The twelve Cs for learning in the 21st century - beyond the three Rs

First published on November 2011.

How do we prepare children for their future – not our past?

How are we to be 'hospice workers for the dying culture and midwives for the new one'? How are we to help our young people to prepare for a world which we are unable to even begin to predict? How do we help them to develop the skills they will need to shape and navigate their future? How do we give them the values they will need to use the new technologies and their creativity for the good of humanity? In such a changing world with increasing xenophobia and economic uncertainty, how do we provide an education for understanding, reflection and open-mindedness?

Here’s an idea…

  1. Embed the 12 Cs in all that you do…in every interaction, every day, every lesson…
  2. Find teachers who are clear that this is their mission, are passionate about what they do, are given meaningful professional development to help them and the freedom to be trusted to deliver, while knowing that they are accountable for it…
  3. Treat every child as if s/he were an amazing human being, with the capacity to do anything they choose…

The biggest 'C' of all is Challenge. This one is for us… the hospice workers and midwives. Can we let go of our paradigm and face the challenge of change?


Creating opportunities to learn through more than one language. The benefits are not just linguistic but in increased cognitive ability, cultural and social awareness. We need to enable students to communicate in real contexts with others around the world to deal with real problems and issues.


Schools where every child is greeted by name and feels a sense of belonging; where parents are partners in the learning process and are regularly invited to school for information sessions and discussion groups; where partnerships with local businesses and organisations take learning outside of school.


Real understanding of others comes from knowing them, from working on projects that link our young people with those in different countries. Part of this is creating the opportunity to study through different languages… can you really understand other cultures if you can only speak one language?


Learning is all about connections… Connections between people: we can all remember a teacher who made us excited about learning. Connections between ideas: not separate subject areas, but integrated experiences, seeing how ideas connect and how new ideas emerge. Connections between ideas and imagination, and this is where it becomes creative. Einstein discovered the theory of relativity by connecting his imagination with his knowledge, lying under a tree and imagining travelling on a sunbeam.


Using new technology to enhance learning and for real reasons; Crowdsourcing to link educational projects with new business models and social enterprises, modeling for students the ways they will work in their future.


Enabling students to build up their resilience and their perseverance by working on projects that are motivating and challenging, by learning that failure will be part of the path to success.


Where learning is about exploration and making mistakes is part of the process; where learning how to fail is as important as succeeding; where students take risks and try out new ideas.


Ensuring that students are involved with others throughout the world and come to a real understanding of global issues, learn how to have empathy for others and appreciate the interconnectedness of our planet.


Where the questions are as important and interesting as the answers.


Developing young people’s ability to face unknown situations with fortitude and the moral courage to make the right choices even when they are difficult.


Helping students to reflect on the way they learn, use their strengths and develop their areas of weakness; where metacognition is an explicit objective. Schools where the process of learning is as important as the product.


Helping young people, in this world of permanent connectivity and information overload, to learn how to be 'in the moment', to appreciate thinking time, quiet moments, reflection and aesthetic beauty.

Creative Commons LicenceCreativity Money Love: Learning for the 21st Century by Creative & Cultural Skills is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Illustrations by Paul Davis -