What Our Children Cannot Miss Learning


We constantly come across headlines reminding us that our children will be having jobs that have yet to be invented. A key reason for this phenomenon is the rapid technological shifts such as digitisation and the Internet which are changing the way we live. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, posits that the world has engaged with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. He believes this “revo­lution” comprises not just digitisation and the Inter­net of Things, but also people empowerment and human-machine cooperation.

Therefore, what knowledge and skills should our children learn? How should they learn them? What knowledge or skills will help our children thrive individually and as members of so­ciety? Some say children should no longer learn con­tent as what they know today will become obsolete by the time they work. However, are there parts of what we do know that must be passed to our next generation? How about our life lessons and positive charac­teristics, societal values and principles we hold true? Which part of our digital world takes care of our children’s character and citizenship-building? How important is it to educate our children on the need to collaborate and communicate for their well-being in the 21st century?

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) lists 21st century skills as com­prising creativity, entrepreneurship, collaboration, critical thinking and digital literacy. OECD conducts the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) as a triennial international survey to evalu­ate education systems across the world by testing 15-year-old students’ knowledge, literacy and in­quiry skills, and abilities to apply knowledge to real-world problems. A recent BBC report on the world’s top performing education systems highlighted Canada’s education system as the only Anglophone country to appear in PISA’s top ten for mathematics, science and reading, alongside Asian countries such as Singapore, Japan and China, and Nordic coun­tries such as Finland. Some factors were cited, including the high ambitions of migrant families to Canada.

Malaysian schools recognise the importance of developing children’s analytical and problem-solving skills, and thus develop programmes that promote “higher order thinking skills”, or “HOTs” as popularly abbreviated. The emphasis in “HOTs” is to shift stu­dents’ focus from “knowing and understanding” to “applying, analysing, evaluating and creating”. These terms which describe students’ learning behaviours are not new. Since the introduction of Benjamin Bloom’s learning taxonomy in 1956, all teachers have been made aware of these levels of learning behaviours and using them to promote higher forms of think­ing. We want our children to analyse and evaluate other people’s ideas, claims and thoughts instead of just accepting and memorising them. With these debates on what 21st century learning should entail, what is missing from our children’s learning?

To Michael Fullan, who helped launch Ontario’s present education agenda, our education system needs to address children’s devel­opment in the following “Six Cs’”.

  1. Character education—honesty, self-regulation and responsibility, perseverance, empathy for contributing to the safety and benefit of others, self-confidence, personal health and well-being, and career and life skills.
  2. Citizenship—global knowledge, sensitivity to and respect for other cultures, and active involvement in addressing issues of human and en­vironmental sustainability.
  3. Communication—effective oral and written communication and listening skills, with a variety of digital tools.
  4. Critical thinking and problem-solving—project design and management, and effective decision-making using a vari­ety of digital tools and resources.
  5. Collaboration—teamwork, contribution to the learning of others, social networking skills, and empathy in working with others.
  6. Creativity and imagination—economic and social entrepreneurialism, pursuits of novel ideas, and leadership for action.


The above skills have been discussed in associa­tion with the concept of “deeper learning”. Effective educators have always acted to provide students with rich and interesting sources of information to stimulate their learning and application. However, the “Six Cs” or “deeper learning” frameworks push for these approaches to be an in­tegral and continuous part of our children’s learning process. Projects by the American Institutes for Research between 2014 and 2016 found that students engaged in deeper learning graduated from high school and attended selective colleges at higher rates than comparable students in non-deep­er learning schools.

Present gaps in our children’s learning framework need padding-up, with emphases on character edu­cation for the well-being of individuals and societies, communication and collaboration skills, and glob­al-mindedness. As our children grow up in a world that is rapidly changing through digitisa­tion, virtual connectivity, and empowered thinking and actions, a focus on developing learning domains becomes critically important.

Cheng Mien Wee
Director, Pre-University Studies
Sunway College


Originally published in The Edge, August 2017