Economic inequality has been described as the defining challenge of our time, responsible for a host of potential negative societal and individual outcomes including reduced opportunity, decreased health and life expectancy, and the destabilization of democracy. Education has been proposed as the “great equalizer” that has and can continue to play a role in reducing inequality. One means by which education does so is through the development of complex problem solving skills in students, skills used to solve novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings. These are highly valued in the workforce and will likely continue to be so in the future workforce. Their importance is evident in results from employer surveys, as well as by their inclusion in large scale international and domestic comparative assessments. In this paper, I review various definitions of complex problem solving and approaches for measuring it, along with findings from PISA 2003, 2012, and 2015. I also discuss prospects for teaching, assessing, and reporting on it, and discuss the emerging importance of collaborative problem solving. Developing and monitoring complex problem solving skills, broadly defined, is a critical challenge in preparing students for the future workforce, and in overcoming the negative effects of inequality and the diminishment of individual opportunity.
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