The Importance of 21st Century Skills: “Do you like the idea of being free?”

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Throughout the meetings, presentations, and discussions during our week in Portugal, the importance of 21st Century Skills emerged as a common theme. Its importance was highlighted during our visit to the Media Lab at Diario de Noticias, the major newspaper in Portugal. The Media Lab program for schools (www.medialab.dn.pt) brings students to the newsroom, where journalists and editors act as tutors. Students conduct interviews with invited scientists, historians, and members of parliament. Students then write articles, develop headlines, edit videos, and work on deadline to produce a 4-page newspaper.

The half-day project-based learning activity starts with a question to the students: “Do you like the idea of being free?” In a country where media was censored until the 1974 revolution, the notion of a free press is not taken for granted. The goal of the Media Labs is to foster active, participating, critical-thinking citizens. Through the Media Lab activities, students learn the importance of being informed and to discern what is relevant. In the 21st Century, New Media changes everything. ALL citizens can have a voice. Through the Media Lab experience, students learn the difference between finding facts versus understanding information.

The 20,000 students who participate in the program each year have access to free online tools so that they can continue to create after they leave the Media Lab. The popularity of the Media Lab program and frequency with which critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity were mentioned in other discussions indicate that Portuguese culture has embraced the development of 21st Century Skills. And it is apparent that those skills played a role in the success of Portuguese education technology initiatives. Portugal’s leaders found a way to work across industries, create win-win funding solutions, and transcend political affiliations to ensure that their students would benefit from and participate in our global digital society.

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