|Learning for Life, Work and the Future - Stimulating Reform in Southern Africa through Subregional Co-Operation - Initial Workshop (UNEVOC - Bonn, 2000, 104 p.)|
The paper addresses the developments and the context from which key skills emanated. It raises a number of questions the authors feel should be discussed in a regional forum, to clarify the nature and role of key skills and how they should or should not be placed in the curriculum. Questions raised are:
· What exactly are generic, transferable skills?
· How transferable are key skills?
· What role should generic, transferable skills play in education?
· Should we change the focus from key skills to key problems?
The purpose of raising these questions is to come to a clear understanding of key skills and specifically their role in vocational (teacher training) education. The authors propose a regional consultative meeting/workshop on key skills issues as well as the establishment of a regional key skills network.
Key skills are seen as an important educational component to make school leavers more employable (NCE, 1993). The Botswana Technical Education Programme (BTEP) therefore included a key-skills component (communication skills, numeracy, information and communication technology, personal and interpersonal skills and entrepreneurship) into the programme to address this noted inadequacy in the educational system. Including key skills in the BTEP is not only a response to government policy but also to demands from employers. In industry and commerce employers prefer workers with broad (multi-) skills who can carry out a range of functions in a production process and are adaptable to changing work circumstances under the influence of modern technology.
3. What are Key Skills?
Key skills are referred to in various ways: key competencies, generic skills, soft skills, core skills, basic skills, fundamental skills, transferable skills, capability, study skills, abilities, attributes, and so on. The question here is: do all indeed refer to the same concept?
A wide range of abilities and attitudes has been listed as key skills, including accountability, flexibility, goal setting, integrity, self-motivation, punctuality, work habits, responsibility, leadership, ability to work in teams, language skills, positive self-image, and a positive attitude towards work. Clearly some personal skills are more fundamental than others to support human productivity in all vocational areas.
Several authors have tried to place the various identified skills in key areas. The number of transferable skills identified ranges from 20 to 108 (Holmes, 1998), with various categorisations proposed. McLaughin (1992) placed skills seen as imperative for employment in the following categories:
· Communication (understanding, speaking, listening, reading, comprehending, using/producing written materials);
· Thinking (creative, innovative, critical and logical problem solving, effective use of information systems and tools, decision making);
· Personal and interpersonal (positive attitudes and behaviour, responsibility, adaptability, work with others).
4. Is the Key-Skills Picture Complete?
What is considered to be a key skill will depend on the specific group of persons identifying the skills. Employers might see different key skills from an educationalist or rank differently the importance of listed key skills. Key competencies relating to the following missing areas have been identified:
· (Multi-) cultural understanding
· Psycho-motor skills
· Musical or visual/spatial skills (arts).
Skills evident in, for example, proficient reading, comprehension and appreciation of literature, ethical concern, generosity, altruism - are they covered?
5. Generic (Transferable) Skills or Domain-Specific Skills?
Critics of the generic skill concept argue that knowledge and skills are context-specific and cannot be isolated from the context in which they are embedded (Breier, 1998). These critics state that the so-called core key or transferable skills are very specific skills (not context-free at all) that have been identified by a particular group of employers. They concluded that conceptions of generic skills are about attributes required by employers for work and that transfer of skills between contexts is a skill in itself. The pursuit of general transferable core/key skills is termed as wasteful ghost-hunting. The transferring skill is a meta-skill that allows selection, adaptation, adjustment and use of the other skills in different situations.
there is nothing intrinsically generic or transferable about the skills commonly labelled as generic or transferable. Most have to be acquired and exercised in specific contexts, with reference to specific knowledge bases. The term generic skills really refers to competencies that are valued by the employers. (Breier, 1998, p 90 - 91)
6. Further Clarification: What Are Key Skills?
What are key skills? How can you distinguish between a key and a non-key competency? Is the common list of key competencies sufficiently comprehensive or are key areas in human life left out? What do we mean by transfer? How like/unlike do two situations have to be to speak of transfer or to speak of a new skill? From the point of view of the generic concept critics, are key skills transferable or domain specific? Do they exist at all or is this just a theoretical construct? (Holmes, 1998.)
These are some of the fundamental questions in the debate over the introduction of key skills in new programmes in the region. It is worth listening to the pros and cons raised in countries like the UK and Australia that already have a respectable experience in key skills in the curriculum, with strong supporters and detractors. Other countries, notably the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and Germany, are exploring different options such as the key problem approach.
7. How Were Key Skill Areas Identified?
The identification of key skills has been based on analysis of employers preferred skills. These initially-identified key skill areas were later revalidated by employers. How valid is such a validation? Holmes (1998) states that a faulty methodology for the identification of key skills has been used and that the concept key skill itself is flawed.
This raises a number of fundamental questions. Have key skills or employability skills been identified? Are all key skills employability skills? Are all employability skills key skills?
8. Changing the Focus from Key Skills to Key Problems
Key skills development fits naturally within a curricular approach that utilizes key problems as a learning strategy. Reflection upon key problems can give insight into practice and provide ideas about how students might tackle similar problems in the future. It provides a framework for continuing professional development.
The focus on key problems can help in establishing an appreciation of the complexity and relatedness of issues and it can be used to facilitate both practical and theoretical learning. The notion of key problems is transferable in an unthreatening way, as each vocational area would have to define these for itself.
9. How Should Key Skills Be Taught?
Assuming that key skills - whatever they might be - can/have been identified, how should they be covered in a curriculum? Research findings on the effectiveness of different approaches to teaching key skills indicate that the latter are most effectively learned when:
· Fully integrated into the subjects of the programme followed by the learners. Key skills do not have an independent meaning, but acquire meaning within a specific context. Covering key skills as standalone units/modules was found not to be effective, as transfer did not occur. Sticht (1989) reported that programs that offer basic skill training prior to and separated from vocational programs are not particularly effective in improving either basic skills or vocational knowledge. Accreditation of free standing key-skill units would give credit to decontextualised learners performance and the credibility of such accreditation is in question (Wilmut et al. 1997). Key skills cannot be taught or assessed in isolation from a context. There is no research evidence to suggest that development of a key skill in one context will result in the spontaneous transfer to another significantly different context.
· Performance outcomes for the key skills have been explicitly included in each unit specification and evidence to be produced indicated. For effective learning of key skills, they must be included in the performance criteria and evidence requirements of each unit/module in the vocational area.
· A participative, learner-centred teaching approach is used. A teacher-centred approach was found to be far less effective than an approach in which role-play, problem solving, group discussion, etc. was used.
· A setting is used which closely mirrors real life and workplace situations. Learners must be able to see the direct relevance of the skill to their own future in the world of work or adult life.
· Teachers in their own classroom/workshop practice and personal/social life demonstrate the attitudes, values and skills they expect learners to develop. Attitudes and values espoused without their being enacted in the teachers own life have no transfer value. (Stasz, et al., 1993; Herr and Johnson, 1989; VEW, 1993).
It is proposed that
· A regional consultative meeting/workshop on key-skills issues be organized
· A regional key-skills network be established.
11. Expected Outcomes
· Clarification of the key-skills concept and its place, if any, in the new vocational curricula in the region
· A database with examples/ideas of key-skills activities in all vocational areas
· An in-service training pack on including key skills in the vocational areas, with examples in each vocational unit to show how key skills can be included
· Student learning packs/modules (for full-time and distance education in various vocational areas, including teacher training) with key-skills activities integrated and included in the performance criteria so that evidence has to be gathered.
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