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Skills and qualities for the 21st century

Elizabeth Bray, Former Head of UWCSEA Dover and Nancy Fairburn, Former Curriculum Articulation Leader, UWCSEA
Dover High School students participate in a science project


“The crux of success or failure is to know which core values to hold on to, and which to discard and replace when times change.Jared Diamond, author and scientist

Globalisation in the 21st Century has presented new challenges. The world economy has become more interconnected, social tension has increased as the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen, the population is growing at an alarming rate and an extraordinary strain is being placed on the environment. Alongside these changes, traditional structures and hierarchical systems within both workplaces and wider society have been flattened or seen enormous shifts.

To meet these challenges, individuals are in great need of both independence and a global perspective in order to effectively collaborate, communicate, and think critically in order to provide innovative and creative solutions. These skills are interconnected with personal qualities such as resilience, self-awareness, being principled and a commitment to care.

In 1962 Kurt Hahn championed the importance of developing the whole person, and founded the UWC movement based upon the ideals of a holistic, experiential, values-based education.  

"I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion." - Kurt Hahn

UWCSEA has always maintained a strong emphasis on values based education. Each of the skills and qualities identified by Hahn are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago, and are required as we strive to meet the College’s educational goal of preparing our students to embrace challenge and take responsibility for shaping a better world.

During the past year, the College has focused on redefining the specific qualities and skills that are essential for learning today and that best prepare our students for the future. What are the specific competencies that will prepare our young people for the challenges that lie ahead? How can these competencies be successfully taught and learned in school?

The process of answering these questions began with the UWC mission, and centres on our values and philosophy.

“The UWC movement makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.” – UWC mission

A thorough review and analysis of current international research and best practice was expanded considerably this year as staff from across the College became involved in refining and reshaping the UWCSEA Profile. The process has identified nine key competencies - four qualities we expect learners to “be like”, and five skills we expect learners to “be able to do”. These competencies can be taught and learned in developmentally appropriate ways from Kindergarten to Grade 12. They also reflect our expectations for the entire UWCSEA community, not just our students.

UWCSEA Learning Principles

The qualities and skills of the UWCSEA Profile compliment each other to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. This is a complex process where for example, the ability to collaborate effectively must draw upon an individual’s understanding of language and culture, ability to communicate, practical digital skills, as well as being principled and resilient. Similarly, the successful critical thinker and problem solver relies upon their ability to persevere, facing challenges in a principled manner. To demonstrate a commitment to care requires awareness and action. These actions depend upon the skills of critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration and communication.

Embedding the profile in our programme

Learning is most effective when it takes place in context, and when the learner is appropriately challenged with a range of opportunities and experiences to develop these qualities and skills. For this reason the UWCSEA Profile is being embedded into all five elements of our Learning Programme. For example, resilience is developed as learners gain the confidence to perform on the stage, practice a new skill in mathematics, bounce back from a challenging match or persevere on an expedition.

While learners need a variety of opportunities to learn in context, they must also be provided with the time to reflect on their experiences in order to refine and improve future thoughts and actions. Our UWCSEA Profile provides a framework through which our students and staff can self-assess and strengthen the qualities and skills they need today and in the future.

To fulfill our mission and educational goal these qualities and skills must be internalised as part of our regular practice, always being considered, refined and improved upon. If Kurt Hahn were here today he would recognize that the competencies of the UWCSEA Profile underpin an experiential, values based, holistic education such as the one he founded the UWC movement to promote.

Click here to the see UWCSEA Profile.


Ballanca, James, and Ron Brandt eds. 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn. Solution Tree Press: Indiana, 2010.

Trilling, Bernie, and Charles Fadel. 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times. John Wiley & Sons: California, 2009.

Peterson, Christopher, and Martin E. P. Seligman. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Wagner, Tony. Seven Survival Skills for the Future. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

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