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UNESCO-UNEVOC has compiled a short selection of academic or professional articles that might help to clarify the signification and the use of the term "skills". It goes thus beyond the definitions stored in TVETipedia while not pretending to offer an exhaustive bibliography on the topic.
A European skills framework? – but what are skills ? Anglo-Saxon versus German concepts. By Linda Clarke; Christopher Winch.
This academic article, written 2 years before the implementation of the European Qualifications framework, highlights how crucial the definition of skill is for projects demanding global cooperation: In order to assess skill differential between European countries, the term "skill" has to be defined and translated. But can "skill" be translated ?
In the selected quote, the authors presents the "conceptual structure of skill" and its connotations in English, ending-up concluding on its ambiguity.
Ashton and Green’s definition, for example, includes practical and propositional knowledge, virtues and character attributes, social abilities and formal educational outcomes. Arguably, this encompasses far more than the everyday English usage of ‘skill’ and raises the problems of the overall coherence of the concept in academic contexts and of ‘conceptual inflation’ whereby a term with a relatively narrow range of application is progressively expanded with consequent problems of ambiguity and comprehension (Hanfling 1998, Ch. 5)." Linda Clarke; Christopher Winch, p4
Global reports offer excellent illustrations of the ambiguity of 'skill'. This recent paper (2013) presents striking examples from EFA, OECD and Mckinsey transcripted through the 3 selected quotes.
The second report reviewed here is the OECD (2012) Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Lives. This report underscores the fact that benefits of skills go beyond just the labour market, but affect the individual’s health, civic and social behaviour of individuals as well as democratic engagement and business relationships, tackling of inequality and their appropriateness in employment. … In this report the emphasis is on adult skills, which include literacy, numeracy, problem-solving in technology-rich environments and skills used in workplaces. This brings together skills from general education and the ‘soft and hard’ skills in this broad definition. …
The last report reviewed is the McKinsey Global Institute (2012) World at Work. In this report, the notion of skills is tied very closely to jobs and the economy. In fact this report presents a strong case on trends in different economies resulting in patterns on the type of skills that support different economies. The report suggests a stratification of skills from low to high, by education levels and economy levels. In other words, the lower the education levels acquired, the lower the skills and the lower the income levels of the country. … ”Peliwe Lolwana
Global reports' definition of skills might appear irrelevant when brought to the national scale. This paper gives an interesting (and critical) insight through the case of South Africa.
In the selected quote, the author highlights the limits of "foundation skills" as defined by the GMR, when confronted to the reality of the south African labour market.
"The immense difficulty in crafting wording around a skill goal" is well explained by this blog article(Norrag), as well as what is at stakes here: The post-2015 discussions have started, raising strong interest among stakeholders. But "where is this apparent interest heading in terms of a technical and vocational skills goal or target?" asks the author.
In the selected quotes, he mentions the example of "life skills" before suggesting paths of improvement.
So can we do things better this time around? How do we avoid ending up with another vague skills goal that may result in yet more years of confusion?
…First, we are still not clear on the meaning. Major organisations still do not have their story straight on what ‘skills’ they are talking about …Second, we are still not clear on measuring… and there is a lot more to measure. Even if there were to be agreement on a single target related to technical and vocational skills, we are not clear on what we are measuring. …Third, we are still not clear on the data sources… and our TVSD data is still very unbalanced. The stock of knowledge on TVSD at country level – especially in low- and middle-income countries – is usually low, mostly found in ministries of education related to technical and vocational education, and mostly focused on inputs. …Lastly, the political and policy timing is right, but the convergence is off. There is significant policy and political interest in technical and vocational skills – at both the international and national levels. However, we do not have convergence and a lot of these actors appear to be talking past each other, rather than talking with each other.” Palmer
This article is an element of the TVETipedia Glossary.