FAQ: 21st Century skills initiative
What is the purpose of this initiative?
The Benton Foundation sees a profound opportunity today: an opportunity to help approximately 13 million underserved young adults ages 16-28 develop and apply the "21st century skills" necessary to improve their lives. The foundation and its partners are embarking on a multi-year initiative to identify, develop and promote successful community-based strategies in which media and technology are key levers in the improvement of learning. The initiative will unite community leaders, decision-makers, the business sector, researchers and practitioners nationally, and in partnering localities, to tackle this challenge.
The Benton Foundation's 22-year history of promoting media and communications tools for social change will be leveraged over the next three to five years to strengthen community approaches in developing the technology skills of young people. We believe that media and technology can make a substantial difference in the lives of young people who have fallen through the cracks in the educational system, creating new pathways to economic success and social inclusion. back to top
What does Benton mean by 21st century skills?
By 21st century skills we are referring to a set of cognitive, technical and communicative skills that all Americans need to possess to make our nation more productive, economically and socially. The Washington, DC-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills has developed a framework to spur national discussion about the set of competencies needed to succeed in the future, including:
- 21st Century Learning: Sharpening the cognitive and communicative skills to succeed in the world, including critical thinking and the ability to keep learning.
- 21st Century Skills: Developing technical skills, such as using networked computing devices to enhance learning.
- 21st Century Context: Engaging in anytime-anywhere learning beyond the school day and to close the gap between the classroom and the real world.
- 21st Century Subjects: Expanding content areas for study relevant to the new century, such as health and financial literacy as well as global awareness.
Through this initiative, the foundation is particularly interested in how the use of media and technology can engage youth, and the broader community in which they are situated, to develop new approaches to build on their strengths and assets. back to top
Why is Benton focused on underserved young people?
By 2010 there will be 50 million Americans between the age of 16 and 28, a historic high. Approximately 25% of them will be out of school, under-employed and with limited skills. Young people in their late teens and twenties who are of color, live in urban centers or isolated rural communities, are under court supervision and are single parents are disproportionately underserved. Media and communications tools, when embedded in comprehensive approaches to youth development, can play an important role in reconnecting them to a future of productive work and civic involvement.
Engaging communities to expand pathways for youth development using technology will provide incalculable social benefit:
- Increasing economic competitiveness and earnings. Economic competitiveness in the global economy increasingly requires a highly skilled workforce. Transitioning out-of-school youth into higher education would tap over a trillion dollars in earning potential over the lifetime of this group.
- Making America stronger. "Literacy and learning are the foundation of democracy and development," states the National Security Strategy published by the White House in September 2002. Allowing millions of young adults to fall through the cracks will prevents America from realizing its true potential in the years ahead.
- Strengthening young people and their families. Nearly half of young adults with the lowest level of skills are living in poverty. There is overwhelming evidence that as adults' literacy skills improve, so does their children's success in school, breaking the cycle of poverty and exclusion. Gaining new skills also makes adults more likely to volunteer, vote and engage in the larger community. back to top
Why is Benton well suited to undertake this effort?
Established in 1981, the Benton Foundation researches and promotes the use of media and communications tools to strengthen communities. A legacy of the late William Benton, former U.S. Senator and publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the foundation works with nonprofit organizations, community leaders, the business community and philanthropy to develop successful strategies for using the Internet and broadcast media to advance the economic, civic and educational well-being of underserved populations.
The Benton Foundation has a respected track record of:
- Web-based public education : Harnessing the WebÃ¢s power to build communities of interest, share ideas and catalyze real-time action.
- Skilled brokering of diverse stakeholders : Convening decision-makers across sectors to discuss and implement break-the-bold action strategies.
- Policy advocacy on behalf of the public interest: Mobilizing our networks to impact the policy agenda. back to top
So what does Benton propose to do?
The foundation will build on its historic strengths and assets as a public educator, trusted broker and policy advocate to ensure all young people develop the skills to compete in the new century. The following activities are already underway and are the efforts on which we will continue to build momentum and forge effective partnership.
- Spark community reflection and engagement. The Benton Foundation staff will work in select localities to explore how digital literacy can be woven into formal curriculum and informal content delivery in school and non-school settings in low-income and minority communities. The foundation is collaborating with the Center for Civic Participation and the Greater Phoenix Leadership in the East Valley of Phoenix to convene stakeholders and to develop a community-wide strategy for building media and technology competency.
- Inform the policymaking process. To justify investment and sharpen effective use of community technology, it is vital that we document, digest and share research on what's working in the field and what's not. The Benton Foundation is partnering with EDC/Center for Children & Technology and the Quality in Education Centre in Glasgow, Scotland to inform and engage decision-makers through the Teens and Technology Roundtable.
- Building communities of interest. The foundation is working with OneWorld International, the worldÃ¢s premier nonprofit gateway for locally relevant news and information on international development, on a Digital Literacy portal. The portal will build on the U.N. Literacy Decade mandate to close the education gap, using innovative techniques, such as information and communications technology-based solutions. back to top
Will Benton give out grants as part of this initiative?
No. The Benton Foundation is an operating foundation rather than a grantmaking foundation. In other words, we reinvest our endowment into staff-driven programmatic work rather than offering grants to other institutions. Approximately 85 percent of our annual budget must be fundraised by Benton staff, not unlike many other nonprofit organizations. back to top
How will Benton evaluate the progress of the initiative?
Evaluation will assess the ability to influence change locally and nationally through our community-driven engagement and our global digital literacy portal. In selected localities, are we successful as catalysts for community action? Have we sparked the development of new models for building digital literacy skills among underserved youth? And nationally, are we successful at equipping national stakeholders with evidence from community-based practice? Have we provided tools and information to push for increased resources and better policies to address the real needs of underserved young people?
The framework for measuring results will build on the foundation's long-standing capacity building and policy advocacy goals: We will assess community assets and needs, document what's working and what's missing in the field, promote models that match community needs and technology's potential, and disseminate lessons learned on technology's impact on community outcomes. Because our goal is social change, our emphasis in evaluation will be practical and process-oriented so that it provides information to guide and improve programs in a dynamic way. back to top
With whom are we looking to collaborate?
The foundation is conferring with leaders representing underserved communities, business, the nonprofit sector, philanthropy and academia and is in the process of cultivating new partnerships. Benton's approach depends on an alliance with strategic partners to support the campaign's goals, particularly in building trust with local communities and in building momentum to develop and implement new approaches to effective practice and new policy formulations. back to top