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Demystifying Competencies in the Context of School Education

I have been conducting regular capacity development programs on implementing competency-based education in schools. One of the persistent challenges that I have encountered is that educators are finding it difficult to comprehend the concept of "competency". This blogpost attempts to debunk all confusions surrounding the term "competency" in the context of school education.


The NEP 2020 and NCF 2023 is promoting competency-based education. In my previous blogpost, I had shared the seven defining characteristics of CBE. If you have not read it yet, you may want to do it after (or before) reading this blogpost. To apply these characteristics in our classrooms or schools, it is essential to develop a clear understanding of the meaning and scope of competencies.


India's recent defeat in the ICC World Cup pained millions of Indians, many of whom actively contributed to analysing the causes of the heart-breaking result. The real fans of the Indian team continued their support for the playing XI with comments like "It was just a bad day", or "India was unlucky", or "The statistics did not favour India winning all matches in the World Cup." With due respect to the emotional attachment of the fans, the fact is that the Australian team displayed higher levels of competency in the Finals. We did not lose because of luck or statistical normalisation. We lost to a more competent team.


Definition of Competency

A competency is a specific set of knowledge, skills/abilities, attitudes, behaviour, or characteristics required to perform a task effectively. For visual learners, let me use a Venn diagram that provides a simplified representation of this definition that focuses on the four critical aspects of a competency.

Any cricket fan or expert will agree that the members of the Indian cricket team were definitely more skilled than their Australian opponents. This is the reason why everyone was predicting and expecting them to win. But unfortunately, skill is not enough to win a Final. You also need knowledge, attitude, and the right behaviour.


The Aussies had better knowledge of the pitch and how it may perform over the playing time. This made them decide to bat second. They had better knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of each Indian player and used this knowledge to design a bowling strategy for each player. Despite being the underdogs and playing in front of 130000 fans of blue, they had the right attitude. Cummins in a press session said, "...there's nothing more satisfying than hearing a big crowd go silent and that's the aim for us tomorrow." More importantly, right from the first over, their behaviour reflected in their amazing fielding. The fielders put their hundred percent to save every run they could.

Each task requires different competencies. The competencies required to teach effectively are very different from the competencies required to be an effective surgeon. As a teacher, your attitude towards learners is more critical for your success than your knowledge of the subject or pedagogical skills. However, you may have come across or heard of very successful surgeons who have a very poor attitude and behaviour towards their patients. You choose a surgeon primarily based on his/her knowledge of medicine and surgical skills. It is a bonus if this surgeon is polite, listens to you, and treats you with respect.

People playing cricket on a beach
Competencies may change based on the context or situation in which a task is performed.

Competencies do not only differ based on the task. These may also differ based on the context or the situation in which the task is performed. In my last blog, I had mentioned the difference between driving in Delhi and Dubai. I had mentioned that driving in Delhi is a skill while driving in Dubai is a competency. This may seem strange. Why is it that the same task (in this case, driving) may be considered a skill or a competency based on the context in which the task is performed? Let me throw some light on this.


A key word in the definition of competency is - effectively. The criteria of performing a task effectively is contextual. Let me illustrate this with an example. There are two schools. First school is a public (government) school in rural Haryana and the other is an elite private school in Delhi. Consider a simple learning task of "reading". The criteria used to assess whether a student can read effectively will be different at the two schools because the level of reading proficiency expected from students of the two schools may be different.


Similarly, the level of proficiency in driving expected from people in Delhi and Dubai is different. We do not expect Delhi drivers to be courteous or respect parking rules as we would in Dubai. To drive in Delhi we need to focus on the skill of managing the vehicle whereas to drive in Dubai we need to focus on knowledge of rules and regulations, courtesy for other drivers, politeness, and adherence to all the safety and government norms.


Identifying Competencies

To identify competencies, we need to:

  1. Identify the task to be performed

  2. Describe the effectiveness expected to perform the task.

  3. Identify the knowledge, skills, abilities, attitude, behaviour, or beliefs required to perform the task effectively.

The answer to the last question, describes the competency for the task in the given context. This competency may be knowledge-based, skill-based, ability, attitude, behaviour or a combination of more than one of these.


Remember that to perform any task effectively, a person needs to be competent, which happens by acquiring competencies. The NEP 2020 emphasises that the purpose of education is to acquire various competencies for students to succeed in school, higher education, as well as professional lives.


Competencies in School Education

India that has about 1.5 million schools, out of which 1.1 million are government schools, 0.35 million are private budget schools, and the remaining are premium private schools, some of which are located outside India. Within India, schools are located in rural, semi-urban, urban, or super-urban (metros) regions. So, theoretically speaking there are about 16 categories of schools.

Government

Private Budget

​Private Premium

Outside India

Rural

1

2

3

4

Semi-urban

5

6

7

8

Urban

9

10

11

12

Metros

13

14

15

16

Is it justified if schools in each of these 16 regions focus on developing the same competencies in their students? In other words, will students of each of these 16 types of schools be expected to perform the same tasks effectively to succeed in school or life beyond school? If your answer is YES, you know something that I don't know, and I request you to share your reasons in the comments below. If your answer is NO, you have accepted that each of these 16 types of schools will need to define their own competency architecture. Of course, there may be some basic competencies that are common to all schools. But, the complete competency-architecture cannot be identical.


Allow me to extend this argument further to two schools belonging to the same category. Let's consider two private premium schools located in Mumbai. Each of these schools may differ in their vision, infrastructure, quality of resources, or profiles of parents who they serve. Based on these differences it is likely that these two schools have different expectations of tasks that they expect from their students. One school may want to lay emphasise on their students to develop empathy towards the marginalised sections of the society and thus undertake social service tasks. The other school may desire its students to excel in the field of technological innovation. These two schools will need different sets of competencies.


Defining Competency-Architecture for Your School

You must immediately begin the process of defining the competency-architecture for your school. Here are a few questions that you need to address, within the context of your school.

  1. What tasks do you expect your students to do during their school lives?

  2. What tasks should your students be able to do in life after school?

  3. How will you measure the effectivity of these tasks?

  4. What are the competencies your students need to develop to perform these tasks?

I will elaborate on these questions in my next blog. But, till then, you may want to ponder over these vital questions.

 

Transitioning from content-based education to competency-based education is a journey of 3-5 years for a school. This journey entails a rigorous training of teachers as well as establishing completely new processes and procedures for school management. Each of the above 7 components of the definition of CBE involves new competencies that teachers must develop.


International Council for School Leadership (ICSL) supports schools to implement NCF 2023, NEP 2020, and competency-based education through its four initiatives:

  • Friday@5

  • Connect2Learn

  • APICAL Schools

  • Consulting Services

Please click on the links above to know more about each of these.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you found it interesting, useful, and beneficial.


I would be very keen to have a conversation with you on this topic through the comments below. So, don't forget to share your views.


And, do suggest how to make my future blogs on CBE more beneficial to you.


Cheers

Dr. Atul Nischal



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1 Comment


Atul ji your blog is an eye opener , specially for the school leaders to think and understand what is competency and understanding it will help them to successfully implement the programme.

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