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21st century education
Global education
Whole-school approach
Human capabilities approach
Issue Date: 
Office of Education Research, National Institute of Education, Singapore
Choo, S. S., Lubna Alsagoff, & Chan, C. M. L. (2020). Education for twenty-first century global capacities: A comparative case-study of two schools in Singapore and the United States (Report No. OER 60/12 CSL). National Institute of Education (Singapore), Office of Education Research.
All over the world, governments and policymakers continue to proclaim the need to educate students for the 21st century. In this study, we argue that the impetus for 21st century education should be more accurately termed, 21st century global education which refers to education that seeks to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and sensitivities to compete and navigate the challenges caused by globalization in the 21st century. Based on this initial definition, we examine three theoretical models that may inform the conceptualization and enactment of 21st century global education in schools.

The first model is Human Capital Theory (HCT) which focuses on economic globalization resulting in economic reasoning used to justify policy initiatives and reform. HCT reinforces economic utilitarianism resulting in educational goals prioritizing the teaching of competencies. The second model is the Human Capabilities Approach (HCA) that emphasizes the importance of the intrinsic goods of education (as opposed to its mere instrumental utility). HCA argues that the development of human well-being is deemed the highest end which individuals should seek to attain and which government and public policies should be directed towards. HCA draws attention to the ends of education centred on the development of capabilities to support human flourishing, which involve opportunities for individuals to pursue what they value, freedom to choose among the opportunities given, and agency to construct one’s goals and values. The third model the Cosmopolitan Capacities Approach (CCA) is an extension of HCA. CCA is premised on the philosophy of ethical cosmopolitanism entailing questions about what it means to equip students as cosmopolitans or citizens of the world. CCA perceives that capabilities should not merely foster an individual’s well-being but that in doing so, the individual is then empowered to use his knowledge and skills to empower others. Thus, CCA focuses on the ends of cultivating capacities which denotes the ability or power to perceive, understand, empathize with and defend or find solutions to addressing the concerns of others.
Note: Restricted to NIE staff.
Project number: 
OER 60/12 CSL
Grant ID: 
Education Research Funding Programme (ERFP)
Funding Agency: 
Ministry of Education, Singapore
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