Equipping children with life skills for the 21st century Malta, Helen O'Grady Drama Academy Malta

Equipping children with life skills for the 21st century

23rd August 2021

Educators and workforce experts alike warn that our children need improved 21st century skills. Without these skills, they will not be able to successfully participate in the global economy. They won’t be adequately prepared for college and work. But what, exactly, are 21st century skills?

Simply put, 21st century skills are 12 recognised abilities that today’s students need to succeed in their chosen paths in a global economy. At the international Helen O’Grady Drama Academy, we focus on four of the broader skills, with spin-offs into the other eight. These are: 1. Critical thinking, 2. Creativity, 3. Collaboration, and 4. Communication.

These skills are intended to help students keep up with the lightning-pace of today’s modern markets. They are vital tools to holding down jobs in the information age.

Each skill is unique in how it helps students, but they all have one quality in common: They’re essential in the age of the internet.

Stop right there if that covers all the information you require. If, however, you’d like to delve a little deeper, keep reading. We’ve further broken these four skills as we see them to be essential for a more rounded education, and because they’re the ones we focus on most of all – together with a good smattering of confidence.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is focused, careful analysis of something to better understand it. When people speak of ‘left brain’ activity, they are usually referring to critical thinking. Here are some of the main critical-thinking abilities:

• Analysing is breaking something down into its parts, examining each part, and noting how the parts fit together;

• Arguing is using a series of statements connected logically together, backed by evidence, to reach a conclusion;

• Comparing and contrasting is pointing out the similarities and differences between two or more subjects;

• Defining is explaining the meaning of a term using denotation, connotation, example, etymology, synonyms, and antonyms;

• Describing is explaining the traits of something, such as size, shape, weight, colour, use, origin, value, condition, location, and so on;

• Evaluating is deciding on the worth of something by comparing it against an accepted standard of value;

• Explaining is telling what something is or how it works so that others can understand it;

• Problem-solving is analysing the causes and effects of a problem and finding a way to stop the causes or the effects.

• Tracking cause and effect is determining why something is happening and what results from it.

Creative thinking

Creative thinking is expansive, open-ended invention and discovery of possibilities. When people speak of ‘right brain’ activity, they most often mean creative thinking. It is worth nothing that traditional academia tends to favour conformity over creativity – a big mistake, as we know today.

Here are some of the more common creative thinking abilities:

• Brainstorming ideas involves asking a question and rapidly listing all answers, even those that are far-fetched, impractical, or impossible;

• Creating something requires forming it by combining materials, perhaps according to a plan or perhaps based on the impulse of the moment;

• Designing something means finding the conjunction between form and function and shaping materials for a specific purpose;

• Entertaining others involves telling stories, making jokes, singing songs, playing games, acting out parts, and making conversation;

• Imagining ideas involves reaching into the unknown and impossible, perhaps idly or with great focus, as Einstein did with his thought experiments;

• Improvising a solution involves using something in a novel way to solve a problem;

• Innovating is creating something that hasn’t existed before, whether an object, a procedure or an idea;

• Overturning something means flipping it to get a new perspective, perhaps by redefining givens, reversing cause and effect, or looking at something in a brand new way;

• Problem-solving requires using many of the creative abilities listed here to figure out possible solutions and putting one or more of them into action;

• Questioning actively reaches into what is unknown to make it known, seeking information or a new way to do something.

When students are confident and secure about who they are, they’re more likely to have a growth mindset


What are we if not communicators? And good communicators always seem to get that little bit further in life – they get the better jobs and the friendships because they know how to get their ideas and their points of views across.

Here are some of the benefits:

• Analysing the situation means thinking about the subject, purpose, sender, receiver, medium, and context of a message.

• Choosing a medium involves deciding the most appropriate way to deliver a message, ranging from a face-to-face chat to a 400-page report.

• Evaluating messages means deciding whether they are correct, complete, reliable, authoritative, and up-to-date.

• Following conventions means communicating using the expected norms for the medium chosen.

• Listening actively requires carefully paying attention, taking notes, asking questions, and otherwise engaging in the ideas being communicated.

• Reading is decoding written words and images in order to understand what their originator is trying to communicate.

• Speaking involves using spoken words, tone of voice, body language, gestures, facial expressions, and visual aids in order to convey ideas.

• Turn taking means effectively switching from receiving ideas to providing ideas, back and forth between those in the communication situation.

• Using technology requires understanding the abilities and limitations of any technological communication, from phone calls to e-mails to instant messages.

• Writing involves encoding messages into words, sentences, and paragraphs for the purpose of communicating to a person who is removed by distance, time, or both.


• Allocating resources and responsibilities ensures that all members of a team can work optimally;

• Brainstorming ideas in a group involves rapidly suggesting and writing down ideas without pausing to critique them;

• Decision-making requires sorting through the many options provided to the group and arriving at a single option to move forward;

Delegating means assigning duties to members of the group and expecting them to fulfil their parts of the task;

Evaluating the products, processes and members of the group provides a clear sense of what is working well and what improvements could be made;

Goal- setting requires the group to analyse the situation, decide what outcome is desired, and clearly state an achievable objective;

Leading a group means creating an environment in which all members can contribute according to their abilities;

Managing time involves matching up a list of tasks to a schedule and tracking the progress toward goals;

Resolving conflicts occurs from using one of the following strategies: asserting, cooperating, compromising, competing or deferring;

Team building means cooperatively working over time to achieve a common goal.

The entire package, of course, feeds into the most essential quality of all: confidence.

Children (and adults) with strong self-esteem and a sense of self-worth feel confident and capable. They participate more in class and, indeed, in life.

When students are confident and secure about who they are, they’re more likely to have a growth mindset. That means they can motivate themselves to take on new challenges and change the world.

Alan Montanaro, Director, Helen O’Grady Drama Academy (Malta & Africa)




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