Championing 21st century skills

Cléo Fatoorehchi

Cléo Fatoorehchi was responsible for producing content and liaising with journalists at BESA, the British Educational Suppliers Association. She started as a women’s rights journalist before migrating into PR, in a child rights charity, and then in higher education at Universities UK International.

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Over the first half of 2018, 21st century skills have come to the fore of the education sector debates. Identified as a series of learning dispositions that are crucial to the future success of our children, these skills include communication, collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking, but also digital literacy and adaptability and flexibility.

While these abilities have always been important for a healthy and productive life, their relevance has increased because there is a giant question mark about the exact jobs that today’s children will be working in tomorrow.

In this context, companies understand that they have to prepare for whatever is to come, and even more so in the world of “Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of 21st century skills.”technology. Some educational technology companies are therefore working to develop students’ soft skills in addition to them acquiring new knowledge.

Nano Simbox is one of them.

Dr Becky Sage, with two co-founders, launched Nano Simbox as a result of realising, during her PhD, that there is a lack of skills in science and that academia cannot solve the world’s problems alone. A member of the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), Nano Simbox is a software platform that has been developed using rigorous molecular design simulations, sound pedagogy, and intuitive design to make the invisible world of atoms and molecules visible for Science learners.

I had the chance to talk to Becky when she was showcasing Nano Simbox at the EDUCATE Summer Showcase. She told me: “Many of the world’s biggest problems and opportunities are underpinned by science - from climate change to health care. We need more people with more skills to be the scientific innovators of the future; people who may have been put off by the topic in the past will take advantage of better Science education to become more ambitious about the type of problems they can help to solve.”

She added: “We [at Nano Simbox] change the way people think about science – make it about curiosity, creativity and collaboration – and anyone can be a scientist. Get this fantastically diverse and motivated tribe of scientifically-literate people working together, and the sky’s the limit when it comes to what we can achieve!”

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Becky understands that not everyone wants to become a scientist, but she believes we all need a degree of understanding of what’s happening around us. “It is also important that all of us have general scientific literacy,” Becky pointed out, “in a world of fake news, we all need to have the skills to validate information for ourselves and question the governments and companies around us, so that we can be part of making sure that good ethical standards are upheld by those who have the power to make decisions about the science behind our everyday lives.”

In addition to making Science lessons exciting, Nano Simbox is based on collaboration, one of the cornerstones of 21st century skills. Becky is very clear about the way that she wants to achieve her vision: “By giving teachers and learners, broadly speaking, the same tools and benefits that we give researchers, we help students to experience the type of tools that are being used by the science industry. Ultimately, our research partners will use Nano Simbox to set challenges for students so that you can learn and progress science discovery at the same time.”

She continued: “The push towards collaboration ensures diverse voices are heard - which means that science becomes more inclusive, too. Right now, there is a very small group of people who decide which scientific challenges should be solved - which ones are funded or given time and expertise. We need to ensure that more voices are heard so that scientific investment is representative of the people that the science community serves.”

Problem solving and digital literacy

While we don’t yet know which jobs today’s children will have, we do know that the future is digital. For this reason, companies like IntelliBlocks work on developing computational thinking in students.

Sorin Miron, founder and CEO of the company, told me: “When a child has computational thinking skills, they understand how things works around them, they understand it’s not magic.”

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He explained: “By developing computational thinking, children know what angle to come at a problem from, they know what to look for and search for on the internet, how to find the solution; they become better at unpacking a problem, breaking it down and then bringing it all together.”

It is all these skills together that will ensure children get the best out of our digital future.

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