Competence-based learning, which emphasizes, rather than transmitting mountains of content to students for them to reproduce in exams, on trying to internalize knowledge, know how to apply it to solve problems, and acquire the tools that allow them to continue learning by themselves once they finish their school stage, it seems in Spain a novelty created by the new educational law, the Lomloe. But Javier Valle, a specialist in comparative and supranational education, recalls that Unesco began to talk about this educational approach half a century ago, the OECD joined it in the eighties and the EU definitively assumed it in 2006. What is new is that Spain finally joins the majority educational current in the developed world, explains Valle, a professor at the Faculty of Education of the Autonomous University of Madrid, born 57 years ago on the island of La Palma, who has extensive experience in training both future teachers and practicing teachers.
Ask. He affirms that it is more difficult to implement the competency approach in southern Europe than in the north. Because?
Answer. One of the reasons why it is difficult for the competency model to permeate is that our educational tradition, being Latin, Napoleonic and Mediterranean, is an academic, enlightened and highly memory-based tradition. Our educational system, which basically started with the Constitution of 1812 and was consolidated with the Moyano law of 1857, is the son of the French Napoleonic educational system. It is a very enlightened system, very encyclopedic, based on transmitting academic information by rote. This is not the guiding thread of the Saxon and Nordic educational tradition, which stems more from professional unions and is much more oriented towards transmitting the practice of educational action.
Q. Do you think that if the government changes and there is a new educational law, the new competence approach will be eliminated?
R. Each party has an ideological vision on many educational issues that go beyond the curriculum. The financing of education, religious teaching, the concept of equal opportunities… All this is a political debate that can come and go depending on the parties, but the curricular element should be a great consensus of the State. The competency approach is transversal to ideologies and countries, because it is a supranational global trend. There are countries of the left and of the right, large and small, republics and monarchies… that assume the competence approach. This is not about ideologies, it is about pedagogy. And it is an international current and not a Spanish one. Therefore, if the educational law changes and the competency architecture changes, it would be a tragedy. We urgently need some non-political institution for curriculum development. The Lomloe points it out. And many of us have claimed in numerous publications the existence of a Curriculum Development institute. We have the precedent of the National Institute of Qualifications, to prepare and keep updated the National Catalog of Professional Qualifications where there are no political fights and where there are the autonomous communities, unions, employers, teachers, parties…
Q. Most of the countries around Spain already apply, or are in the process of doing so, the competence approach. What can be learned from their example?
R. Something that Portugal has done very well and we are not doing so well is teacher training. For a system to become competent, the first ones who have to learn how to do it are the teachers. And they feel abandoned by the administrations in the face of the educational change to this approach, to the competency paradigm, because it has not been accompanied by training and resources. With digitization of the classrooms, teaching materials for competences… The LOGSE (the law approved by the PSOE in 1990) had the red boxes (as the teaching materials produced by the Administration were known at that time) to exemplify the development in the new curriculum. Where are the red boxes of the Lomloe? We also have to change the initial training of teachers, because the teacher training faculties are not responding to the competency paradigm either. And we must greatly reinforce ongoing formation.
Q. That you consider that it is now insufficient and fragmented.
R. We need massive training that involves the cloisters. It is not worth gathering a thousand people and giving them a lecture. You have to work with teaching teams. The competency paradigm requires a faculty that works cooperatively and collegially, and goes synergistically towards interdisciplinary projects. That is not built by a teacher going one day to a cooperative learning course, another to a DUA course, a third teacher to a multiple intelligences course, and another to a digitization course. It is done by the four teachers going to a competency course where they assume the essence of the eight competencies and put them into practice in an interdisciplinary project. Going to the centers, teaching the entire faculty, from the problems of that faculty, to program by competencies and evaluate by rubrics. For that, resources are needed, and that teachers can do it during their working hours.
Q. The two previous educational laws, from 2006 and 2013, prepared respectively by the Socialists and the PP, already mentioned competencies. Why do you say that progress is now greater in this area?
R. In the first place, because now the curriculum, by introducing an exit profile (the major objectives that students are expected to have achieved at the end of basic education) associated exactly with the key competences established by the European Union in 2018, materializes and concretizes the question really. And secondly because, although the subjects remain, the curriculum connects them with the key competencies of the exit profile through the so-called specific competencies. That did not happen before, and the teachers struggled and wanted to understand how to assess the key competencies from their subject, because there were no bridges. Now a bridge has been made between the subject and the key competences, which are the subject-specific competences. It is a step forward, although the ideal would be the disappearance of the traditional matter.
Q. You propose organizing teaching not by subjects, such as Mathematics, Language, History…, but by fields. And that each of these areas reflects approximately one of the eight key competences (which are: linguistic communication; multilingual; mathematics and science, technology and engineering; digital; personal, social and learning to learn; citizen, entrepreneurial, and cultural awareness and expression).
R. That would be the most courageous, concrete and innovative approach to competencies. And for once in history, we would take the lead in Europe and not be in the slipstream. In the world, the disciplinary separation is increasingly liquid, less stagnant. Professionals work in great clusters of knowledge. We need mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and biologists, but scientific competence is something else. To assume a rational way of understanding the world, which is what scientific competence means, it is necessary to do it with multidisciplinary projects. We cannot separate physics from mathematics, chemistry from biology. It is very artificial, very disciplinary, very academic, rote, enlightened, Napoleonic… Research today is done in multidisciplinary teams, art today is a fusion of many things… In the personal, social and learning to learn areas, for example, it is possible all humanism, history, philosophy, social. In the STEAM area there is room for all science. Digital competence has to be something transversal… we cannot allow kids to reach 11 years of age without knowing how to use a calculator, because at 14 they would have to be learning to program, as in other countries.
Q. That would predictably generate opposition from a part of the teaching staff.
R. The disciplinary corporatism of our historical tradition is not easy to change, but it must be done, because it does not help the younger generations.
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