The global movement to global competencies
As society’s needs, economic trends, and environmental challenges evolve, public education must also adapt, in order to ensure that young people are fully prepared for the world they will enter upon graduation. For future success, students must have a toolbox of competencies that extend beyond the 3Rs into areas like creativity, health, social-emotional learning, and citizenship.
A competency by any other name…
Education scholars, organizations, and practitioners have recognized the need for the teaching and learning of transferable skills. These skills have been called global competencies, enterprise skills, 21st century learning, transversal competencies, broader skills, or core competencies by different groups around the world. No matter what they are called, there is widespread agreement that public education must support students in more than literacy and numeracy in order to help them succeed after graduation.
They can get you a job…and save the world
“There are compelling economic and civic reasons for education systems to develop students’ 21st century skills. The economic rationale is that computers and machines can cost-effectively do the sorts of jobs that people with only routine knowledge and skills can do, which means that the workplace needs fewer people with only basic skill sets and more people with higher-order thinking skills…[Students] also need to learn how and why to be engaged citizens who think critically—so that they can, for example, analyze news items, identify biases, and vote in an educated way.”
A 2016 report by the Foundation for Young Australians looked at the global competencies requested in job postings for young people. More than four million job ads were analyzed over a three year period to determine the demand for “enterprise skills”, including digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and communication skills.
The study found that employers are requesting more transferable skills (global competencies) than technical (industry-specific) skills of young candidates. The study also found that average salaries are higher for job postings that request global competencies, when compared to similar job postings without those skills.
Beyond employability, global competencies are vital in preparing students to solve challenging societal problems such as civic disengagement, xenophobic nationalism, and mental illness.
Curriculum changes needed
Ontario has many competing policies suggesting frameworks for the inclusion of global competencies in learning, including 21st Century Competencies, Learning Skills and Work Habits, Creating Pathways to Success, Ontario’s Well-Being strategy for Education, and Finding Common Ground: Character Development in Ontario’s Schools. While each of these policies acknowledges the importance of global competencies, none of them explicitly speaks to how the competencies should be embedded within curriculum documents.
Given the growing recognition of the importance global competencies, why haven’t more jurisdictions, including Ontario, included them in the curriculum? The RAND corporation, a public policy research group, suggests three possible reasons:
- Traditional schooling relies on the transmission model (transmission of content knowledge from teacher to students) and recall-based assessments. Global competencies do not fit as easily into a transmission model.
- Students do not learn global competencies unless they are explicitly taught. Often, these competencies are not taught and practiced in the same explicit way as math or language skills.
- Global competencies are harder to assess than knowledge or understanding. Large-scale assessments such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) are beginning to test in competency areas, but this work is still in early stages.
“Designing tests that measure lower-order thinking skills, such as memorization, is straightforward in comparison to measuring such skills as creativity, innovation, leadership, and teamwork.”
Global competencies around the world
Even with these challenges, many jurisdictions have taken steps to embed global competencies into the curriculum. Here are three examples:
BC’s curriculum is structured around core communication, thinking, and personal and social competencies. These competencies are embedded throughout all levels and subjects, so that by the time a student graduates they will have developed competence in these areas as well as academic knowledge. Read about how one school in Ashcroft, BC used the new curriculum to put emphasis on global competencies.
New Zealand has embraced five key competencies that are embedded throughout compulsory schooling:
- Relating to others
- Using language, symbols, and texts
- Managing self
- Participating and contributing
Singapore has developed a two-part 21st century competency framework that is applied across the curriculum. The framework includes foundational social-emotional competencies (similar to those defined by Dr. Stuart Shanker for People for Education), including self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship management, and responsible decision making. It also includes these competencies for living in a globalized society:
- Civic literacy, global awareness, and cross-cultural skills
- Critical and inventive thinking
- Communication, collaboration, and information skills
Is Ontario next?
As evidence continues to emerge about the vital importance of global competencies, Ontario must work toward embedding these competencies in the K-12 curriculum, in order to ensure that Ontario students do not fall behind their international peers.
Read more about competencies in education.