Schools in the 21st century need to prepare students to be effective participants in a world with jobs, problems, and technologies that do not yet exist. Although current trends such as globalization, emerging digital technologies, and climate change suggest possible societal futures, much is still unknown about the personal and civic lives learners are likely to live. What is known is that successfullynavigating these uncertainties depends on society’s ability to foster informed, empowered, ethical, and adaptive citizens. In the spirit of Dewey’s statement, the challenge for 21st century schools is to articulate the kind of society we want to live in, and to normalize and integrate complexity and uncertainty in pursuit of this goal.
An education that aims to support excellence in the 21st century means more than creating a curriculum of outstanding or superior quality. Excellence in education also includes structures and processes used in ethical ways, with ethical role models and experiences that are personally engaging to students and teachers (Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi, & Damon, 2001; Gardner, 2010). Thus, an excellent education is high in quality, grounded in and across disciplines, ethically carried out, and meaningful to those involved. How can schools accomplish this goal? By reframing their purpose: the cultivation of citizenlearners. Citizen-learners recognize the complexities and uncertainties of the world in which they live. They develop and share knowledge, form connections to their community, and take meaningful action to support their own and others’ well-being. They are prepared to work with others to explore pressing issues of personal and communal significance, such as environmental sustainability, global migration, or the digital revolution. Citizen-learners act in bold yet caring and reflective ways to improve their own lives and the lives of others.
This white paper describes an emerging educational framework that is informed by key ideas and practices from over 50 years of Project Zero educational research and from other learning organizations. We identify four essential questions in service of fostering citizen-learners, along with a set of core capacities and related competences. We also connect the capacities to Brazil’s National Core Competencies. Classroom examples from different grade levels illustrate what the competences look like in practice. A subsequent paper will outline recommendations for design principles, processes, and experiences for a professional development model to support such a curriculum.