(New and Old) Literacies for Well-Rounded Learner of the Future

For the past decades or so, reading, writing, and mathematics (arithmetic), referred to as the 3R’s, have taken a back seat. The basic skills or building blocks that underpin learning have been often equated with traditional school setting where knowing is defined as the ability to read, write, and solve math problems. In understanding the 3R’s, one has to remember that these skills were products of a specific historical context or certain education periods where the definition of being a learned man or a knowledgeable person was shaped by the priorities and demands of the times. In the traditional school setting, being able to read, write, and solve where the main or core facets of learning. If one can read and understand the meaning behind the text, then one has accomplished an aspect of learning. One is literate.


Disrupting teaching and learning

The advent of computers in the education system revolutionized and completely changed the way learning happens. Information is now easier to access. Learners can now learn from the Internet and connect with knowledge experts from different parts of the world. Teachers have enjoyed using computers to facilitate with much efficiency much of their logistical and administrative jobs such checking of attendance, record keeping, and even delivering student progress report, hence, giving teachers more time to really focus on the crucial and essential aspects of teaching such as designing student-centered learning activates, giving effective feedback, and most importantly, building relationships with students. Technology has truly disruptive learning and teaching.

As decades passed by, computers became smarter, cheaper, and more accessible making learning more ubiquitous and undeniably necessitating newer and more advanced skills that a traditional classroom cannot seem to offer. This led to a number of educational systems and educators leaving behind the foundational nature of the 3Rs and focusing more on the newer skills. For these educators, skills related to working with and using technologies such as computing devices take a more important position because these skills will prepare students for the future ahead of them – a future where knowledge economy is accelerated exponentially AI and ultra-modern technology. Here enters the 4Cs of the 21st century which we are all familiar now: critical-thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication.

Yet, a number of educators today have also asked and pushed for the return to the 3Rs – a back to basic skills movement so that students are equipped with the core skills to learn.


3Rs and 4Cs: Synthesis Towards Deeper Learning

Reflecting on the seeming tension between the 3Rs and 4Cs of the 21st century classroom or even for the 4th Industrial revolution, these skills may not be necessarily and totally in opposition with each other. In order to have a future-proof classroom, one has to take a bigger view of the landscape to come up with a synthesis of essential skills. This may lead to some skills to be prioritized or some to be relegated down the list.

As I refer to the 3Rs, I now invite and challenge educators to see the 3Rs as not locked up to the traditional notion of spoon-feeding and content-driven learning in the classroom and not even as ends to demonstrate meaningful and deeper learning. The 3Rs should be seen as enabling skills or building block skills that help learners in engaging in deeper and more complex understanding of the world, analyzing and solving real-life problems. Teaching students to read, write, and solve ensures that all students, especially the young ones, are given the stepping stones to climb up the complexities of deeper learning and making meaning of the world.  For those at the lower end of the digital divide, which is a lot bigger than those who can access technology tools adequately, the 3Rs are more than stepping stones. They are equalizers that ensure that everyone has some of the basic core skills needed for learning.

However, the 3Rs do not need to be always termed and used as 3Rs. Educators need to transition from these skills so that they are fully integrated into the larger vision of the 4Cs of the 21st century learning. For example, reading enables someone to comprehend problems, hence becoming a stepping stone towards critical thinking. Or, writing enables a learner to communicate through written texts but the communication skills of the 21st century challenges the students to go beyond the basic of writing and explore other more powerful and meaningful means to communication. Why is this process of transition emphasized? Because in some schools, integrating the 4Cs begins with the school curriculum entails undergoing changes, difficulty, and uncertainty. A good transition from the basic to the new brings on a climate of re-invigoration, excitement, and possibilities.

Newer and Emerging Literacies

As mentioned, technology innovations accelerate exponentially, causing fundamental effects to the world, in businesses, state policies, heath, and even in the field of education. As schools aim to future-proof students, educational systems and educators need to move with the changes, understanding them in order to offer a better kind of learning that does not only answer to the changes of the present but also prepares of the uncertainties of the unknown future.

Some new literacies and underlying skills that have emerged for the past years do not only focus on technology but also critical soft skills that help develop students to become better connected global citizens. Some of these are:

  • Technological literacy such as coding and programming – Everything runs with codes, from your favorite ride-hailing apps to the most complex national security systems. Coding is often referred to as the language of the 21st century skills. Teaching students to code and program allows them to understand the world, engage with problems critically, and solve them creatively – with codes.
  • Digital literacy that centers on digital citizenship – A set of skills related to responsible and safe use of technology tools. These should be fundamentally and deeply integrated in schools as technology has become more pervasive in human life.
  • Global Competence – Understanding the world and becoming a global citizen challenge students to practice a whole set of skills that involves communication, collaboration, and respect. More than focusing on the differences, a global citizen celebrates the similarities of humanity and respect the beautiful diversity in cultures and nations. Under this is empathy, which is neither a new skill nor an emerging skill. However, empathy deserves to take a place among the skills being developed in students because it helps them to become more understanding of other people.
  • Information and Media literacy – Ability to engage critically with information and messages being delivered by media or traditional texts
  • Other sets of skills needed: entrepreneurial, financial, environmental, civic, and leadership.


In reflecting on the needed literacies and skills for today’s learners, I still believe that educators should aim to develop citizens that are well-rounded. Hence, schools and educators must see to it that the skills being taught in class should target all aspects of a student’s life so that they become “21st century literate.” We want well-rounded learners who have a heart for the world. The world is very much in need of citizens who are not just smart and better entrepreneurs. We need citizens who can make the world a better place for everyone. Hopefully, the skills we teach and the literacies we value in schools help us with our aspiration.


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