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Learning and Competences for the Twenty-first Century (Prospects #172)

Rapid advances in communications and information technology, growing urbanisation, concerns for environmental sustainability, shifts in geopolitics, demographic patterns and labour markets, increasing unemployment, especially of young people, and the growing divide between rich and poor place unprecedented pressure on education systems. Thus, this special issue of Prospects could hardly be more timely.

Education systems are expected to convey values that should help building more just and inclusive societies; they must also provide a variety of learning experiences for competent and active citizenship, and ensure quality and equity in learning outcomes. There is an urgent need to return to fundamental questions about the goals and purposes of education and to a more holistic, integrated and humanistic vision of learning. Thus, questions related to the relevance of learning, along with efforts to re-conceptualise curriculum development as a continuous social, cultural and political process, are now more pertinent than ever.

The term ‘‘21st-century education’’ is already widely used to reflect this new paradigm, but no single framework provides a coherent umbrella for the needed knowledge, skills, and values; nor do we have one coherent analysis of those elements. This special issue of Prospects focuses on the complexity of the current educational landscape and provides an overview of the key concepts and competences that the authors consider are needed for 21st-century education. Like many past issues of Prospects, this one illustrates the bridges between the worlds of research, policymaking and practice—an important feature of the journal and one we hope to see continue.