area, as well as societies being more demanding about education, encourage policy makers and practitioners all over the world to improve the quality of education. In particular, the establishment of international competence frameworks by institutions such as the European Commission and OECD, and the emphasis on the critical role teachers have in educational success have brought teacher education reforms to the agenda.

The Effects of Twenty-First-Century Teacher Competencies on Teacher Education

Increasing employability in competitive economic structures that can adapt to the changing world, equipping countries’ workforces with global competitiveness, and the foreseen requirements of future professions have forced countries to reform teacher education. The literature on various models of teacher education in different parts of the world provides content on the reforms and policies being pursued in the field of teacher education. Examples of policies are found in the literature such as teacher recruitment, recruitment procedures, and school-university cooperation (Akiba, 2013 ; Bruno-Jofré & Johnston, 2014 ; Darling-Hammond & Lieberman, 2012 ; Darling-Hammond & Rothman, 2015 ; Livingston & Flores, 2017 ; O’Donoghue & Whitehead, 2008 ).

Current debates on education have brought significant changes to the nature of the teaching profession. Technological pedagogical knowledge has also been added to discussions on content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge (Baumert et al., 2010 ; Shulman, 1987 ). The framework of technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK) argues effective technology integration for teaching specific content or topics to require understanding and negotiating the relationships among technology, pedagogy, and content (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 2010 ).

The influence of international organizations and publications has been significant in the discussions on updating teacher training. Organizations draw attention to the problems experienced in world education systems through annual reports and also publish policy reports on how to deal with these problems. As one of these institutions, OECD ( 2019a ) proposed an education model in a report on teacher education. The document shared information on the steps and content suggestions for pre-service and in-service teacher trainings and presented suggestions on the structure and functioning of the institutions. OECD proposed organizing teacher training on two main axes (i.e., pre-service and in-service training processes). The steps of pre-service education consist of initially selecting teacher education, development through initial teacher education, and introduction to teaching. OECD recommended making the profession attractive to candidates when they initially select teaching as an education and choosing the most suitable candidates among those selecting the profession. After the pre-service teacher is included in the process, preparatory programs must be presented in a high-quality manner so as to equip them with the things they need to know and do during the initial teacher education. The third step of the pre-service training is the certification and recruitment of new teachers during the introduction to teaching. OECD emphasized the need for higher education reform to support new teachers in the first years of their profession as one of the two important steps of in-service training. The second important step is professional development.

Today, OECD’s teacher education model shares common features with the models drawn up by many countries for teacher education strategy documents and has been adapted to the teacher education systems of Australia, Japan, Netherlands, Korea, Norway, and United States (OECD, 2019b ).

Another study (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2021 ) showed the current situation of teachers in Europe handled within the framework of twenty-first-century skills. The report focused on teacher preparation, continuing professional development, and analyzing the current situation in Europe.

Requirements such as teachers’ content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, communication skills, information organization, and leadership in line with twenty-first-century teacher skills classifications mean teachers must have a high level of education. In the 2008 Report on Teacher Education in Europe, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) believed today’s teachers should receive a master’s degree in order to fulfill what is expected of them. After the 1970s in Finland, teachers’ having a master’s degree was adopted among teacher requirements except for preschool due to the understanding of teachers focusing on research, critical thinking, and scientific skills in teacher employment as a requirement for university-based education; preschool and kindergarten teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree (Shalberg, 2010 ). Finnish teacher education is in line with the European Higher Education Area ( 2009 ) framework, which has been built under the continuous Bologna Process. Currently, Finnish universities offer a two-cycle degree program. The three-year compulsory undergraduate program is followed by the two-year graduate program. These two degrees are presented in multidisciplinary programs comprising of studies in at least two subjects. Studies are counted by credit units within the framework of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), which is used in 46 European countries. ECTS is built on the assumption that 60 credits measure the amount of work of a full-time student during an academic year, and each ECTS credit corresponds to approximately 25–30 study hours. Teacher training standards are 180 ECTS credits for a bachelor’s degree, followed by 120 ECTS credits for a master’s degree. Successful completion of a master’s degree in teaching (including a bachelor’s degree) usually follows five to seven-and-a-half years. Finnish teachers with master’s degrees are entitled to engage in postgraduate studies to support their professional development. Many teachers make use of the occasion to pursue doctoral studies in education, often while at the same time teaching at school (European Commission, 2013 ).

A qualified teacher education requires theoretical and practical vocational education in addition to academic subjects. According to TALIS 2018 results, around 70% of all teachers in the EU reported having received training in all three basic elements (subject content, general and subject-related pedagogy, and classroom practice). Nevertheless, this rate was below 60% in Spain, France, and Italy. The new generation of teachers (under 35 years old) seem to benefit more from extensive teacher training in comparison with the general teacher population. In the EU, 75% of young teachers have completed formal education or training including all three basic elements (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2021 ). The teaching practice has been recognized as an integral part of the teacher education curriculum for preparing teachers based on the major reform initiatives to strengthen teacher education in China. The plan is to have pre-service teachers practice teaching for at least 18 weeks (equivalent to one semester) under the supervision of teachers selected for their strong understanding of duty and rich experience. Turkey has always given importance to practical experience in teacher education. In Turkey, teacher candidates can go to schools as interns, make observations, and teach under the supervision of an experienced teacher for the sake of school experience, usually from 2nd grade onward.

Pre-service teacher education has similar characteristics around the world. Pre-service teachers learn the relevant discipline and follow courses in educational sciences and vocational education (Robinson & Mogliacci, 2019 ). The impact twenty-first-century skills have on teacher education can be traced in general terms through a country’s policies. In particular, information and communication technologies are central in almost all countries. Policy makers and teachers are aware that education systems cannot keep up with or cope with the changes brought about by the digital revolution.

Strengthening teachers’ digital skills through in-service training is available in almost every country’s education strategy documents. TALIS 2018 revealed 93% of secondary-school teachers in EU countries to have participated in at least one type of professional development activity in the 12 months preceding the survey. Before COVID-19, teachers often followed a course/seminar in person, read professional literature, or attended an educational conference (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2021 ). When examining the three proficiency areas of the general teaching profession prepared by Turkey’s Ministry of National Education (MoNE), they can be said to be largely compatible with international standards. Although no direct expression of competence for digital skills is found, MoNE has conducted an interdisciplinary project for teachers of mathematics, science, physics, chemistry, biology, Turkish, social sciences, and geography courses in the 2023 Education Vision Document that was shared with the public in October 2018. This document stated that face-to-face workshop training will be given in areas such as 3D design and smart devices (MoNE, 2018a ). Developing content for improving digital skills and providing teacher training to increase teachers’ digital skills are among the 2023 Education Vision targets. MoNE aims to use digital materials as the main teaching material, to associate digital materials with printed materials, and to provide support materials to teachers regarding their effective use. According to the 2023 Education Vision Document, leading teachers to develop digital learning materials will be supported and encouraged (MoNE, 2018a ). The development of teachers’ language and technology skills are found among the common goals of the last five years in MoNE’s ( 2018b ) in-service training programs. China pursues policies that rotate teachers between urban and rural schools to overcome problems of quality disparities in teaching power. In order to ensure the quality of teaching, the practice of assigning assistant teacher educators at schools was designed (Li et al., 2019). China plans financial incentives to encourage the teaching profession, especially for rural people to be able to access quality education. In China, the state tries to correct the imbalance by taking measures to improve the quality of teachers in rural areas. The most striking of the large-scale in-service teacher training projects China has initiated is the National Education Project for Secondary and Primary School Teachers implemented in 2010 with significant funding from the central government. Two sub-projects were carried out within the scope of the project: one for training reform and innovation examples and the other for producing teachers equipped for rural schools. In total, 18 institutions and educational institutions have signed contracts to offer training courses ranging from 10 to 15 days for 27,000 school teachers in different status such as branch teachers and classroom supervisors. New Zealand organizes in-service programs focusing on core competencies in teacher education (European Commission, 2013 ).

Mobility is recognized as an important requirement in teacher training. According to a report from the European commission (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2021 ):

In 2018, a minority of teachers (40.9%) in the EU went abroad at least one time in the course of their career, either as students, as teachers, or both.

From 2013 to 2018, more teachers were able to experience transnational mobility. According to the available data, teacher mobility between European countries/regions increased by 16%.

Compared to Reading, Social Studies, Science, and Mathematics teachers, foreign language teachers are the most active. However, approximately 30% of the foreign language teachers who participated in the survey have never gone abroad for professional purposes.

Being mobile during study years is related to being mobile later on as a teacher. In all European countries included in the analysis, it was observed that teachers who were active during their initial teacher education tended to remain mobile later on.

EU programs are an important source of funding for teachers’ transnational mobility.

Few countries, such as Western and Northern European countries, are able to implement national funding programs that support teachers to spend time abroad for professional development. It has been observed that participation in transnational mobility is higher in countries that organize programs that encourage teachers to go abroad for their professional development.

Although there is a consensus that transnational mobility contributes to teachers’ development of various competences and therefore should be encouraged, only a small proportion of teachers in Europe have gone abroad for professional purposes. In 2018, only 40.9% of teachers in the EU were mobilized at least once as a student, teacher, or as both student and teacher. In the Northern and Baltic countries of Czechia, Cyprus, Spain, the Netherlands, and Slovenia, teacher mobility is above the EU level. From 2013 to 2018, teacher transnational mobility increased in all 17 European countries for which data were available.

Within the scope of measures to increase teacher qualifications, the European Commission ( 2013 ) report mentions the filter system among the policies implemented by countries to increase teacher qualifications:

Teacher candidates are subjected to national exams in countries such as Croatia and Slovenia.

Interviews happen in Malta; orientation and/or consultancy practices occur in Austria.

In the Netherlands, selective national accreditation processes ensure the competence and quality of new teachers.

Belgium has two competence frameworks in teacher education: one for careers for experienced teachers and one for core competences for beginners. The main purpose of these qualifications frameworks is to provide a guide for professional development, improve quality, create a common language, and promote teachers’ awareness of their responsibilities and professional self-development.

In a teacher qualifications study in Turkey (MoNE, 2017 ), field knowledge and field education competencies were added to the general competencies instead of specifying a separate field competency for each teaching field, thus creating a single holistic text that includes the competencies for each teacher in their field. The general competencies of the teaching profession were updated in this context and consist of three interrelated and complementary competency areas: professional knowledge, professional skills, and attitudes and values. These three areas cover 11 competencies and 64 indicators related to these competencies. Turkey has attempted many different applications in teacher education and has started implementing the interview system in the recruitment processes alongside the national selection exam. In the process of starting the job, candidates perform teaching practices.

Teacher competencies in China are determined by 61 indicators listed under three dimensions: teacher ethics, content knowledge, and professional competence (Lo et al., 2013 , p. 246).

Finland has two stages in the process of choosing a primary school teacher. In the first place, a group of nominees is selected according to the results of the proficiency test, the high school diploma awarded by the school, and the record of their extracurricular achievements. Secondly:

Nominees take an essay test from the Pedagogy books given to them.

Nominees participate in an observed clinical activity that mimics school scenarios where social interaction and communication skills play a role.

The best nominees are interviewed and asked to explain why they choose to be a teacher. These highly talented nominees complete a thorough teacher education program with sponsorship from the government (Shalberg, 2010 ). Strategies for collaborative and problem-based learning, reflective practice, and computer-assisted education are common to all Finnish universities.

This study deals with twenty-first-century teacher education and skills and has shown changes in contacting knowledge has changed teachers’ positions and what is expected of them. The rapid access to unlimited information resources as an important benefit of digitalization and the changes in social life have impacted all societies. The people and institutions involved in organizing education have also been significantly affected by this change. Learning environments, schools, classrooms, student profiles, parent profiles, and school management have all been affected by this change. As such, education systems reforms have focused on adapting technical facilities to education. Important responsibilities have befallen schools, in particular teachers, for adapting learners’ profiles to the changing world and their employability in new business structures. In countries like Turkey where families have low access to technology and are limited in its use, schools and teachers should obviously also take on the responsibility for combating this inequality.

Teachers are expected to set time aside both for their own learning as well as for their students’ learning by encouraging the effective use of technology with the aim of improving students’ individual learning speeds. Not perceiving the relationship between education and technology to be limited to information exchange and acting by paying attention to the importance of safe and beneficial technology uses are among the important responsibilities teachers have in character development.

Having teachers take new learning environments into account is imperative when they organize and prepare their lessons. The new learning environment expresses one that is diverse in many aspects (i.e., multinational, multicultural, multi-component, multifaceted, and nourished by different value judgments) and no longer considers anything with a single function to be remarkable. In such an environment, the teacher should be aware of sharing the role of teaching with the digital world.

Considering teacher education from a realistic perspective is important in order to be able to reach the desired goal regarding teachers’ changing position and the skills they should have. When examining the relevant literature, twenty-first-century skills appear as a guide in teacher education in almost all countries. Although saying that clear syllabuses exist in practice is difficult, the strategy documents are seen to have been created with a strong perspective on twenty-first-century skills. Information and communication technologies in particular have been the focus of these studies. The common feature in teacher education reform studies is a focus on any of the processes involving pre-service teaching, starting a job position, or in-service teaching. However, the teacher training system includes all pre-service, recruitment, and in-service processes. Having policy makers and practitioners consider the issue from this perspective is important. Determining qualification standards without a strong implementation should be noted as being meaningless, and having institutions act collaboratively both in determining teachers’ skills and in organizing teacher training should be considered essential.

When training a qualified teacher, having teacher educators obtain at least a master’s degree or doctorate, have experience in the field, have national and international mobility opportunities, and have positive salaries and work conditions is important. Attention has been drawn to issues such as providing continuous professional development opportunities for teachers who have started their profession, improving work conditions, and ensuring social acceptance of the importance of their profession. However, supporting new teachers in matters such as lightening their curriculum, participating in guidance programs, facilitating their access to necessary support resources, providing the opportunity to systematically link theory and practice, and consulting with their colleagues while providing that their wages are preserved is important. In teacher trainings, having mentors who are qualified and experienced specialist teachers should be encouraged both in pre-service and in in-service training.

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Gümüş, A. (2022). Twenty-First-Century Teacher Competencies and Trends in Teacher Training. In: Alpaydın, Y., Demirli, C. (eds) Educational Theory in the 21st Century. Maarif Global Education Series. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-9640-4_11

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Research for development in the 21st century

a CNRS, IRD, Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences - Paris, UMR (CNRS, IRD, INRA, Sorbonne University, UPEC), Paris, France

b Institute of Technology of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

c Institut National de Recherches en Génie Rural, Eaux et Forêts, Université de Carthage, Tunisia

M. Calabi Floody

d BIOREN, UFRO, Temuco, Chile

e Gachamaleh, lot 18, 1095 Djibouti, Djibouti

f Soils and Fertilizers Research Institute, Hanoi, Viet Nam

g School of Environmental Sciences, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, India

J.L. Janeau

P. podwojewski.

h Institute of Chemistry, VAST, Hanoi, Viet Nam

M. Sanaullah

i Institute of Soil and Environmental Sciences, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan

A recent discussion in Geoderma dealt with the occurrence of helicopter research in soil science, an unethical practice, characterized by little involvement of local researchers and Indigenous populations, and small benefits to local scientific communities ( Minasny et al., 2020 ). The topic is crucial and will, undoubtedly, cause vibrant discussions.

This paper was written by an international interdisciplinary team composed of researchers from 4 continents. We provide a historical perspective on soil research for development integrating the viewpoints of the developed and developing world. We critically assess the way in which countries tackle international research collaboration and provide a way forward towards fruitful partnerships in the 21 st century.

It has been pointed out that helicopter research can be identified by an international author list, including one or two local researchers at the end of the list ( Minasny et al., 2020 ). Research papers are the most visible result of international research collaboration and may reveal the individualism of our societies. However, such a view may be quite limited, because publications are the outcomes of scientific exchanges, which are only possible after the formulation of scientific questions and hypotheses, acquisition and analyses of data, the utilization of infrastructures such as laboratories and experimental or observatory fields, often after obtaining funding from projects. Since international research projects mainly originate from western countries (e.g. the European H2020 projects), a subtle dependency arises between soil scientists from the Global North (i.e., countries, whose gross domestic product (GDP) identifies them as developed) coming with their own research agenda and budgets and local scientists from the Global South (i.e., countries, whose GDP identifies them as developing countries) benefiting, directly or indirectly, from this cooperation. Inevitably, the risk of such a system is to create an unbalanced relationship, which may ignore local priorities. This typically occurs when tropical soils are used as models for doing fundamental research (e.g., the dynamics of carbon or the relationship between soil ecology and soil formation) by scientists from the Global North, while local scientists in developing countries could be more interested in applied aspects such as the relation between specific soil management practices and agricultural yield. Another mostly invisible aspect of helicopter research refers to the training of Master and PhD students from the Global South on topics which are undoubtedly priorities from the Global North but not necessarily those of their own countries. Similarly, the implementation of long term observatories (e.g., ecological field stations or Critical Zone Observatories) in developing countries, which are run with funds from developed countries are often not (yet) considered as a priority by local governments.

However, even if international cooperation is often unbalanced and helicopter research remains an issue, a historical perspective offers some reasons for optimism. An example is the evolution of the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD). This institute was formerly called ORSTOM and has colonial origins. It comprises >2000 staff working in over 40 countries in a variety of disciplines concerning environmental, health and societal subjects. The French researchers and technical staff are hired to do research in developing countries. Their role evolved from doing colonial research in the interest of France towards a collaborative oriented research approach intended to make a lasting contribution to the economic, social and cultural progress of developing countries. Soil science researchers from IRD nowadays develop inclusive approaches emphasizing interdisciplinary sustainability research aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Their mission is to do research, training and innovation in the Global South, with the Global South and for the Global South ( IRD, 2018 ). Partnership with researchers from developing countries is viewed as key. How do these institutional principles translate into the practical work of the French researchers working in developing countries? Firstly, it is important to mention that the researchers sent overseas (29% of the staff, IRD, 2018 ) are placed within partner institutions and are thus in close contact with local researchers. However, due to the fact that their placement in countries is more dictated by the geopolitical interest of France than by the local research agenda and demand, independent IRD researchers are in danger of becoming free-riders working on subjects of their own interest with funding from the North. This can indeed lead to helicopter research (e.g. Rumpel et al., 2006 ). However, due to their placement within the countries’ partner institutes instead of IRD owned research stations, this research most often still had an impact on the local research environment, as it focused on capacity building through training of Master and PhD students, and technical staff from their host institutions. In order to further equal the relationship between scientists from France and from developing countries, since a few years IRD has established new programs favoring co-construction of research projects giving funding and autonomy to associated young research teams (JEAI), Mixed International Laboratories (LMI), Mixed International Units (UMI), and International Research Laboratory Networks (GDRI) involving South-South collaborations. As a result of this new policy, co-authorship of scientific articles by authors from IRD and scientists from developing countries increased. For example, a bibliometric analysis showed that over 90% of the 62 IRD-involved articles published in Geoderma since 2005 with fieldwork in developing countries have also a co-author from the local country. This percentage increased to 95% in 2012, and to 100% in the last 4 years. The IRD has an open access policy for developing countries ( Rossi, 2017 ) with 7821 studies referring to soil science, largely accessed by researchers from the Global South. The IRD instruments and IRD interventions in developing countries have positive as well as negative aspects. Positive aspects relate to the funding of research and involvement of local groups and, in recent years, to the encouragement of South-South collaboration. But depending on the context, negative aspects in terms of loss of sovereignty and even competition with local groups are also occurring, especially in countries where language barriers exist and IRD researchers therefore are not completely integrated into the local research environment. In such a situation, little benefit of the research is to be expected for local stakeholders, who in the end do not care if published papers are “helicopter research” or “non-helicopter research”. When doing research for development intended to address local needs as well as global challenges, stakeholder involvement may thus be crucial ( Giller, 2020 ).

Initiatives to establish international collaboration are not limited to Northern Countries. An excellent example for successful establishment of South-North collaboration comes from Chile, which until recently was a developing country and could not afford to establish sophisticated soil research laboratories all over the nation. To overcome this limitation, the National Foundation for Science and Technology (CONICYT) launched several governmental funding programs to encourage South-North collaboration. One of their strategies is based on funding of research leaves for Chilean PhD students to spend several months overseas in international laboratories (CONICYT/Internship scholarships abroad). To favor international collaboration and exchange, Chilean research projects usually involve funding for one international expert per year, who is invited to visit a Chilean lab and to contribute to the science (FONDECYT/REGURAL/INICIACION). To further enhance international cooperation, CONICYT in 2000 developed the International Cooperation Program (PCI), to encourage establishment of global research networks. This program has specific funding opportunities to identify Northern partners to promote local research. An example of this is the ECOS-CONICYT program for Chilean-French collaboration established in 2005. Last year a joint call with the German Max Planck institutes, which also promotes South-North interactions, was launched. Through supporting such actions, the country makes sure that the foreign contribution is benefitting the local research agenda. Similarly, PERIDOT is the Franco-Pakistani collaborative Program, providing opportunities to Pakistani and French researchers to carry out joint research activities. The main agenda of this program is to develop new scientific and technological cooperation between French and Pakistani higher education institutions and research laboratories by supporting the mobility of researchers from both sides. Drawbacks of such programs include the fact that they provide travel support instead of research money, which would be necessary to ensure equality when common research projects are developed.

International research collaboration is thus strongly context dependent. Sovereignty should be one of the guiding principles. It is therefore important to respect (1) ethical rules in terms of interest of local research communities and Indigenous people, and (2) regulations, such as the protocol of Nagoya on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization ( UN, 2011 ) and others for the sampling and sending soil samples to a laboratory in the North when there are no analytical possibilities in their country of origin. This is especially important in developing countries with a colonial history.

The grand challenges of our time require rapid, profound transformations in soil management practices and in our approach to research and training. The Covid-19 crisis has proven to be a pressure cooker for more inclusive approaches to teaching and international exchange through virtual lecturing, webinars and even free conferences including participants from developed and developing countries. We should take advantage of this crisis to adopt such technologies for more inclusiveness in global research collaboration.

As radical transformations are needed to adapt to global threats, lessons are also to be learned from developing countries. A typically example is the highly efficient management of the Covid-19 epidemic crisis in Asia as compared to Europe and America. Therefore, international collaborations, in particular South-South collaboration and South-North collaboration are extremely important ( Lal, 2019 ). Researchers from the Global North should acknowledge that since the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), all nations can be considered as developing countries, as a country may be rich in terms of GDP, but may fail to reach environment-related SDGs ( Gore, 2015 ). In the 21st century, a global focus on development is tempting as it offers opportunities for addressing universal issues such as climate change, food security, etc. holistically ( Horner, 2019 ). For soils, which are important for multiple development issues, international collaboration is required, which needs to take into account locally specific pedoclimatic and socio-economic conditions. To guarantee equality in the relationship between researchers from North and South, and to encourage sovereignty of South-South collaboration, global funding programs are urgently needed.

Finally, helicopter research may be universal, unintended and related to human nature with American researchers publishing results from France without French contributors ( Hupy and Schaetzl, 2008 ) or researchers from developing countries publishing research carried out with researchers from developed countries but without including them as co-authors. Regulations such as the Nagoya protocol and publication ethics are thus necessary and need to be respected in soil science research to make sure that research is a source of global solutions, equal collaboration and sharing of common findings rather than creating tension and exclusion.

Declaration of competing interest

The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.

Handling Editor: Jan Willem Van Groenigen

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  • DOI: 10.24042/biosfer.v14i2.15818
  • Corpus ID: 267462190

The Understanding by Design Strategy in 21st-Century Education

  • Wulan Dari , Saleh Hidayat , Eka Wulandari
  • Published in Biosfer: Jurnal Tadris… 19 January 2024
  • Biosfer: Jurnal Tadris Biologi

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Language teaching research, related papers.

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Complexity science could transform 21st-century research. Here’s how.

Abstract image of interconnected golden lines and nodes forming complex geometric patterns against a dark background, resembling a neural network or web.

  • Complexity science shifts scientific inquiry from predictable laws to studying dynamic, emergent systems.
  • In this 13.8 column, Adam Frank overviews what complexity science is and what distinguishes relatively simple systems from complex systems.
  • By taking a transdisciplinary approach to studying complex systems, complexity science could help us tackle some of the most interesting questions of the 21st century: What is life? How do minds work? What drives the directions of social organization? And how does a biosphere co-evolve with the rest of a planet? 

A new science is emerging that promises to become the defining field of the 21st century. More than just a narrow specialization, it’s not just a new field but a new way of doing science — a new way of organizing intellectual domains and effort. Given its broad impact, it goes by several names, but the one that embraces its full potential is complexity science. Today, I want to briefly introduce why it’s already so important and why it’s likely to define the frontiers of human inquiry for decades to come.

Complexity science

I’m writing this essay after beginning a door-jam of a book called Foundational Papers in Complexity Science. Volume One, 1922-1962 . It’s part of an intended four-volume set to be published by the incomparable Santa Fe Institute (SFI). As promised in the title, the book contains key papers in the development of complexity as a field. What really makes the book worthwhile, however, is that each paper features an introduction written by a current researcher and annotated by that scientist. Even better yet, the first volume contains a masterful introduction to the field by David Krakauer , the head of SFI.

In that introduction, Krakauer lays out a clear, penetrating argument for what makes complexity science so important and such a break with the long history of scientific thinking. He introduces the idea of two different kinds of topics of study in the world: the A and B systems. The A systems exhibit fundamental regularities, obey simple laws, require minimal assumptions, and require minimal initial conditions. The targets of celestial mechanics (i.e., the clockwork behavior of the Solar System) are representative of an A system. The B systems are very different. Their description requires contingent histories with novel structures and behavior that emerge from nested hierarchies of sub-components. Most importantly, the B systems are always far from equilibrium. Energy and entropy flow through them allowing them to self-organize into self-adaptive structures where evolution (i.e., selection) plays an essential role.

As Krakauer points out, the A and B systems are so different that even the most perfect tool used for an A system — think of, for example, a super-powerful microscope that could resolve everything down to the sub-atomic scale — would be almost useless for the B systems. 

The key aspect of B systems is their organization, which cannot be fully understood by reducing them to their fundamental (or “basal”) components. For example, consider an ecosystem like a rainforest. The interactions between plants, animals, microorganisms, and the environment create a complex web of relationships that cannot be understood by studying individual components in isolation. It’s the dynamic patterns of information within their organization that are crucial. As Krakauer puts it, “reductionism… not only fails to explain complexity; it fails to detect it.”

4 key elements of complexity

Complexity science deals with all those complicated B systems. Its purview runs the gamut from hurricanes to viruses to cells to nervous systems to societies to machines that might be capable of thinking. In this way, Krakauer identifies four domains that underpin complexity. 

The first is evolution . When systems evolve through selection, it means some features persist and change while others are eliminated. In this way, entirely new orders of behavior become possible. 

The second is entropy . This is a recognition that complex systems are not just complicated. Instead, they are engines of energy transformation. They pull energy from their surroundings, making them thermodynamically “open,” and transform the free part of that energy into work. That work usually involves making the system self-creating and self-maintaining. In the process, fluxes of entropy are generated that wash through the system and out into the environment. 

The next feature is dynamics , which goes hand-in-hand with entropy. Complex systems can often be described using “dynamical system theory,” where rich, non-linear, and often chaotic behaviors allow for rich behaviors to emerge. 

The final feature is computation . Complex systems are best described in terms of their use of information. Use here means storage, copying, transmission, and processing. Rocks don’t use information. Complex systems do.

The overlap of these different features means that complexity science is more than physics, more than biology, more than computer science, and more than mathematics. It is not multi-disciplinary — it’s transdisciplinary . It rises above them all, creating something entirely new. The old silos that gave us separate disciplines will still exist but the walls separating them will need to become porous. 

In terms of importance, complexity science will define the forefront of 21st-century science because it will drive transformative change. The major problems we face, from climate change to threats to democracy to artificial intelligence, all fall within the purview of complexity science. Just as compelling, complexity science will be the engine for answering the most interesting questions of the 21st century: What is life? How do minds work? What drives the directions of social organization? How does a biosphere co-evolve with the rest of a planet? 

While older science focusing on those A questions will continue and still discover amazing things, it no longer represents the most fertile ground for pushing at the edge of the future. That’s because the future belongs to complexity.

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Watch CBS News

How did Juneteenth get its name? Here's the story behind the holiday's title

By Emily Mae Czachor

June 19, 2024 / 7:00 AM EDT / CBS News

June 19 marks the third consecutive year of Juneteenth as a federally recognized United States holiday. Also known as  Freedom Day , Emancipation Day or America's second Independence Day, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. after the Civil War. 

Many Americans have celebrated it annually for more than a century, even though the holiday was not officially added to the national calendar until 2021. As the  Black Lives Matter movement gained renewed power across the country and abroad the previous year with the police killings of Black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor , public calls grew louder for the federal government to acknowledge emancipation as the critical turning point it was in U.S. history. Advocates sought, again, for leaders to codify the Juneteenth holiday into law, decades after communities began to push for broader recognition of Juneteenth as an emblem of unity, power and resilience in the wake of the police beating of Rodney King in 1991.

Federal recognition came in 2021. A bill to solidify Juneteenth National Independence Day as a legal public holiday passed almost unanimously through both chambers of Congress before being signed by President Biden on June 18. At a White House ceremony held for the occasion, Mr. Biden said: "All Americans can feel the power of this day, and learn from our history." It was the first time a national holiday was established in the U.S. since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was set to honor the late civil rights leader's birthday in 1983.

Juneteenth became a legal federal holiday in the U.S. on the eve of its earliest nationwide observance on June 19, 2021. It is observed and celebrated each year on that same date. 

The origins of Juneteenth

The name, Juneteenth, is a portmanteau, combining June and nineteenth. Its origins date back to June 19, 1865 , when the last group of people enslaved in the southern U.S. were informed of their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863, declaring that everyone held as a slave was, and would continue to be, free. 

The proclamation took effect as the country neared its second year of the Civil War and technically applied to enslaved people in Confederate states. However, it could not actually be implemented in Confederate territory, and the war would not end in victory for the Union Army until much later, in the spring of 1865. In Texas, the westernmost state controlled by the Confederacy, news of freedom and the tenets of the Emancipation Proclamation arrived that summer. On June 19, thousands of Union soldiers reached Galveston Bay, along the northeastern coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico, and announced that all enslaved people in the state were freed by executive order. 


At the time, more than 250,000 Black people were being held as slaves in Texas alone, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which writes in a description of the holiday that the "historical legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of never giving up hope in uncertain times." Once the Emancipation Proclamation laid its roots in Texas, those freed from slavery declared the day of its arrival "Juneteenth" in homage to the date when it finally happened. 

Although the Emancipation Proclamation set the stage, critically, for an end to slavery throughout the U.S., it was the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that actually did it. The amendment's passage through Congress and across Lincoln's desk began in January 1865. It was ratified in December of that year, abolishing slavery nationwide.

How to celebrate Juneteenth

Observing Juneteenth each year on June 19 does memorialize that specific day in Galveston in 1865, but it is also symbolic. Many regard the holiday as a joyful anniversary of independence and an opportunity to remember the country's foundation on centuries of slavery.

Historically, communities in different parts of the U.S. have celebrated Emancipation Day on different dates, a tradition that nodded to the fact that news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached people enslaved by the Confederacy at different times after the Civil War. In Florida, for example, advocates in 2021 pushed for the state to recognize and observe Emancipation Day on May 20, because that was the date in 1865 when news of Lincoln's executive decree reached enslaved people there. Washington, D.C., has in the past observed a city-wide Emancipation Day on April 16.

Juneteenth celebrations vary. Public festivities often include parades, parties, concerts, educational workshops and other cultural events centered on art and cuisine. For some, commemorating Juneteenth is mainly about tapping into the spirit of the holiday. Koritha Mitchell, an English professor at Ohio State University who celebrated Juneteenth growing up in a small town outside of Houston, told CBS News in 2021 that, for her, the day revolved around family and "creating community and connection."  

Opal Lee, the retired teacher and counselor whose activism played a huge role in Juneteenth becoming a federally recognized holiday, recalled joyful memories of the annual celebrations in the Texas town where she lived as a child.

"When I was a little one and we lived in Marshall, Texas, we'd go to the fairground," she said in a  CBS News interview  in 2022. "There'd be games and food and food and food. I'm here to tell ya it was like Christmas!"

Lee, now 97, became known as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth" for her famous trek from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., to ultimately deliver 1.5 million signatures to Congress advocating for a law to make the date a federal holiday. She shared her thoughts on the essence of Juneteenth in that 2022 interview. 

"People think it's a Black thing when it's not. It's not a Texas thing. It's not that," Lee said. "Juneteenth means freedom, and I mean for everybody!"

Emily Mae Czachor is a reporter and news editor at CBSNews.com. She covers breaking news, often focusing on crime and extreme weather. Emily Mae has previously written for outlets including the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed and Newsweek.

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Abortion United Evangelicals and Republicans. Now That Alliance Is Fraying.

The southern baptist convention, long a bellwether for american evangelicalism, voted to oppose the use of in vitro fertilization..

This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email [email protected] with any questions.

From “The New York Times,” I’m Sabrina Tavernise. And this is “The Daily.”

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, voted at its annual gathering last week to condemn IVF fertility treatments. Today, my colleague Ruth Graham on the story behind the vote the Republicans scrambled and prompted, and what it could eventually mean for the rest of the country.

It’s Monday, June 17.

So, Ruth, you write about religion for “The Times” and you were covering the big annual meeting of Southern baptists last week. And they made a pretty big decision. Tell us about it.

The Southern Baptist Convention, it’s the biggest Protestant denomination in the United States. They have almost 13 million members, more than 45,000 churches. It’s a huge group.

And Southern Baptists know their political power. And they are basically a barometer of evangelical sentiment in the US. You know, what they say kind of indicates what the typical evangelical cares about in any given moment. And fun for reporters, they all meet once a year in this giant gathering that any church can send delegates to. The delegates are called messengers.

So this year that meeting was in Indianapolis. There were almost 11,000 messengers there in the convention center. And one of the important political topics they took on this year was something they have never discussed as a full body before, and that’s the ethics of in-vitro fertilization.

OK. So this very important conference of Southern Baptists takes up IVF. In other words, the medical procedure that allows people to get pregnant through fertilization in a lab. So what do they say?

So a lot of Southern Baptists historically have not taken issue with IVF per se at all. They view it as a technology used to create life. You know, it’s used by families who desperately want to be parents, and they view that as a positive thing.

But the procedure does involve, typically, the production of more embryos than will be used by the couple that created them. And those embryos end up sometimes discarded, sometimes frozen indefinitely, sometimes donated, but not used in the way that they were originally created to be used. So some Southern Baptists do take issue with discarding those excess embryos. And the reason is they say life begins at conception.

This is sort of a core anti-abortion belief. The moment that the sperm meets the egg, that is the stuff of life. There’s a verse in Psalms, “You created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

And you’ll hear that cited in Christian anti-abortion spaces a lot as evidence that God cares about and views as fully human human beings at the very moment of conception. And that would include these frozen embryos.

Right. If you truly believe that life begins at conception, you probably would not agree to abortion at any stage of gestation. And that same logic would apply to IVF. So when this issue gets raised at the conference, what happens? What are people saying?

So there’s a resolution that comes to the floor. Resolutions in Southern Baptist language are nonbinding. This would not be a ban. It’s just a statement of concern that’s meant to summarize Southern Baptist opinion on this particular topic.

So the language that’s proposed calls on Southern Baptists to reaffirm the value of human life. And then it narrows in on human life in an embryonic stage. And it urges them to just use reproductive technologies, fertility treatments that are consistent with that view of human life.

What does that mean?

They’re actually walking a pretty fine line here. They stopped short of saying that a Southern Baptist should never use IVF under any circumstances. They’re calling attention to these excess embryos and saying that, you know, Baptists really should only use reproductive technology with attention to life at this embryonic stage. And the resolution also goes so far as to ask Baptists to call on their governments to restrain these kind of technologies that violate the dignity of, as they put it, quote, “frozen embryonic human beings.”

Hm. So they’re also actually asking people to pressure their governments to respect this position, basically?

That’s right. It’s light on specifics, but that’s the suggestion.

But Ruth, why did they decide to raise this issue now? I mean, IVF obviously has been around for a long time,

Right. So back in February, there was a case that reached the Alabama Supreme Court that had started when a group of families in the state filed this wrongful death claim over a mistake at a fertility clinic where their frozen embryos were accidentally destroyed. They sue, and the state Supreme Court ends up ruling not only in their favor, but says really clearly that frozen embryos should be considered children. So the Chief Justice writes, “Even before birth, all human beings have the image of God and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing His glory.”

So really putting out this religious argument for human life in embryonic form. So that case lands like a bomb.


The stunning decision from Alabama’s Supreme Court has enormous and immediate consequences for fertility care.

And it really caught a lot of people off guard. You know, all along the spectrum.

A third fertility clinic in Alabama has shut down after the state Supreme Court ruled embryos are children.

The court offered no clear roadmap for what is and isn’t legal.

And it just places this question about the ethics and the legal aspects and all of this, it just puts IVF into the national conversation.

We’re concerned that with the new ruling, we may have to limit fertilization of eggs, which will limit success of treatment, limit efficiency, increase cost, and of course, risk to patients.

It’s a stressful process already. And I don’t need the added stress, and no woman does, of whether or not this might be moral to go through to have children when this is my only path.

And there’s this really strong backlash to the idea that embryos should be protected with the force of the law as full human beings. Because IVF is broadly popular, including among many Republican voters.

Alabama House of Representatives and the Senate have passed a law that restores access to in vitro fertilization. Doctors at clinics have told ABC News the new language will give them enough reassurance to resume IVF without facing legal risks.

Ultimately, the state legislature, the Republican governor work really quickly to reinstate it in the state. But it opens up this new conversation among conservative evangelicals who are broadly anti-abortion. And they’re starting to think should we think about this IVF conversation in the same way that we’ve thought about abortion? Should we be pushing on this more?

So most of the country takes the lesson from the Alabama case that IVF is not something to be interfered with. But for some in the evangelical community, they take the opposite lesson, it sounds like.

That’s right. For some evangelicals, this feels like the perfect moment to bring IVF into the abortion conversation and start to turn the tide against it. One of these people is an ethicist in Kentucky. His name is Andrew Walker. He works at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It’s a major Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville.

And he’s been wanting to bring IVF into sort of the mainstream Southern Baptist consciousness for a while. He first started writing about it about five years ago. He actually published an essay in a sort of mainstream evangelical publication about it, got a lot of pushback, never felt it was the right moment to bring a resolution to the meeting, but he’s had this tucked in the back of his mind because he has this pretty clear conviction that IVF does not comport with Christian anti-abortion values.

So when the Alabama ruling happens, and the backlash, and the broader conversation, Andrew Walker thinks, you know, this is the moment. So he calls his friend and mentor, Dr. Al Mohler, who’s the president of the seminary where they both work. And he says, let’s do it.

Let’s start crafting a resolution for the meeting this year. And we’ll see if it gets forward. We’ll see if it gets discussed. We’ll see if it gets approved. But we’ve got to strike while the iron is hot here.

And did Baptists like Walker understand that a resolution like this would have potentially quite bad implications for mainstream Republican politicians? Like, wasn’t that the lesson of Alabama?

Yes. And I talked with both Dr. Walker and Dr. Mohler about this. And they both said they were completely aware of that. They didn’t love it, but they both felt that that was not their highest priority. That was not their highest responsibility.

And if anything, Dr. Mohler said this in particular, he wanted to nudge Republicans on the issue. He actually said he wanted to do more than nudge Republicans. He wanted to call them out. And so this would be a really high profile way to show to Republicans, look, we’ve got thousands of mainstream Southern Baptists in a room here who are all expressing collective alarm and opposition to IVF as it’s commonly practiced.

OK. So Baptist leaders nevertheless put this proposal to a vote on the floor. Tell us about how that went, when they put this proposal in front of thousands of other evangelicals.

It was really dramatic.


We’re in this cavernous convention hall where, over the course of the last few days, there’s been singing of hymns. People have heard sermons. There’s been prayers. They’ve sent missionaries out. They’ve been sort of together in the work of making their convention what they want it to be.

Microphone 3A, would you give us your name, your church, and proceed with your discussion?

Yes. Daniel Taylor, messenger —

And then there’s this incredibly dramatic discussion and debate about the ethics of something so personal.

Thank you, Mr President. I rise to speak in favor of this amendment, out of both a heart for the unborn and for those stricken with infertility.

Anyone is allowed to come to the microphone under Southern Baptist rules. And you had two men come to the microphone to share really personal stories —

From my friends, the initial steps of IVF yielded six viable embryos. Four of the embryos were implanted and two were frozen for a time. Only one survived to term, their son and my godson. Because of him, I thank God for IVF.

One has a godson born via IVF.

I have a son because of IVF. I have another son 20 weeks old in my wife’s womb because of IVF.

The other has one child and his wife pregnant with a second via IVF.

I am for the sanctity of life and for the sanctity of embryos. I am against the idea that this technology is so wicked that it cannot be employed.

And both spoke about just loving these children and seeing the technology as a blessing from God.

I thank the authors of the resolution and the committee for the opportunity for the SBC to be a voice of biblical truth and clarity in this pressing cultural issue.

A woman came to the microphone, sort of on the other side.

In addition to my living children, I am the mother of four babies that I never got to hold. Two of those babies we adopted as embryos. Nothing in the process of IVF upholds the sanctity of life. There is no way to describe the treatment of embryos at any point in the IVF process as ethical or dignified.

To share that she had participated in embryo adoption, meaning that she had another family’s embryos implanted in her womb to try to bring those pregnancies to fruition. And in this case, she miscarried both times. But she had done that out of a sense of really moral obligation to these embryos as human life.

And it was quiet. I mean, people are really listening to these really personal stories and wrestling with them. This is personal for a lot of people in that room. But at the end of all this, it’s time to vote on the resolution.

So in the end, the language has been really carefully crafted to kind of bring Southern Baptists along on this argument. So it affirms that God loves all children, no matter the circumstances of their conception. It expresses empathy for couples trying to conceive. It says it’s a good and positive thing to want to have children, to expand your family.

And then it arrives at this point of saying that IVF, as it’s commonly practiced, is not an ethical option for Southern Baptists in most circumstances. So this resolution comes to a vote, to the thousands of people in that room. They’re all sitting in folding chairs. They raise their little orange ballots in favor or against. And the resolution passes overwhelmingly.

So this resolution ultimately passes. But how important is it really if it’s just an expression of sentiment, it’s not actually a directive to do something?

It’s hugely significant. This is the first major public statement that this group of influential evangelicals, frankly, influential Republican voters have made on this issue. And it really sets them up on a collision course with mainstream Republicans.

We’ll be right back.

So Ruth, you said that this vote really sets evangelicals on a collision course with mainstream Republicans. What did that look like?

So mainstream Republicans, in the wake of the Alabama ruling, have really circled the wagons to try to show that they are not only totally comfortable with IVF, but are going to go to great lengths to preserve it. And they see it as pro-family. They know that’s how most of their constituents view it. They want to really show that they see that as totally separate from the conversation about abortion and that they are going to be the ones to preserve access to IVF. And so on the very same day this happened in Indianapolis, in Washington —

I want to yield to the senator from Alabama, Senator Britt.

Thank you so much.

— Senator Katie Britt of Alabama, she’s an evangelical Christian, she gets up on the floor of the Senate and gives this impassioned speech supporting IVF.

I was proud to join my colleague from Texas in introducing The IVF Protection Act. I am —

She, with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, has put forward this bill that they say is intended to protect IVF access by blocking Medicaid funding to states that ban it outright. Democrats say that actually would not have done anything to fix the problem. And there are these kind of jockeying bills. But still, she gets up on the Senate floor —

Look, as a mom, I know firsthand that there’s no greater joy in this life than that of being a mother. IVF helps aspiring parents —

— and speaks, as a mom, as she puts it, in defense of IVF.

IVF access is fundamentally pro-family.

She’s wearing this really prominent cross necklace. And she talks about how supporting IVF is pro-family, that that’s the pro-family point of view.

We all have loved ones, whether they’re family members or friends, who have become parents or grandparents through IVF.

And she puts out a statement the same day, with Senator Cruz, and it’s signed by all of her Republican colleagues, including Josh Hawley, Marsha Blackburn, every conservative across the spectrum in the Senate signs on to this support for IVF.

So even the most conservative Republicans in Congress are coming out with this position that’s really at odds with evangelicals.

That’s right. IVF is hugely popular. Fertility treatments are widely used, including by evangelicals. Most people don’t even think negatively about this stuff, let alone want to ban it. So it’s a real dilemma for Republicans to watch evangelicals potentially turn in this direction.

So there’s pressure from the Southern Baptist Convention on mainstream Republicans, which I have to imagine is making Democrats pretty happy. I mean, I saw President Biden out there with a fundraising email the day that the Southern Baptists voted.

That’s right. I mean, Democrats are really leaning into reproductive rights right now. They’re putting abortion measures on ballots in November. They know that’s going to attract their voters. It’s going to attract independents.

They’re pointing out these restrictions. They’re talking about this stuff. And the vote last week from the Southern Baptists is another suggestion that there’s this movement out there that doesn’t just want to regulate at 15 weeks, not just at 12 weeks, not just at 6 weeks, but, you know, all the way down to the embryo in the lab. So I think Democrats see an opportunity here to exploit this growing divide between evangelicals and Republicans, at least on this issue.

And this is all going to be all the more salient ahead of a very important presidential election. I mean, we’re really hurtling down the tracks toward a big decision point for people.

Yeah, that’s exactly right. The Republican Party and American evangelicals have been in lockstep really since the 1970s. And now for Republicans, there’s this question about whether or not it’s still politically advantageous for them to follow where the anti-abortion movement is going on this stuff, because they’re pushing into places that are really deeply unpopular among the American population overall.

And the anti-abortion movement itself at this point is pretty divided on where it’s going to go next. So we saw the Supreme Court last week on Thursday, they maintained access to the abortion pill. There were divisions even within the anti-abortion movement over whether or not to bring that case forward. Some within that movement were skeptical of it. So you’re seeing sort of confusion and disagreement even internally on where to go after the overturning of “Roe v. Wade.”

Ruth, what about the broader population of evangelical Christians? There were 10,000 people at the Southern Baptist Conference voting on this. But what about everybody else? Where are they on this?

I think that’s still a really open question at this point. I talked to this young pastor from Georgia at the meeting, who was saying, you know, I don’t want to go back to the people in my church and tell them that the creation of their children and grandchildren comes from these immoral means. And the language of the resolution was careful around that, but it’s still going to be really hard to get that across and to just translate it for the people in the pews. And if you’re an ordinary Southern Baptist kind of reading the headlines and even reading the text of this, it’s a tough one.

At the same time, talking with Andrew Walker about this, who co-wrote the resolution, he acknowledged that a lot of Southern Baptists have not really thought about this stuff in terms of ethics and morality and connected it to the abortion question. But when he has one-on-one conversations with people about the topic and sort of walks them through, basically, the logic of the resolution, he said almost everyone comes away from those conversations with, at the very least, a sort of skepticism and a level of critical thinking around fertility treatments that they didn’t come in with. And that suggests that there’s at least sort of an openness to thinking differently about fertility treatments.

And the reason all this matters is obviously evangelicals are this hugely influential voting bloc. They’re used to having the power to turn their theological beliefs into policy. And when they come together, you get this political force, the same political force that worked for decades over a lot of obstacles and was eventually successful in overturning “Roe v. Wade.”

Now, IVF is different than abortion. IVF is extremely popular, including, at this point, among evangelical Christians. But if we find out that evangelicals are persuadable on IVF, it doesn’t just have implications for their personal spiritual lives. If this is the beginning of a moral awakening on IVF, and that’s a big if, it would have real implications for the rest of the country.

Ruth, thank you.

Here’s what else you need to know today. On Friday, the Supreme Court struck down a ban on bump stocks which enable semiautomatic rifles to fire at speeds rivaling those of machine guns. The decision, by a vote of 6 to 3, split along ideological lines, had the effect of erasing one of the government’s rare firearm regulations that came from a mass shooting. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had exceeded its power when it prohibited the device by issuing a rule that classified bump stocks as machine guns. And —


— tens of thousands of demonstrators crowded onto streets in France on Saturday to denounce the rise of the country’s far right as the nation prepared to vote in snap elections set to take place later this month. French president Emmanuel Macron shocked the country last week by announcing that he was dissolving the lower house of Parliament after his party was clobbered by far right opponents in a vote to seat the next European Parliament. Critics, including some in Macron’s own party, warned that the president’s move to call snap elections opened the door to empowering the far right in France for the first time since World War II.

Today’s episode was produced by Rob Szypko, Sydney Harper, Stella Tan, Aastha Chaturvedi, and Rachelle Bonja. It was edited by Marc Georges and Lisa Chow, contains original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano, and was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Sabrina Tavernise. See you tomorrow.

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Hosted by Sabrina Tavernise

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Produced by Rob Szypko ,  Sydney Harper ,  Stella Tan ,  Asthaa Chaturvedi and Rachelle Bonja

Edited by Marc Georges and Lisa Chow

Original music by Dan Powell and Marion Lozano

Engineered by Alyssa Moxley

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The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest denomination of Protestant Christians in the United States, voted at an annual gathering last week to oppose the use of in vitro fertilization.

Ruth Graham, who covers religion, faith and values for The New York Times, discusses the story behind the vote, the Republican scramble it prompted and what it could eventually mean for the rest of the country.

On today’s episode

research paper about 21st century

Ruth Graham , who covers religion, faith and values for The New York Times.

A room full of people sitting on blue plastic chairs are holding up orange leaflets.

Background reading

How baptists and the Republican Party took different paths on I.V.F.

Here’s what to know about the vote .

There are a lot of ways to listen to The Daily. Here’s how.

We aim to make transcripts available the next workday after an episode’s publication. You can find them at the top of the page.

The Daily is made by Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Stella Tan, Alexandra Leigh Young, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, M.J. Davis Lin, Dan Powell, Sydney Harper, Mike Benoist, Liz O. Baylen, Asthaa Chaturvedi, Rachelle Bonja, Diana Nguyen, Marion Lozano, Corey Schreppel, Rob Szypko, Elisheba Ittoop, Mooj Zadie, Patricia Willens, Rowan Niemisto, Jody Becker, Rikki Novetsky, John Ketchum, Nina Feldman, Will Reid, Carlos Prieto, Ben Calhoun, Susan Lee, Lexie Diao, Mary Wilson, Alex Stern, Sophia Lanman, Shannon Lin, Diane Wong, Devon Taylor, Alyssa Moxley, Summer Thomad, Olivia Natt, Daniel Ramirez and Brendan Klinkenberg.

Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Paula Szuchman, Lisa Tobin, Larissa Anderson, Julia Simon, Sofia Milan, Mahima Chablani, Elizabeth Davis-Moorer, Jeffrey Miranda, Maddy Masiello, Isabella Anderson, Nina Lassam and Nick Pitman.

Ruth Graham is a national reporter, based in Dallas, covering religion, faith and values for The Times. More about Ruth Graham



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