Contemplative Practices and 21st Century Skills

Posted on Jun 4, 2015

photo by Karsten Knöfler

Photo by Karsten Knöfler

By Daniel P. Barbezat


As long as one of the central goals of higher education is to provide the means for our students to thrive as workers and citizens, colleges and universities will continually reallocate resources, departments and personnel in attempts to compete more effectively in global markets.

While we certainly cannot predict the exact characteristics of 21st century skills and their requirements, a deeper consideration of our present situation can help us make observations about the kinds of skills that will support personal and global thriving.

Within many industries, machines and robotics are readily carrying out ever more complicated routines. As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, we can see the singular advantage of human-to-human contact: close connections with others and our ability to respond to non-standard routines, allowing us to provide creative and compassionate responses to circumstances as they arise.

In modern labor markets, as problem-solving grows more complex and collaboration is increasingly necessary—often across great distances and differences—our ability to listen, speak, and connect with one another largely determines how productive and successful we will be.[1],[2]  The 21st century skills our students are developing must support clear communication, cooperation, and creative problem solving.

Continued engagement with such an inquiry informs our decisions and actions, supporting us in making choices that are aligned with our vision and values. Authentic engagement and connection within and across differences can be supported by all kinds of contemplative practices: powerful means to develop intra- and interpersonal awareness, compassion, focus and discernment. Our actions then become a source of our own thriving and sense of well-being. [3]

Higher education should be a critical environment for developing this inquiry process. As educators, providing our students with the means to face the challenges of the 21st century with open hearts and minds should be our essential mission.

Our ability to connect with one another across great distances and differences is essential for our personal and collective thriving on this planet as we face massive and often overwhelming local, national, and global problems that test both our faith and our love.





[3] “Life in College matters for Life after College,”

Daniel P. Barbezat is Professor of Economics at Amherst College.  As Executive Director of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society–the national hub for contemplative teaching and learning, committed to the positive transformation of the higher education system by supporting the use of contemplative/introspective practices to create engaged learning environments–he has lectured and led workshops on contemplative learning and pedagogy throughout the United States and Canada and is actively working to expand and deepen the Center’s programs, making its work more accessible and transformative for all. His latest book, co-written with Mirabai Bush and published by Jossey-Bass, is Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning.

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