Is there any point in debating between competencies and content?

The implementation of the LOMLOE has given rise to a sometimes very polarized debate between defenders of a more “traditional” education in which the teaching of specific content is prioritized and supporters of a competency-based approach, which presumably seeks to teach to learn, give the tools and encourage a more practical approach to learning that has to do with the context and application of knowledge.

Is this a real debate? Are both things incompatible?

Arantxa Serantes.

Arantxa Serantes

Researcher in Philosophy and Digital Humanism, University of A Coruña

The contents refer to teaching planning and serve as a scheme to guide the teaching-learning process. The term competition has more to do with professional and labor development and taking into account phenomena such as economic crises, the decline in student numbers and difficulties in accessing quality employment. The competences are the protagonists, although they are not a pedagogical model, but serve to integrate the skills and knowledge received.

The didactic programming can relate contents and competences: hybrid learning is more beneficial because the achievements obtained and the performance can be evaluated. The question here is whether the study plans (contents) keep the necessary balance. They are usually very standardized and it is difficult to adapt them to the needs of the students.

The debate is provoked when the laws are regulated outside the academic community, which knows first-hand the needs of their respective institutions. When its diversity is not taken into account and it is not flexible, the design of the programming fails and the ability to link knowledge in an interdisciplinary way is lost.

I believe that the evaluation criteria and learning objectives should be changed to propose a realistic and acceptable training with content, skills, objectives and evaluation criteria updated to the times in which we live, through the use of ICT.

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Xavier Mas Garcia.

Xavier Mas Garcia

Specialist in digital education, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

The debate on whether it is more productive to focus education on content or competencies has been present for decades and is based on the dichotomy between educational models that prioritize the acquisition of stable and consolidated knowledge, and others that opt ​​for methodologies oriented towards construction of this knowledge by students collaborating and developing activities or projects. But does it still make sense?

We live in the digital society. This entails immersion in a socio-technological environment in which digital technology permeates any human action, process and even thought. This digitization is the cause and at the same time the result of an exponential acceleration in the development of technologies with a high disruptive potential, constantly shaping the professional world and our daily lives.

In this context of transformation, neither the training contents nor the skills –especially the most specific ones– can continue to be cornerstones of any educational system, since they are subject to permanent mutation.

The real debate is on the need and the possibility of developing training programs based on more liquid and customizable educational approaches, focused on exploration, the generation of experiences and the promotion of student creativity. However, today, the regulatory framework of our educational systems is far from facilitating the development of this type of approach.

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Rocío González Suárez (left) and Isabel Piñeiro Aguín (right).
Author provided

Rocío González Suárez, PhD in Educational Psychology, and Isabel Piñeiro Aguín, Professor of Evolutionary and Educational Psychology at the University of A Coruña

In education, as in many other areas, “two-sided” debates can be productive as long as they do not force us to situate ourselves on one side without the possibility of benefiting from the positive aspects of the other, since, if so, the debate becomes an ineffective polarized front: either you are with me or you are against me. However, they can constitute a learning space. The goal should be the search for solutions and not the debate as an objective.

In general terms and within the academic field, content and competence are not only not incompatible, but are related concepts. It is not so much about the opposition between what is traditional and what is current, but rather about changing the paradigm when considering and understanding learning and evaluation.

Perhaps the new proposals are the future, but they must be implemented from a transformative perspective; where the need to establish a transition period between methodologies with a clear and concrete roadmap that facilitates the implementation of these proposals by professionals in the field is recognized.

The school should be that place where students reflect on the knowledge acquired and the skills developed. It is about being able to transfer what they have learned to real situations.

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Gaston Sanglier Contreras.

Gaston Sanglier Contreras

Professor of Engineering at CEU San Pablo University

In my opinion, it is not possible to speak only of competences and contents without taking into account how it is taught, that is, the methodologies applied in the learning processes. We must be aware, as the psychologist Juan Ignacio Pozo indicates, that the school offers the contents of the 19th century, with teachers from the 20th century and students from the 21st century. There is a need for a profound change in the culture of learning.

The topic of discussion is very fruitful as there are many things that need to be changed and many perspectives from which to look. In a world as fast-paced as ours, we must consider the true needs of our students based on the true needs of our society. The function of education is not so much to change the world as to change the people who are going to intervene in the world.

We must reflect on the essential elements that are going to give meaning to student learning, the skills we want to develop, the content we must choose to do so, and the criteria so that, in this decision-making process, educational centers are capable of Respond to the new educational challenges of the future, and to promote students’ critical thinking in order to integrate into a society full of activities that will reinforce the necessary skills to live in it, such as group learning, agreeing on solutions collective meetings, organization of assemblies, strategies to resolve conflicts, etc.

This debate must exist, indeed, it is totally necessary from a constructive point of view. Let’s be critical, but sensible: let’s admit certain problems in the learning process derived from the new times, from the new demands of our students to build a better education within a better world.

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Laura Domingo Peñafiel (left) and Nuria Carrete Marín.
Author provided

Laura Domingo Penafiel, Professor of the Department of Pedagogy specialized in Education in rural contextsY Nuria Carrete Marin, Researcher and PhD student in Education specialized in Education in rural territories, University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia

In the changing society in which we find ourselves, it is necessary to promote situations in the school that allow the development of useful learning for the future. For this, it is essential that skills and content go hand in hand.

From the outset, it is necessary to influence the development of skills and train students to solve the problems they have to face. These skills must be accompanied by practical and contextualized content, interesting and full of meaning for the students.

There is no point in promoting the teaching of content that can either be reached by other means, such as through technology and the Internet, or lack practicality and utility, without connection to their reality.

Neither will these contents be the same in one context or another, be it rural or urban, or between two different rural contexts with different characteristics. In this sense, the implementation of the LOMLOE and the new competency approach highlight even more that the rural school is a school with the capacity to innovate. In order to take advantage of the pedagogical value of multigrade classrooms and given the need to incorporate the territorial dimension, it is necessary that the learning is contextualized and significant and that the knowledge that arises from the work developed in the classroom is in contact with real problems and their immediate environment.

The treatment and focus of the curricular content to be taught from rural schools will not be the same depending on the particular characteristics of each rural context. Therefore, the didactic strategies used and the resources used must also be selected, created and adapted taking this aspect into account, and also the possibilities of each student according to their interests, abilities and level of development.

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