Specific Changes in Policy Guidelines to Promote 21st Century Skills

Specific Changes in Policy Guidelines to Promote 21st Century Skills

By: Emma Elmquist

When looking at the curriculum of a specific country, what are the specific changes in policy guidelines you think are necessary to promote 21st century skills?

Considering all options to promote 21st century skills, how would you cope with the pressure of a single examination determining your eligibility for university level education? Additionally, how would you cope with knowing the exam criteria may not equip you with skills necessary for future employment? This is a reality in many education systems including Turkey where scores on University entrance exams dictate access to university level education and broader future potential.

Turkish standardized exams measure student competency in literature, social sciences, mathematics and science, similar to the common core curriculum model, a standard that education systems are moving away from as job markets begin to require different skill-sets. Those systems that do not adapt will have a tougher time turning out students prepared for future employment. This leads many education systems to rethink how they structure their coursework, lessons and evaluations to better prepare students with dynamic and adaptable skills– i.e. 21st century skills.

21st century skills include communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity all of which are difficult to test for in traditional exam formats. At this point in time, the Turkish education is at a crossroads – to better align high school curriculum with the exam or to alter the exam to fit current curriculum. However, there is a third option – doing away with the entrance exam altogether.

Turkey is at a point of opportunity; their exam-centered system has been plagued with trends of low scores leaving policy makers, academics and Turkish citizens questioning the education system as a whole. Presently, to succeed in this system students must seek outside tutoring or private education in order to stand a chance at the exam, leaving lower socio-economic students at a grave disadvantage. Even so, these more affluent students are being taught how to test as opposed to training in adaptable skills.

Conversely, if admissions policies prioritize coursework, student interests, extra curriculars and personal statements it would provide admissions offices with a more well-rounded view of student work and ability, a practice many universities have shifted toward. An approach of this sort will not only expand opportunity for lower socioeconomic students but also encourages a different skill set from students. In Turkeys five-year educational plan, the Ministry of Education emphasizes the need for well-rounded and multi-dimensional students, a difficult outcome to achieve in a test-centered format.

Exams are a measurement tool influencing not only student output but also dictating teaching methods. It has been shown that “teach to the test”  educational models are not beneficial for student growth and also restricts teacher ability to incorporate experimental and wholistic educational approaches.  Given the shift toward 21st century skills in the educational sphere globally, evaluation strategies must also shift to align with desired outcomes. How are communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity measured?

While, doing away with all forms of testing is unlikely and not necessarily a beneficial approach either, being thoughtful about the limitations of testing for both student development and the teaching profession is useful. Pressure placed on students and educators by testing can not only enhance linear or one-dimensional thinking in educational spheres,  but can suppress the very 21st century skills that systems are striving to develop in their students.

Turkey’s current position is a place of opportunity. Exam scores are not working for students or the education system.  Doing away with or lessening the weight of the university entrance exam can be useful for the betterment of students, educators and the country as a whole – less attention given to exams allows more space for 21st century skills to be promoted.


Bio:  Emma is a first-year graduate student in the Cultural and Educational Policy Studies Program at Loyola University Chicago. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in Individualized Studies focusing on Anthropology, Public Health and Comparative Literature. Upon graduation she plans to go into higher education.

(The observations and conclusions below represent the author’s own personal views and experiences, not the organization’s)