21st Century Skills

Creativity, Curiosity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Communication – Skills for 21st Century Learning, Work and Life

In the fast changing society we exist in, creativity and the skills it encompasses – imagination, innovation, curiosity, discipline, resilience, risk taking, persistence, critical thinking - are in more demand than ever. With the ever changing and growing global community, new problems are occurring that create new questions and need new answers.  

It has been recognised by research that creativity can reduce as a child moves through school. In 1968 George Land devised a Creativity Test for NASA which has been taken by over 1 million people. It suggested that:

  • 98% of 5 year olds had genius creativity

  • 12% of 15 year olds had genius levels of creativity

  • 2% of adults had genius levels of creativity


It has also been recognised that creativity is something that you can learn, develop and nurture throughout life. In Scotland the National Creative Learning Network (NCLN), jointly funded by Creative Scotland and Education Scotland and with representation in each local authority, encourage collaborative working across the Education, Culture and Communities sectors and bring together those with an interest in children and young people's creative learning. Their ultimate aim is to build young people's confidence, achievements and skills for future life and work. In 2013 a report ‘Creativity Across Learning – 3 to 18’ was launched by Education Scotland recognising the need to nurture creativity skills in children and young people to develop thriving economies in a future based on innovation and high levels of knowledge and to prepare young people for life and work in an era of increasingly rapid change.

There has been much research in the past 15 years in regards to the importance of creativity in learning, and the complexities of how this might happen. The NCLN (in Scotland) and organisations such as CCE, Hidden Giants, IVE and Daydream Believers in the UK and individuals such as Sir Ken Robinson have worked across the UK and internationally developing and promoting creative approaches to learning and work, leading research alongside a number of UK universities. A number of important international organisations also recognise and promote the significance of creativity in learning, work and life:

Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.

Sir Ken Robinson 

Top 10 skills for future jobs according to employers 

1 Complex problem solving

2 Critical thinking

3 Creativity

4 People management

5 Coordinating with others

6 Emotional intelligence

7 Judgement and decision 8 making

8 Service orientation

9 Negotiation

10 Cognitive flexibility

Education needs to be able to help develop people who are able to ask questions, empathise and create and develop new ideas, solve new problems, not to simply repeat what other generations have done before. Many researchers agree that to solve problems and exploit new opportunities you have to think creativity. NESTA’s Everyday Innovation survey found that creativity needs to be an integral part of contemporary work and learning. 

Through research the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has also recognised that project based learning is beneficial in regards to long term retention of knowledge and skills and has a positive impact on students motivation, satisfaction and attitudes towards learning. Knowledge, values and attitudes help provide a solid foundation; however just having knowledge is insufficient for change without curiosity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity skills to support innovation. Alongside these skills their research recognised the importance of the development of empathy to support innovation that considers others and the wider world, and attitudes and values that support the positive use of skills and knowledge that support societal wellbeing.  

OECD The case for 21st-century learning

OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030

The world is complex and changing rapidly. With this there are also many opportunities. People who have the opportunity to develop creativity skills will benefit from this throughout learning, work and life. We live in a time now where we will not have a job for life and we will need to be flexible and to be able to adapt to new careers and working situations. There will be existing and new problems to solve, which everyone in society needs to feel part of the solution, such as poverty and climate change, and these problems need to be approached with empathy, curiosity, lateral thinking, open mindness, creativity, cooperation, connectivity and communication. 

Appeal for more creativity and innovation in education comes, not from the education community but from a global emergency and the urgent need for change

Pasi Sahlberg