Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Beyond Competence: An Essay on a Process Approach to Organising and Enacting Vocational Education

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Beyond Competence: An Essay on a Process Approach to Organising and Enacting Vocational Education

Article excerpt

Competence and vocational education

Over the last three decades, in many countries governmental interest in competency-based training, with its emphases on measurable statements of competence, means of assessing students' competence against those statements and associated administrative procedures, have been used to organise provisions of vocational educational and evaluate their worth. That interest has been championed by both national and supranational governmental agencies and in ways that position measures of competence and competency-based education as being orthodox and unquestionable. Questioning the concept of competence is deflected as being against governmental efforts to promote worker competence ('don't you want a competent workforce?'), yet the widespread adoption of this mode of vocational education, although well-enmeshed within governmental discourses, privileges administrative over educational imperatives. It is also antithetical to the outcomes that governments claim they want from vocational education. As this stance indicates little or no understanding of educational or learning processes, it is questionable whether these measures of competence can capture and guide the kinds of learning intended by government. Such is merely the most recent in a long tradition by those in positions of influence (i.e. aristocrats, theocrats, bureaucrats, academics, industry spokespersons) that they know best about the qualities of occupations and their preparation (Billett, 2011). The administrative imperative evident here is indicative of governmental concerns about vocational education being directed towards achieving specific economic outcomes by closely aligning them to measurable statements of occupational requirements. There is little evidence to suggest, however, that these statements and the selected means of securing them are the most efficacious way to achieve these goals. It is erroneous to believe that central authorities can control what is taught, let alone learnt, in these kinds of educational focuses, or that these measures are those that can best secure adaptable learning outcomes as has been long proposed (Jackson, 1993; Stevenson, 1992).

An assumption underpinning this imperative is that the knowledge required for the kinds of occupations prepared through vocational education is easily learnt and measured. This erroneous premise is supported by educational scholars, such as Stenhouse (1975) and Oakeshott (1962), who denied or underestimated the extent and complexity of the knowledge required to perform occupational tasks. Like other kinds of privileged others, these scholars and those before them (e.g. Plato), without recourse to evidence, merely rehearse a societal sentiment that the kinds of occupations prepared in vocational education are of low order for which perfunctory educational provisions and measurable outcomes would suffice. Yet are not most university courses, including law and medicine, focused on the development of specific occupational capacities and, therefore, would they not be equally well served by such competency measures? Are there not elements of general schooling that would lend themselves to measuring attained knowledge (e.g. calculations, rules of grammar), even those best secured through rote methods? Untested and ill-founded precepts established by the likes of Aristotle (Russell, 1952) and Plato in Hellenic Greece (Lodge, 1947) about the relative standing of occupations and the means by which they should be learnt still have credence, despite these proponents never engaging in, let alone investigating, these occupations' tasks and their required conceptual as well as manual skilfulness.

In recent times, these views have been perpetuated and sustained by bureaucratic processes that are aligned with an approach that emphasises central control (see Billett, 2011, for an elaboration). Bases for such precepts appear no more informed than was Aristotle's thesis on human teeth. …

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