What Are 21st Century Skills and Why Are They Vital For Our Youth?

21st century skills refer to learning core competencies and life skills that help individuals succeed in our information based society and the workplace. These skills are often taught indirectly within our lessons and can include but are not limited to this list

  • Critical thinking 
  • Problem-solving
  • Social responsibility 
  • Creativity 
  • Collaboration 
  • Communication 
  • Flexibility 
  • Leadership 
  • Initiative 
  • Productivity 
  • Social skills 
  • Self-direction 

In our modules at The Underdog Project, the topic we cover in a weekly session is not always directly about a 21st century skill or skills. For example, one week could be focused on the health and care of people and dogs. The activities used to teach the topic is when one or more 21st century skill have the opportunity to  develop. Going with the health and care module example, one of the activities the youth do is identify their dog’s needs and how they match their own needs. The process of doing this feeds into learning social responsibility (the dog’s needs) and self-direction (one’s own needs). This is just one of the many ways these skills are implemented. 

Recently we’ve developed our Past Grad Program at The Underdog Project. This is where upon completion of the first programme, we offer our grads a chance to come back and continue on with a new set of modules. This programme focuses on CV writing, time management and other skills one will need when entering the workforce and transitioning into adulthood. Individuals in the Past Grad Programme also have the opportunity to become Peer Leaders, putting to use all that they have learned thus far. Peer Leaders help guide the younger youth with their first hand experience from when they were students. 

We believe that these fundamental functional skills need to be incorporated into the education of youth on top of core knowledge for the following reasons:  

  • They are vital for those looking to pursue higher education 
  • Employers are looking for people who possess such skills 
  • They instil confidence for life after high school 

Here, in South Africa, our youth unemployment rate is higher than the national average. The first quarter of 2022 brought in 63,9% unemployment for ages 15-24 and 42,1% for ages 25-34. Recent studies have found that there are mismatches between the skills youth obtain in school and that which an employer is looking for. While programs are starting to be put in place to tackle this problem, the focus is still too narrow. These new programs circle around agriculture, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship, excluding many other interests. This exclusion leads to lack of motivation and inability in being able to find jobs that suit their personnel skill sets. That is why 21st century skills need to start as soon as possible, to be a foundation rather than a life lesson later in life.

In our mission to promote a non-violent society and to uplift the lives of the underprivileged youth and dogs through structured Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) and Animal Assisted Education (AAE), we work to incorporate 21st century skills to best prepare our youth for life outside the classroom. Recently in one of our weekly sessions, we noticed great progress with one of our youths. The student is normally so shy, that she sometimes physically hides her face if asked a question. However, after several sessions she has uncovered her true self and is now a team leader. This student aided in guiding new learners with dog training skills and continues to show up dedicated and committed to her work at The Underdog Project. Showing attributes such as these 21st century skills at a young age is exactly what our youth need to grow in their education, careers, and day to day life.