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3.1 Teaching the Citizens of the 21st Century

Are the Core Competencies a reasonable training ground for developing the citizens of the 21st century?

Have a look at the curriculum documents for any Canadian province or territory and you will certainly find some reference to citizenship, usually meaning capable of contributing to the social, economic, and political community, and bearing some regard for civility, ethical treatment of others, and compliance with the laws. Since the inception of grammar schools in early Canada (DiMascio, 2012) parents have relied on schools to train up their children with in reading and writing. Sending children to formal school involved sacrifices for poor working families hoping to secure a better future for their children. After the Industrial Revolution when schools were blatantly organized after a factory model, schools and reformers set out to guarantee that children would gain the skills necessary to join the workforce and even earn a comfortable living. Today, society expects that children graduating from public skills will be equipped to handle the challenges of tomorrow.

In British Columbia's Curriculum, this expectation is captured in the Core Competencies. In short, the competencies are: Thinking Skills, Communication, and Personal and Social Awareness, are woven throughout the curricular competencies and recognized by these symbols:

The Core Competencies translate to the habits of mind and action generally known as 21st Century Skills, a concept that is prominently featured not just in education, but in business, industry, science, economics, politics, sociology etc. Like many teachers and other BC citizens, I use these terms interchangeably and see them as vitally important to the education system. Competencies are an indication of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that prepare a citizen for learning, life, and work.

What do you think? Please compare the following infographics from the education sector and from Alberta's curriculum documents and visit the websites for some incredible resources.


A surprising stance

Some thinkers have criticized governments for including the 21st Century Skills in contemporary curricula, suggesting that they serve the purposes of neoliberalism. Vassallo suggests that students become dependent upon teachers' scripts, making them obedient and subordinate (2013). Others have asserted that the self-regulatory skills taught in schools are a necessary part of preparation for adult life within a diverse society (Hadwin, 2013). My summary is, of course, a gross oversimplification of a complex and credible philosophical standpoint, but I offer it here in order to elicit your opinion. I would encourage you to read Why We Should Abolish Schooling for a deeper dive into the notion that the education system is at best, the unwitting agent of indoctrination, and at worst, the tool by which citizens are systematically deprived of democratic freedom (Illich, 1970). Although written more than 40 years ago, it may give you pause to consider your own philosophy around the purpose of education.



Di Mascio, A. (2012). The idea of popular schooling in Upper Canada: Print culture, public discourse, and the demand for education. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Hadwin, A. F. (2013). Response to Vassallo’s claims from a historically situated view of self-regulated learning as adaptation in the face of challenge. New Ideas in Psychology, 31(3), 212–215.

Illich, I. (1970). Why We Must Abolish Schooling (Book Review) [Review of Why We Must Abolish Schooling (Book Review)]. The New York Review of Books, 15(1), 9–. R.S. Hederman

Vassallo, S. (2013). Critical pedagogy and neoliberalism: Concerns with teaching self-regulated learning. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 32(6), 563–580.


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