Curiosity Gym

21st century skills: Learning skills

With the announcement of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, India foresees a revolution in the education system. The new policy aims to offer learners an opportunity to combine play-based learning of the previous foundation stage and gradually move towards interactive, discovery and activity-based learning. Interestingly, the buzzword- ‘21st century skills’ has caught everyone’s attention and would have been a cause of excitement, eagerness or possibly confusion and anxiety. What are 21st century skills? Was there something like ‘20th century skills’? Which skills did people who studied or worked in the 20th century develop?

Here is a description of what 21st century skills actually are and whether or not one should really worry about them being present in the child. The term ‘21st century skills’ are a set of skills and abilities that are required for success at workplaces in the 21st century, as identified by educators, business leaders and certain government agencies. The NEP 2020 advocates development of these skills through the reformed curriculum. There are 12 skills listed under this set: Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Information literacy, Media literacy, Technological literacy, Leadership, Initiative, Productivity, Social, Flexibility. Should one be worried if these skills are absent in his/her child? In a word, yes. Thankfully, the NEP aims at addressing these concerns through certain policy changes.

The first four C’s of the 21st century skills come under a subset called ‘learning skills’. This blog is the first part of the series on ‘21st century skills’ and focuses on the ‘learning skills’. These skills enable students to learn something more than the curricular content. They go well beyond students’ schooling years and also help them perform better in their careers later on.

Critical thinking is about being able to think clearly, logically and rationally. Students develop a skill set to critically analyze information without taking anyone’s word for it. The absence of critical thinking often leads to misinformation, fake news, false narratives and creates unrest in the society. Thus, the reformed curriculum would foster the development of critical thinking among learners.

Creativity is “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something”. Educators agree that creativity is what separates humans from other living beings. It is often perceived as a ‘special’ skill possessed by only gifted ones, which may not be true. Everyone has different ways of thinking and can apply their own thoughts and ideas to solve a certain problem. So, in principle, every child can be creative in his or her own way. Creativity can be brought out when students use resources available along with imagination and emotions and are freely allowed to express themselves. As long as the mind is open, creativity can blossom in all.


Collaboration is to work with someone for a productive cause. At most workplaces, work gets done in teams. The army, police, healthcare workers, news reporters, all work in teams. Essentially, a particular team focuses on one problem and all team members contribute their ideas and skills to bring out a good solution. Collaboration must ensure that everyone gets an opportunity to contribute equally, and everyone is accountable for the outcomes. Thus, collaboration not only gives a sense of shared responsibility, but allows people to consider multiple perspectives, avoid biases and acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Wouldn’t it be great if students learn to collaborate right from their early years? Learning to collaborate early is a powerful skill to solve many problems. It helps one to understand that working in isolation is often unproductive and that team-work is essential in society. Many great scientific discoveries are testimony to the importance of collaboration.


Finally, we discuss ‘Communication’. As said by Isaac Assimov, “I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander”. Communication is not just about expressing oneself in clear words and making oneself heard. It is also about understanding what others say, being patient listeners and considering multiple perspectives, avoiding biases and prejudices. Additionally, words are not the only tools of effective communication. Pictures, gestures and at times silence also speak volumes! Developing effective communication skills is a welcome step in early years of education. It empowers a learner to share his or her observations or learning and also be open to others’ views and ideas. As the NEP 2020 aims at making learning student-centred, communication would play a major role in shaping student-centred education.

Interestingly, collaboration offers a wide scope for communication as well as critical thinking. Creativity is also something that one can develop with collaboration. All the four C’s developed together can make learning an enjoyable experience.

Watch this space for other 21st century skills.

Image source: Charles Fadel and K C Velaga, license: CC-BY-SA-4.0 (

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