Sunday, November 8, 2009


“In the 20th Century, literacy meant the ability to read, write, and present cogent arguments on paper. In the 21st century, literacy is going to extend well beyond that and into what could be termed, a language of screens” (Barish, 2002). Considering the quote above, what exactly does it mean to be literate in today’s society? 

I’m in this degree program because I was exposed to the issue identified in this quote several years ago as I became knowledgeable about the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at the elementary school my children attend. IB’s mission is to “promote intercultural understanding and respect, not as an alternative to a sense of cultural and national identity, but as an essential part of life in the 21st century. (, 2009)” This is one critical aspect of literacy in the 21st century. Tom Friedman (2009) explains eloquently how our world has flattened so that individuals compete and collaborate directly with others across the globe. In this world, global understanding is critical to success. In addition to this mission, IB is at the forefront of developing the skills necessary for future jobs, many of which have probably not been invented yet. Beginning in kindergarten, the IB Learner Profile is deeply embedded into every lesson. An IB student is an: inquirer, thinker, communicator, risk-taker, knowledgeable, principled, caring, open-minded, balanced and reflective. These traits help create students who will become “active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand other people, with their differences, can also be right.” There is no doubt that this mission and these character traits are at the heart of what I feel constitute literacy in the 21st century. This definition does not include the latest technology available – instead it describes the type of person who would be ready for whatever the future brings.

While these social/emotional traits are the core of what I want from my children as 21st century learners, there are other important, more specific components that are critical for students today to learn. With the explosion of the web, the ability to locate, synthesize and evaluate the massive amount of information is an important skill to develop (Murray, 2003). 

Literacy in the 21st century is much more than reading and writing and it is much more than “a language of screens” as noted by Barish (2002). Literacy involves the student’s ability to combine global awareness with skills in: critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, leadership and responsibility, productivity and accountability (E-Luminate, 2009). Not surprisingly, the founder of E-Luminate (who also President of The Partnership for 21st Century Skills) is a supporter of the IB program. This list doesn’t look a lot like reading and writing although that is embedded in most everything on this list in some form. 

While there are many specific skills I know my children should learn to become literate in the 21st century, my own feeling is that the mix of skills described by IB and E-Luminate provide the overarching framework that I believe is necessary for them to survive and thrive.

E-Luminate. (2009). Retrieved November 8, 2009 from

Friedman, Tom. (2007, November 7). The world is flat 3.0 – Video. Lecture presented for MIT Open Courseware. MIT. Boston, Massachusetts.

International Baccalaureate Organisation. (2009). Mission and strategy. 
Retrieved November 8, 2009 from

Murray, Janet. (2009, March/April). Contemporary literacy: Essential skills for the 21st century. The Online Educator. Retrieved November 8, 2009 from

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