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The Four Cs of learning

By Sam Di Sano on 16 July 2018NSWstaffroomUKstaffroomPedagogyInnovation

There was an article published in The Educator online magazine on the educational benefits gained from teaching film and film studies in which Brett Henebery says: "in today’s fast-paced education landscape, the Four Cs of learning – critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication – are seen as critical to preparing students for the workplaces they’ll enter when they leave school."

The article is an excellent one, showcasing the very best of public education and recognising the benefits of expanding students’ creative horizons. He says:

Film making addresses the Four Cs (collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking). This is a real way of engaging kids to do some incredibly rich learning, because it takes in the whole curriculum. — Brett Henebery

These Four Cs of 21st century learning are four skills that have been identified by the United States-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) as the most important skills required for 21st century education.

My question is: are these Four Cs really the Four Cs of ‘learning’ though?

These Four Cs were identified and backed by leaders of industry, education and politics in the US, including some pretty big guns like President Obama, Time Warner, Apple, Cisco and Microsoft. From 2016 they were implemented in school curriculum nationally, so it takes some gumption to argue against them, but to be honest I am not really convinced this is really what education is all about.

Are we really just preparing students for the workplace?

I also have trouble accepting the premise that ‘preparing students for the workplace’ is the end point we as educators are diligently working towards. Sounds awfully utilitarian to me, although I am sure that was not the intention.

I tend to align myself closer to the sentiments of another writer - author and teacher Ned Manning. In a beautiful piece published in the SMH on 18 January 2018, he wrote that teaching is “about relationships - it’s a people job”.

Teachers are attracted to the job because they are interested in imparting information, developing minds and offering opportunity. You might even say they are people with a passion for changing lives. — Ned Manning 2018

My Four Cs are different to your Four Cs

For me, four alternate Cs immediately spring to mind when considering our vision for education. ‘Competence’, ‘conscience’, ‘compassion' and ‘commitment'. As for the stated end point (preparing students for the workplace) - I resonate more with a desire to generate good people; men and women of justice and solid character; leaders in areas such as industry, government and education to name but three. Preparing students for the workplace, while valid, is for me only the means to the end. The actual end-point I think is to generate agents of change for their future.

Let’s look at my alternate four Cs, which incidentally I cannot take credit for. They come from a faith-based approach to teaching and learning attributed to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits) who stated in 1993 his wish to form “men and women of service”. Faith aside, they stand just as powerful and compelling in a secular world as a way to explain a vision of educating the whole person. For me, these four Cs capture the true meaning of excellence in education, that is, the development of each individual’s gifts and talents put to the service of others.


A competent person: someone capable of creating, understanding and using the knowledge and skills of their education to develop the intellectual, academic, emotional and social skills required to take their place in the world.


A person of conscience will see the goodness and beauty of the world as well as its pain and misery and dedicate themself to bringing about change.


A compassionate person works towards a sense of justice and attempts to challenge injustice in a positive way, recognising human dignity and the value of others.


A committed person works for social and political change to achieve justice.

Again from Manning:

teachers never stop learning. About themselves as well as about their subjects. They are constantly searching for better ways to teach… and doing what we excel at. That is, communicating with our students. Disseminating information. Encouraging learning. Fostering self-esteem. Offering support. Helping where we can… (these are the things we) are really good at: forging relationships, making children feel good about themselves, changing lives.

So, what is my take on the priorities in education?

Simply that today more than ever, our education system must reflect 21st century thinking; it needs to embrace not only these Four Cs but also be witness to a renewal of our teaching strategies, classroom environments, school structures and curriculum so that the manner in which we educate is consistent with a vision which aims to develop the hearts and minds of young people to become agents of change for a world desperately needing it.

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