When I mentioned “civic competence” and “democratic competence” during a lecture on social awareness not long ago, I asked my students jokingly whether I should test their “competence” on the final exam. My question caused a commotion in the classroom as they all shouted: “No.”
Some students wondered how such competence could be tested, and I answered, with a smile, that it was something I also wanted to know, and I would therefore like to give it a try.
I asked if they could explain what literacy was. After a lively discussion, some said “competence” refers to a person’s temperament, sophistication or culture, while others said that it refers to self-respect, self-discipline or being a law-abiding citizen. All the answers were right, but they seemed to be quite different from the Ministry of Education’s emphasis on “competency education” in the new curriculum guidelines implemented last year.
One student said that competency education in the new curriculum guidelines existed in name only. I was surprised by the remark, but had to admit that they had a point.
The competency education pushed by the ministry is not intended to teach students how to develop such competence, but rather what they should do to pass competency tests. When the National Academy for Educational Research (國家教育研究院) invited teachers to its workshops on competency education, it did not instruct them on how to integrate it into their teaching. Rather, it instructed them how to devise test questions about students’ competency skills.
Teachers who did not know how to create test questions, or those who tend to give questions regarding applied use, were frustrated at the workshops, and wondered why they did not get it.
Competency education is a headache for teachers, and it is making students and parents nervous. Is the ministry cultivating future talent, or is it giving the nation’s children a hard time?
Learning from Finland and Japan, Taiwanese academics have proposed a total of nine “core competencies” in three sections, and the goal is to cultivate students’ knowledge, attitude and ability to face an uncertain future.
In Finland, for example, the seven key competencies taught are: thinking and learning to learn; cultural competence, interaction and self-expression; self-care and managing daily life; multimedia literacy; information and communications technology; working life skills and entrepreneurship; and participating in, influencing and building a sustainable future.
If Taiwan followed the Finnish criteria, its next generation would be outstanding, and would become cross-disciplinary talent, statespeople, entrepreneurs or scientists. Is this really possible?
Competency is an abstract concept. If it is not put into practice and internalized into awareness and attitude, it will be difficult to cultivate a well-educated citizenry.
As Lee Chia-tung (李家同), an honorary professor at National Tsing Hua University, has said: “We should talk about students’ knowledge before we talk about their competencies.”
Without first laying a foundation of knowledge, competency education would be nothing but a slogan.
A Chinese saying goes: “The greatest truths are the simplest.”
The push for competency education is well-intended, but it seems unnecessary to complicate simple competency education to the point that it becomes so complicated that even teachers do not know how to assess their students properly.
It is important to follow the conventions of everyday life and learn how to conduct oneself. Surely this is the real goal of competency education.
Shiao Fu-song is a lecturer at National Taitung University.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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