Adaptability and its discontents: 21st-century skills and the preparation for an unpredictable future

Gideon Dishon, Tal Gilead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


In recent years, the idea that the future is inherently unpredictable has gained considerable currency in educational policymaking. In this paper, we seek to critically examine and analyze the implications that stem from embracing this concept of the future. To do so, we focus on current discussions of 21-century skills, and more specifically on the work of the OECD. First, we offer a brief introduction to the prevailing conceptualization of the future as uncertain and risky, and the ensuing emphasis on the development of skills needed to adapt to this increasingly volatile future. We then explain why the emphasis on future uncertainty leads to conceptualizing education as adaptation, while disregarding the importance of the past. We argue that this results in an impoverished conception of education and the skills it should develop. Next, we focus on how the idea of an unpredictable future marginalizes the role of values in education. We maintain that this not only leads to a narrow vision of education, but also undermines the cultivation of skills heralded by 21st-century skills frameworks. We conclude by offering some remarks on the importance of attention to the past and values as the basis for a meaningful vision of education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-413
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • 21st-century skills
  • OECD
  • adaptability
  • education
  • future
  • philosophy
  • policy
  • values

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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