About the Author(s)

Tessa de Wet symbol
Optentia Research Unit, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa

Sebastiaan Rothmann Email symbol
Optentia Research Unit, North-West University, Vanderbijlpark, South Africa


De Wet, T., & Rothmann. S. (2022). Perceived 21st-century competencies as capabilities of secondary school teachers in a South African context. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology/SA Tydskrif vir Bedryfsielkunde, 48(0), a2003. https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v48i0.2003

Original Research

Perceived 21st-century competencies as capabilities of secondary school teachers in a South African context

Tessa de Wet, Sebastiaan Rothmann

Received: 22 Feb. 2022; Accepted: 27 July 2022; Published: 27 Oct. 2022

Copyright: © 2022. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Orientation: The capability for work framework led to a shift in thinking about occupational health psychology. The value of work can only be preserved if decision-makers recognise that employees value their work and the competencies needed to excel at work.

Research purpose: This study aimed to develop a list of capabilities from 21st-century competencies found in literature and to quantitatively measure the resulting 21st-century competency (21CC) capabilities of secondary school teachers (SSTs) – valued knowledge and skill dimensions that are enabled and can be realised.

Motivation for study: This framework is an appropriate outline for studying the functioning of employees but lacks specificity regarding the specific competencies (knowledge and skills) needed to function well.

Research approach/design and method: A convenience sample of SSTs (N = 144) in the Gauteng province completed the 21st-century competencies as capabilities questionnaire.

Main findings: The results indicated that the 21CC capabilities are most likely to form part of SSTs’ capability set (i.e. the competencies that they value, are enabled in and achieve) were collaboration, constructive relationships and educational literacy. The 21CC capabilities least likely to form part of the teachers’ capability set included cognitive and digital literacy, processing and personal and professional development.

Practical/managerial implications: Managers and practitioners should consider the concept of capability (value, empowerment and achievement) in management interventions and conceptualise occupation-specific competencies for use and development of knowledge and skills capabilities.

Contribution/value-add: This study contributes to scientific knowledge regarding the integration of specific competencies using the capability approach.

Keywords: 21st century; competency; capabilities approach; secondary school teacher; value; enablement; achievement; South Africa.


The education sector in South Africa is one of the most challenging work spheres (Ramdass, 2009) and a critical societal development pillar (Cilliers, 2020; Markle & Cilliers, 2020). Despite centralised education governance in South Africa, staggering inequality is found in different school contexts, affecting learners and teachers alike through hurdles to achieving quality education (Spaull, 2019). The global environment is increasingly becoming more dynamic and organisations (such as schools) must deal with discontinuity in work processes and fast-paced changes caused by technological development (Schwab, 2016), disruptive innovations, influential global competition, changes in governmental regulations and alterations in industry structures (Du & Chen, 2018). Furthermore, the lack of information and communication technology has exacerbated the paralysing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education in the majority of schools in South Africa (South African Department of Basic Education, 2020). Research has indicated that the South African education sector is not flourishing as it should, despite high investment in education (McWilliam, 2017; Pretorius, 2013; Van der Berg, 2008; Venter & Viljoen, 2020).

The unprecedented pace of change, coupled with the high rate of digitalisation and interlinking of the technological and biological spheres (Gallup, 2019; Schwab, 2016), requires different competencies from employees than was the case in the past. These competencies (which can be referred to as 21st-century competencies) entail contemporary knowledge, skills and attributes needed to support individuals’ learning and flourishing (McWilliam, 2017; Xu, David, & Kim, 2018). Therefore, it is essential to develop teachers’ 21st-century competencies (Gordon et al., 2010; Lonka, 2018; Pellegrino & Hilton, 2013). Studies in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. Tao, 2013) and specifically in South Africa (e.g. Van der Berg, Spaull, Wills, Gustafsson, & Kotzé, 2016) have attributed poor education quality to teacher-related factors. The Action Plan for 2030 (South African Department of Basic Education, 2020) outlines the improvement of teachers’ professionalism, teaching skills, subject knowledge and computer literacy as an ongoing priority. Research has indicated that schools and teachers do not possess adequately rich teaching tools to make learning effective, they do not seem to be sufficiently self-confident in using these tools (Gordon et al., 2010) and every aspect of educational transformation depends on competent teachers’ achievement (Eyre, 2016; Pretorius, 2013).

Recently, the capability approach applied to work led to a shift in thinking about occupational health psychology (Van der Klink et al., 2016). It considers the freedom and opportunity that employees have to exercise choice in matters relating to their jobs. Van der Klink (2019) maintained that the value of work can only be preserved if managers and leaders recognise that employees value their work (and specifically the use of knowledge and skills and the development of new knowledge and skills) and are enabled to mine the value and achieve the unlocking of such value, therefore searching for work that fits their preferences and allows them to flourish (Abma et al., 2016). Therefore, this study deals with conceived 21st-century competencies that should best be transformed into employees’ capabilities.

Twenty-first-century competencies

The concepts of competence and competency have acquired importance in human resource management worldwide (Lozano, Boni, Peris, & Hueso, 2012). The term competence refers to the ability to successfully meet complex performance requirements and develop skill proficiency in a particular context through the mobilisation of psychosocial prerequisites (including both cognitive and noncognitive processes) (Rychen & Salganik, 2001; Stephenson & Yorke, 2012). A competency is defined as a collection of related knowledge, attitudes and skills that affects a job. Hence, it is a capacity or ability of related, but different, sets of behaviours that are organised around an underlying construct and reflect a person’s maturity to perform in this area (Succar, Sher, & Williams, 2013). Competencies intend to afford the individual the needed knowledge, skills and attributes to solve problems that arise externally from other persons or establishments in society.

Twenty-first-century competencies is a concept that refers to an array of knowledge, skills and attributes needed for people to function and contribute to current and future society in a radically different work environment. The notion of competency suggests more than just the attainment of needed knowledge and skills; it involves the application of the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to meet multifarious demands (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2018). Therefore, the competency approach has a significant bearing on ensuring a close correlation between the development of learners and potential work opportunities (Kyrychok, 2017). Various 21st-century competency frameworks have been conceptualised (Care, 2018), ranging from high-level to detailed analysis and focusing on different 21st-century competencies, including core, technology and digital and broader supporting competencies.

Table 1 summarises the results of 23 framework publications regarding 21st-century competencies applicable to secondary school teachers (SSTs). The information in the frameworks could not easily be compared because of differences in emphasis and lines of reasoning, but it was broadly groupable (Voogt & Roblin, 2012).

TABLE 1: Synthesis of potential 21st-century competencies.

However, much controversy exists over the sufficiency of competency modelling to portray the full capacity needed to perform a job, even when attempts are made to use other methods (e.g. job analysis) to supplement competency thinking (Bromley, 2019). This study thus applied the capability approach (CA) (Sen, 1980, 1985, 1993) and, more specifically, the sustainable employability (SE) model dimensions of value, enablement and achievement that are measured in this model (Abma et al., 2016; Van der Klink et al., 2016) to transform competencies into capabilities. While acknowledging the significance of resources, the CA also indicates the significance of applied use-value and internal resources that affect the capabilities of individuals in terms of their abilities and opportunities to execute the behaviours that relate to a life they have reason to value (Bromley, 2019).

From 21st-century competencies to capabilities

The CA outlines people’s internal and external capacity to access and use afforded opportunities and resources (i.e. capabilities). Moreover, the CA focuses on making valued choices and having agency (Walker & Unterhalter, 2007; Wilson-Strydom & Walker, 2015) to action their choices effectively.

A key principle in the CA is the value attached to work and the tasks involved to support sustainable employability (SE) (Van der Klink et al., 2016). In SE literature, the reasoning for capability development is the creation of conditions that enable job incumbents to use their agency for various opportunities to create value for themselves and their employer, while maintaining well-being and attitudinal and motivational aspects (Fleuren, De Grip, Jansen, Kant, & Zijlstra, 2016) in order for them to remain sustainably employed in their organisation, to the benefit of both the organisation and the job incumbent.

Both the competence approach and CA recognise the significance of addressing the individual’s rational, emotional and social dimensions. Therefore, both assist in understanding how employees’ performance could be improved. The capability for work framework (Van der Klink, 2019) is an appropriate outline for studying the functioning of employees, but it lacks specificity regarding the specific competencies (knowledge and skills) needed to feel good and function well, rendering employees more capable of performing well. For example, the Capability for Work Questionnaire (Abma et al., 2016) measures using and developing knowledge, skills and attitudes without being specific about which knowledge, skills and attitudes are relevant. Therefore, the information contained in, for instance, 21st-century competency frameworks could serve as the foundation for understanding capabilities in learning and teaching.

Current study

According to previous research reports, there are differences between how teachers and policymakers interpret teachers’ work and what is valued and considered to be good-quality teaching from the policymakers’ and teachers’ perspectives, respectively (Buckler, 2012). Hence, it is vital to gauge teachers’ perspectives of their capability in terms of 21st-century competencies that contribute to their functioning, especially in the sub-Saharan African region that experiences poor educational outcomes (Cilliers, 2020). Being faced with competing demands between the contextualised education needed for the African context and the 21st-century competencies developed in Western context, researchers are tasked to find the best alternative for Africa to create the necessary capabilities, if they intend to develop and realise contextually valued capabilities and explore educational options for emancipation and achievement of true African identity (Woolman, 2001).

Although the competency approach is essential for conceptualising, measuring and developing SSTs to fulfil their roles, this study goes one step further and translates competencies into capabilities; showing how competencies are valued, applied and achieved by SSTs. Abma et al. (2016) found that using and developing knowledge and skills were pertinent capabilities of employees, but their research did not go as far as to conceptualise the specific knowledge and skills that employees might value. Different jobs may require different knowledge and skills. From a CA perspective, individuals will become more capable when their competencies are valued, when they are enabled to use them and when they achieve success in using the competencies. It is essential to create the conditions for employees to feel valued and believe that they are adding value (Prillentensky & Prillentensky, 2021).

In the broader context of sub-Saharan African developing countries, studies have roughly positioned teachers as either being the reason for poor education quality, as evidenced in citations of absenteeism, rote teaching and keeping back content or of being the sufferers of a defective system, which is revealed through expositions of teachers’ impoverished working and living conditions (Tao, 2013, 2014). What seems to be missing from research is an explicit connection between what teachers value, their conditions of service and their criticised behaviours (Tao, 2013). Tao (2013) mentioned that many of these actions are explained as acts predominantly governed by ‘culture’ or ‘opportunism’. However, these actions diminish teachers’ behaviours to either products of cultural edifices (thereby overlooking teachers’ capacity for deliberation and agency) or the outcome of voluntarist action only (which does not pay enough attention to social arrangements in society). Technocratic fixes that rely on technology and technical expertise to bring solutions rarely work because they are unsuccessful in considering the challenging working and living conditions that teachers must bear (Tao, 2013) or teachers’ value to various parts of their job (Buckler, 2012).

This study aimed to investigate 21st-century competencies as capabilities of SSTs in a South African context.

Research design

This study entailed a quantitative, cross-sectional design.

Research approach

A survey design was used by developing and implementing a survey. Cross-sectional surveys suit descriptive and predictive functions of correlational research and are efficient when resources are scarce (Creswell & Creswell, 2018).

Research method

This study applied the 21st-century Competency – Capabilities Questionnaire (21CCQ) to SSTs.


The population for this study included all SSTs in three districts of Tshwane, Gauteng (North, South and West). Table 2 indicates the demographic variables of the participants. A total of 36 (17.9%) of the participants were employed in the Tshwane North district, while 160 (79.6%) were employed in Tshwane South and five (2.5%) in Tshwane West. For those who indicated what language English was for them, 17 (16.7%) indicated English as their home language. Unfortunately, the voluntary nature of participation in the study and the demands on teachers because of the COVID-19 pandemic made it exceedingly difficult to obtain participants. In addition, the sample was small because school principals and teachers were under pressure to cover the curriculum in a brief period when data collection took place. Furthermore, the social distancing protocols prescribed during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown made it challenging to obtain more participants. According to the South Africa Department of Basic Education Electronic Management Information System (SADBE EMIS, 2018), there are 8797 SSTs in the Tshwane districts, clustered in 218 secondary schools. The response rate equated to 1.64%.

TABLE 2: Characteristics of participants (N = 144).
Measuring instruments

The 21st-century Competency – Capabilities Questionnaire (21CCQ) comprised thirteen 21st-century competency (21CC) categories, with three questions relating to capacity in respect of each competency, namely, a value component (e.g. ‘Personally, how important is it to you to be effective in this aspect?’), an enablement component (e.g. ‘Does your work offer you enough opportunity to use this aspect?’) and an achievement component (e.g. ‘Do you feel confident about your ability to be competent in this aspect?’). The items were measured on a scale varying from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much so). Each of the 13 dimensions consisted of three to seven items: autonomy (AU; five items, e.g. ‘Make your own decisions’); processing (PR; five items, e.g. ‘Use provided structures and processes in your job’); cognitive literacy (CL; five items, e.g. ‘Read and write in another world language’); digital literacy (DL; five items, e.g. ‘Understand how digital technology and platforms work’); education literacy (EL; six items, e.g. ‘Be competent in a specific field or discipline in your work’); constructive relationships – general (CR1; four items, e.g. ‘Engage with others in an emotionally mature manner’); constructive relationships – levels (CR2; four items, e.g. ‘Engage with people who have authority over you’); collaboration – drive (CO1; four items, e.g. ‘Meet and network with many different people as part of your work’); collaboration – other-focus (CO2; three items, e.g. ‘Adapt according to the needs of other people’); contextualisation (CX; five items, e.g. ‘Be aware of and incorporate the culture and history of the people with whom you work’); productivity (PD; seven items, e.g. ‘Produce noticeable results as part of your work’); mindfulness (MI; seven items, e.g. ‘Consider values, virtues, ethics and morals as part of your job’); and personal and professional development (PP; four items, e.g. ‘Engage in constant learning and education to develop yourself’).

Research procedure

Teachers from both public (state-controlled) and independent (privately governed) secondary schools were included, but teachers from schools that cater for Learners with Special Education Needs (LSEN) were excluded. The data collection phase coincided with the start of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic lockdown period in South Africa, necessitating remote communication and data gathering. Introductory materials (an introductory presentation to principals, a video explaining the study and e‑posters for the teachers) were developed and made accessible electronically. The questionnaires were administered on both an electronic platform and in paper format between June 2020 and July 2021. As a result of restrictions placed on physical proximity by the COVID-19 pandemic, school principals as gatekeepers were contacted telephonically and via e-mail to introduce the study and request participation.

All schools in the districts that were contactable were included for potential participation. In total, 117 (53.9%) school principals were reached for participation. A letter of goodwill and a school questionnaire were submitted to the principal. The survey was made available to school principals to distribute to their teaching staff. In addition, the school principals mediated contact with SSTs. Finally, the data were captured electronically on Microsoft Excel. In the case where respondents left out answers, the missing data was dealt with using complete case (or available case) analysis (listwise deletion) by omitting the cases with missing data, while analysing the remaining data.

Data analysis

Mplus 8.6 (Muthén & Muthén, 1998–2021) and SPSS 27 (IBM Corp., 2021) were used to analyse the results. The measurement models were evaluated using the weighted least square mean and variance adjusted (WLSMV) estimator in Mplus 8.6 (Muthén & Muthén, 1998–2021). The following indices were used to assess the fit of the models: chi-square (χ2), the standardised root mean square residual (SRMR), the root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA), the Tucker–Lewis index (TLI) and the comparative fit index (CFI). Lower values indicate a better fit on all the indices, except for the CFI and TLI, where higher values indicate better fit (Wang & Wang, 2020).

Abma et al. (2016) suggested a procedure where a summary score was calculated for each capability aspect to assess whether it formed part of the teacher’s capability set. A capability aspect (range 1 to 5) was included in a teacher’s capability set if the teacher regarded and scored the aspect as important (A = 4 to 5) was enabled to achieve it (B = 4 to 5) and succeeded in achieving it (C = 4 to 5). Teachers who found an aspect important but lacked the opportunity to realise it or failed to realise it might demonstrate ineffective functioning, while teachers who regarded a capability aspect as important, were enabled to realise it and succeeded in achieving it might function well. In cases where teachers responded as follows, a capability aspect was not considered part of the capability set: (1) the capability was important (A = 4 to 5), but the workplace was not providing enough opportunities (B ≤ 3); (2) the capability aspect was important (A = 4 to 5), but the person could not achieve it (C ≤ 3); or (3) the workplace offered sufficient opportunities (B = 4 to 5), but the person could not achieve the aspect (C ≤ 3).

Ethical considerations

Before the commencement of the study, ethical clearance was obtained from a higher education institution. Ethical approval was granted by the Health Research Ethics Committee (HREC) at North-West University (reference number: NWU- 00430-19-A1). Permission for the study was obtained from the research division of the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE).


Results were statistically analysed using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), phi coefficients and mean scores.

Confirmatory factor analysis, reliability and correlations

Confirmatory factor analysis was undertaken to assess the fit of the measurement model of the different 21CCs identified, based on the value component of each. Items that excessively weakened the value component of each dimension in the model were removed. Two dimensions showed loadings onto more than one factor and were processed as such: the constructive relationships capability indicated a ‘general’ component (items that had to do with relationships in general) and a ‘levels’ component (items that had to do with relationships at different levels of authority in relation to the person), and the collaboration capability indicated a ‘drive’ component (where the individual collaborated for the sake of the energy the person got from collaboration) and an ‘other focus’ component (where the focus of collaboration was on capacitating other people). Table 3 provides the CFA statistics.

TABLE 3: Confirmatory factor analysis characteristics of the value component of each 21CC dimension.

These values indicated a just acceptable fit between the dimension models and the observed data (Shevlin & Miles, 1998).

Table 4 demonstrates that the factor loadings on items were all indicated to be within the acceptable range of 0.45 to 0.80 (Field, 2016). Concerning the cognitive literacy dimension, two items showed lower loadings, but they were kept in because of their criticality to education, namely being able to converse in a world language and using mathematical concepts as part of one’s job. Most capability dimensions showed acceptable reliability coefficients against the cut-off value of 0.70 (Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994).

TABLE 4: Factor loadings and reliabilities for the 21st-century competencies as capability dimensions.

Phi coefficients correlations were used to indicate correlations between the variables at a nominal level (i.e. the competency capabilities). Point-biserial correlations were computed to show the associations between competency capabilities and the capability set. Table 5 indicates that correlations between the different capability dimensions ranged between 0.24 and 0.57, with all correlations being indicated as statistically significant.

TABLE 5: 21CC capabilities phi coefficients and point-biserial correlations.
Descriptive statistics of the 21st-century competency capabilities

The participants rated each capability on three dimensions: value (importance), opportunity (enablement) and achievement (succeeding). The mean ratings as provided by the respondents are provided in Table 6.

TABLE 6: Mean ratings and capability by dimension and combined total.

Table 6 reveals that, in terms of 21CC capabilities, the following percentages of SSTs reported placing a high value on the different 21CC capability components (from the highest to the lowest percentage): educational literacy (85.7%), collaboration – other focus (84.3%), constructive relationships – general (84.3%), constructive relationships – levels (82.9%), autonomy (81.4%), mindfulness (81.4%), personal and professional development (81.4%), productivity (78.6%), digital literacy (72.9%), contextualisation (71.4%), processing competency (70.0%), cognitive literacy (67.1%) and collaboration – drive (58.6%).

Regarding opportunity (enablement of values), the following percentages (from the highest to the lowest percentage) show the SSTs who reported being enabled in the different 21CC capability components: collaboration – other focus (77.1%), constructive relationships – levels (75.7%), contextualisation (65.7%), educational literacy (72.9%), constructive relationships – general (67.1%), productivity (65.7%), autonomy (64.3%), digital literacy (61.4%), processing competency (57.1%), collaboration – drive (57.1%), cognitive literacy (55.7%), personal and professional development (55.7%) and mindfulness (54.3%).

Finally, concerning achievement, the following percentages (from the highest to the lowest percentage) of SSTs reported being able to succeed in achieving each of the 21CC capability components: constructive relationships – general (82.9%), autonomy (77.1%), collaboration – other focus (75.7%), mindfulness (72.9%), personal and professional development (71.4%), educational literacy (71.4%), constructive relationships – levels (70.0%), processing competency (67.1%), collaboration – drive (65.7%), contextualisation (65.7%), productivity (65.7%), cognitive literacy (58.6%) and digital literacy (51.4%).

Table 6 indicates that when all three elements (value, opportunity and achievement) were considered in combination, the percentages of teachers from whom 21CC capabilities were included in each of the measured capabilities were as follows: collaboration – other focus (67.1%), constructive relationships – levels (64.3%), educational literacy (62.9%), constructive relationships – general (60.0%), productivity (58.6%), autonomy (57.1%), collaboration – drive (51.4%), contextualisation (54.3%), mindfulness (50.0%), processing competency (48.6%), personal and professional development (48.6%), cognitive literacy (47.1%) and digital literacy (47.1%).


This study aimed to identify and measure the 21CC capabilities of SSTs – valued aspects of work that were enabled and could be achieved. Confirmatory factor analysis confirmed 13 21CC capability dimensions.

The results indicated that 70.0% to 85.7% of the SSTs valued each of the 13 21CC capabilities. Education literacy was valued by most of the teachers. However, the smallest number of teachers valued processing. The enablement responses indicated that 54.3% to 77.1% of SSTs perceived themselves as enabled in each of the 13 capabilities. Most of the teachers indicated enablement concerning collaboration – other focus. However, the lowest enablement was reported for mindfulness. From 51.4% to 82.9% of the teachers reported successfully achieving the 13 capabilities. Constructive relationships – general was a capability for most teachers, while digital literacy was achieved by the lowest number of SSTs. When the three elements (value, opportunity and achievement) were combined in capabilities, 64.3% of the respondents reported overall capability in constructive relationships – levels (most reported) and 47.1% in cognitive literacy and digital literacy (least reported).

The given discussion indicates that most teachers reported all 13 of the 21CC values as being important to them. They valued autonomy, constructive relationships – general and collaboration – other focus as most important, although education literacy, constructive relationships – levels, collaboration – other focus, mindfulness and personal and professional development were also important to more than 80% of the teachers. The enablement and opportunities to realise their value were considerably lower for all thirteen 21CC dimensions but even more so for mindfulness, cognitive literacy, personal and professional development, processing and collaboration – drive. Achievement of capabilities showed the same pattern as enablement: the achievement was considerably lower than the importance for all seven 21CC dimensions but specifically for digital literacy and cognitive literacy. The discrepancy in value, enablement and achievement supports other capability approach findings in the SSA secondary (Chigona & Chigona, 2010) and primary school (Buckler, 2012) spheres where the official capability factors differ from the list of teacher-generated capability factors, showing possible misalignments between what teachers value and what the system supports them to achieve and discrepancies between the quality of teaching that teachers feel they are providing versus what those who employ them think they achieve (Buckler, 2016).

The participants perceived their capabilities to be in the range of just below average to high average in all the 21CC capabilities. However, less capability was indicated regarding cognitive literacy, digital literacy, processing and personal and professional development. Overall, the value attached to capabilities was generally higher than the opportunity and achievement of these capabilities. These results concur with findings in previous studies (Abma et al., 2016; Buckler, 2012; Chigona & Chigona, 2010; Eyre, 2016). The findings also indicate that SSTs reported more success than enablement in 8 of the 13 capabilities (autonomy, processing, cognitive literacy, constructive relationships – general, collaboration – drive, collaboration – other focus, mindfulness and personal and professional development), which differed from the findings in the previous study of Abma et al. (2016).

Limitations and recommendations for future research

In terms of the limitations of this study, firstly, the cognitive literacy 21CC capability dimension held weak psychometric properties, although it contained critical content in terms of SSTs’ functionality (Otto & Ziegler, 2006). It is worth exploring how to conceptualise this dimension further to improve its power in the model. Secondly, the small sample size obtained as an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic (Sastry, McGonagle, & Fomby, 2020) and the missing data in the surveys did not allow for broader exploratory factor analysis between different subgroups (such as independent and public school SSTs), which could have assisted in further unpacking and understanding the various dimensions identified and its impact on different educational contexts (Walker & Unterhalter, 2007). Thirdly, although cross-sectional data sufficed for exploratory research, the study could also be supplemented by longitudinal measurement of 21CC capabilities. Lastly, the timing of the collection of data was not ideal. Data collection commenced and ended while the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height: teachers were in flux and education in South Africa was destabilised. This could have resulted in a positively biased sample of only the very committed principals and teachers who opted to participate in the research and completed the lengthy survey, thereby inferring nonresponse bias that could positively skew the results obtained (National Research Council, 2013).

Research on the effects of the context of schooling in South Africa is also necessary, as it has been indicated that teachers operating in different circumstances (e.g. school sector, type and socio-economic status of learners) may have different 21CC capability needs in different school contexts (Mushayikwa, 2013; Tsanwani, Harding, Engelbrecht, & Maree, 2014).


This study developed a model of 21st-century competency capabilities for SSTs based on the CA (Sen, 1980). These 21CC capabilities were measured in accordance with the value, enablement and achievement that teachers perceived in applying the 21st-century competencies. Further research is needed to ascertain how changes in capability affect the performance of teachers, as well as learners’ performance, specifically in different teaching contexts.


Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors’ contributions

T.d.W. conducted the statistical analyses and wrote the article. S.R. assisted with the statistical analyses and with interpreting the results and editing the article.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.


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Appendix 1

TABLE 1-A1: List of supplementary documents mentioned in Table 1.

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