Study It – A Series on How We Learn. PART III – Seven Survival Skills for the 21st Century

Study It – A Series on How We Learn. PART III – Seven Survival Skills for the 21st Century

Part III: Seven Survival Skills for the 21st Century

“It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under”.  That was the refrain chanted in the radical, 1982, hip hop hit “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. The song chronicled the bleak status quo of life in the poor neighbourhoods of New York. Fast forward to 2008, Tony Wagner releases his own radical hit – his book “The Global Achievement Gap”, which chronicles the state of modern-day education. If you adopt the seven survival skills for the 21st Century1, which he garnered from successful business leaders, you will not only keep your head above water, but you will have the skills to “Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive”. (Those are two books to add to your booklist).

Wagner explains in his book, that the teaching methods and principles which are employed today are not serving our future leaders. But don’t throw out the text books just yet. While reading, writing and ‘rithmetic are still essential, Wagner has identified a suite of competencies that learners must acquire in order to be employable and to make a valuable contribution to society. These include influencing others by sharing ideas, tackling important issues creatively, dreaming up big, innovative solutions and collaborating and leading like a boss.

The survival skills Wagner has identified cannot be memorised from within the pages of a text book, instead they are cultivated through a teacher’s instruction techniques and from discussions with peers in the classroom and workplace.

Seven Survival Skills for the 21st Century2

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving is characterised by thoroughly exploring issues, ideas, artifacts, and events from various angles and perspectives, as well as applying knowledge and skills in practical ways to solve real world problems.

Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence

Collaboration across networks is the ability to work together with diverse groups to facilitate the exchange of ideas to achieve a goal, make decisions, and solve problems. Leading with influence is the ability to generate results collaboratively, in a variety of contexts without direct authority.

Agility and Adaptability

Agility and adaptability is being able to constantly adjust to changing demands by using a variety of tools to solve complex problems with responsiveness and flexibility.

Initiative and Entrepreneurship

Initiative and Entrepreneurship denote creative, inventive and resourceful ways individuals use to solve problems, search out, and strive for new innovations.

Effective Oral and Written Communication

Oral communication is a prepared, purposeful presentation designed to increase knowledge, to foster understanding, or to promote change in the listeners’ attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors. Written communication is the development and expression of ideas in writing.

Accessing and Analysing Information

Accessing and analysing information is the ability to know when there is a need for information and how to identify, locate, evaluate and effectively use that information for solving problems.

Curiosity and Imagination

Curiosity and imagination is the capacity to synthesize existing ideas and to work creatively in ways characterised by innovation and divergent thinking.


What was your experience like finding a job after leaving school? Many first-timers to the workforce often hear that their academic qualifications won’t suffice, employers are looking for experience. Job candidates who possess the type of skills Wagner speaks about, will find they can go a long way to closing the experience gap. If you want to learn more about how these aptitudes are currently cultivated and assessed in the region, visit the Caribbean Examinations Council website where you can read more about our CPEA and CCSLC programmes.


  1. Wagner, T. (n.d.) Retrieved from
  2. 21st Century Skills | Reflection and Evaluation Rubrics (n.d.) Retrieved from Link to article