21st Century Competencies in Students: What are They and Why are They Important?

Across the world, education experts have realised that students need to do more than just memorise facts and regurgitate those facts in order to be successful in an increasingly competitive global economy. The world is changing rapidly and students need to learn to adapt just as quickly as these changes occur. They need to be confident in their own skills and able to learn efficiently. In order to take the educational experience to the next level, the leaders and instructors at OWIS have made 21st century competencies a top priority.

What are 21st Century Competencies?

The students who are studying in the classroom today are the leaders who are going to be running our ever-changing world tomorrow. They will have to be adaptable and compassionate. They must have a desire to protect our planet and be inclusive to all those around them. They must use innovation and work with new technology to advance the world they live in.  In order to succeed and adapt in a fluid environment that is becoming increasingly competitive, students will need to master several key 21st century competencies or skills.


These are some of the key 21st century competencies that students must master:

● Creativity

● Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

● Communication

● Collaboration

● Innovation

● Adaptability

● Digital Literacy

● Leadership

● Cross-Cultural Understanding

Why are 21st-Century Competencies Important?

As we are in the midst of the fourth Industrial Revolution, knowledge is no longer the sole commodity needed for success. Rather, the next generation of leaders must be able to form valuable relationships, make connections with those who surround them, build their problem solving and adaptability skills in order to create solutions and drive innovation forward. They must want to learn and want to be ahead of the game, be able to manage failure and pick themselves up when things don’t go according to plan. They must also be able to support their friends, family and colleagues and devise proactive ideas to better the world we live in.

How Should Schools Incorporate 21st Century Competencies Into the Curriculum?

Regardless of the subject or the course, teachers can find ways to include competency development into their lesson plans. For example, teachers can create groups of students who will work together on a project. Each student in the group can be assigned a role, such as a manager, writer or art coordinator. They may be put into a role that they would not usually choose to encourage them to explore outside of their comfort zone. This forces students to work on an individual task while focusing on the common goal.

OWIS secondary students working in groups

Teachers may choose to put someone in the leadership role, or they may allow the group to decide between themselves who is going to lead. This helps them understand the importance of taking on different roles, supporting others in those roles and being able to work alongside someone who may hold greater authority than they do.

Encouraging 21st Century competencies at OWIS

At OWIS, the concept of incorporating 21st century competencies into the curriculum is nothing new. The administrators and instructors at OWIS have long made these competencies a priority, and they continue to provide students with opportunities to master these important skills.

Here’s a look at what OWIS is doing to promote the importance of 21st-century competencies:

● The key 21st century competencies are actively encouraged and consciously cultivated in our students as part of our programmes, and interweave throughout subject areas. We offer internationally-recognised curricula such as the IB PYP, IGCSE and IB DP for our students which are modern and relevant international curricula, and we also include STEAM subjects in our programmes. Our curricula are world recognised and students are aligned globally on their educational journey.

● At OWIS, we prioritise inquiry-led learning. Our students are given the opportunity to ask questions, think creatively on the subject at hand and to explore the results that they uncover. They are able to spend time learning independently and as part of a group to gain knowledge and skills. They can reassess their findings, discuss them with their peers and then delve deeper into the subject. This teaches our students to ask questions continually and appreciate that learning evolves and advances.

● We have a diverse student body at OWIS, which allows students to learn more about people from other cultures and backgrounds, and we integrate these different cultures into our school and classrooms. We take part in a range of cultural festivals and these provide fun and interactive learning opportunities for students. We encourage students to teach others about their backgrounds and traditions and to learn about traditions which they may not have come across before. We encourage students to be proud of their own heritage and to enlighten others around them. Our students develop global awareness within their classrooms and become supportive, multicultural citizens who can easily integrate into a range of communities.

● Collaboration plays a key role in our instruction. Beginning in the Early Childhood Education programme and lasting through the end of Secondary School, OWIS students are required to work in groups or pairs to learn more about a topic, research for different possibilities and develop a creative solution. They are encouraged to work with other students who they may not normally work with. This group work teaches students the importance of collaboration to reach an end goal and acceptance of a range of opinions, experiences and insights.

OWIS students collaborate on a project in science class
Next Steps: What Does the Future Look Like?

As educational leaders and instructors seek to incorporate 21st century skills into their existing curriculum, it’s also imperative that they look to the future. Technology and innovation will continue to revolutionise our way of life, and teachers need to be focused on keeping students engaged in the months, years and decades ahead. Students must truly understand the importance of acquiring knowledge and skills alongside developing their own identity. They must be adaptable and able to deal with life’s inevitable hurdles while being compassionate and supportive to others.


To learn more about what we are doing to ensure that our students master 21st century skills and how they are being prepared for the future, contact us today.

This blog was originally written in collaboration with Jasween Gill, former Admissions and Communications Director, OWIS Nanyang and Suntec.