Why is there so much talk about skills for education?

Fractional teaching in subjects and semiannual assessments: this is the synthesis of current learning – or, at least, how it is widely known. It is a traditional method, which separates the contents into blocks and evaluates the student’s performance from time to time. The model works, it’s true. After all, it was the best educational institution that consolidated it. The problem is that the world has changed, and the current impositions and challenges demand new paradigms for education.

The criticism of current teaching is that it isolates the areas of knowledge. “The world has evolved and educational models have not. The teacher as the holder of knowledge, transmitting content in the lectures, does not stimulate the development of the student’s potential ”, evaluates Gisele Pinheiro, director of Colégio Ampliação de Curitiba (PR), in an interview with the newspaper Gazeta do Povo.

The result is learning diluted in silos. The market has become so competitive that the diploma is often no longer a differential. Likewise, mastering a second language is no longer a prerequisite. One must go further.

In this sense, professionals need to offer more than technical content, making room for a more holistic view of knowledge. Hence the reasons for the competency teaching model to draw more and more attention. Also known as competency learning, the methodology gains space because it is opposed to traditional teaching by subjects, connecting all areas of knowledge.

As a differential, it arbitrates in favor of focus: instead of emphasizing theory, the methodology combines knowledge, motivations, values, resources, attitudes, and skills to perform more effective actions. In addition to preaching an end to the dichotomy between concept and practice, the main advantage of the method is the closure of disconnected disciplines.

Thus, students take classes in integrated modules in order to stimulate new skills. Some national and other international studies have different definitions and it is not yet possible to establish a consensus on exactly what are the competencies in question. But some characteristics are repeated frequently. Check out:

Practical skills: Proactivity, communication, and problem-solving.

Cognitive skills: curiosity, autonomy, reflection and criticism.

Technical skills: the ability to deal with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – the so-called STEM competencies, for Science, Technology, Engineer, and Math.

Social skills: interaction, cooperation, and appreciation.

Emotional skills: ability to persist and discipline, among others.

The set of the last two types is called socio-emotional skills, as they combine aspects of social and emotional life.

In practice:

Competencies serve to improve professional performance, but not only that. Stimulating socio-emotional skills favor useful learning for life and help anyone to deal with their own challenges. In the coming years, skills should be the watchword.

In the competency model, it is based on a flexible curriculum matrix. In it, teachers work on the characteristics that the market demands each specific area of ​​the course in question. If before a Management student learned about management and accounting fundamentals, notions of budget, marketing, and entrepreneurship in disaggregated subjects, now he takes a single module where he teaches how to run a company.

Thus, competency learning tends to be guided to encourage the individual to deal better with his team, to manage small crises, and to be creative so as not to succumb to the competition.

Where it came from:

Although the expression is recent, the use of teaching by skills is not new. The concept was coined in 1948 by Harvard University psychologist and professor Robert White.

In 1970, researchers in education were already talking about a methodology in which know-how (technique) should be linked to a set of knowledge (skills). However, the use and study of skills as a methodology gained strength from the 1990s and the end of the 2000s – mainly in the United States and in European countries that are emerging at the forefront of education, such as Finland.

Southern New Hampshire University is one of the reference HEIs when it comes to competencies. The Manchester-based institution in the United States was one of the first to receive public funding to create an assessment system based on student development – supplanting the traditional accumulation of credits. As a result, several schools and HEIs around the world began to use the socio-emotional skills model.

In Brazil, the first practical appearance of competences appeared in 1996, with the publication of the Law of Guidelines and Bases of National Education (LDB). The determination attributed to the federal government the creation of competencies and guidelines for teaching. In the following years, other federal resolutions were created to mobilize the establishment of competencies. Since 2013, the National Secondary Level Examination (Enem) uses criteria that consider competences in solving their questions. Thus, the evaluation system does not consider only theoretical knowledge, but the ability to interpret and try to solve problems.

Currently, the National Common Curricular Base (BNCC) guides the use of competency-based teaching for integral educational development. The strategy aims to promote a more humanized school experience and accessible to all.


A clear guideline as to what competency learning is and what it is for appears in the Report by UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the 21st century. The text indicates the need for an education in which learning is based on skills that make the individual “able to face numerous situations, some of which are unpredictable, in addition to facilitating teamwork, which is a dimension neglected by teaching methods.

To this end, the curriculum matrix of the HEIs must undergo a deconstruction process, in which the main objective is to make the student the protagonist of teaching. In addition, teachers remain in the classroom but now train their own social, emotional, and cognitive skills.

Another difference is that they work in a network and act as learning facilitators. In this system, monthly or bimonthly tests can be replaced by research projects.

According to researcher Thomas Armstrong, who develops studies on learning at the American Institute for Learning, in the United States, student observation is the most effective method for assessments. “How does the student work in groups? How does he do when planning an individual project? Examining students’ responses to these and other problems will say much more about their socio-emotional maturity than any quantitative rating scale, ”he says in an interview with Pátio magazine.

Self-assessment, as well as peer-review, is a way of guaranteeing a total view on learning. It can happen weekly or fortnightly, without having to follow a rule. Here, what matters is that everyone stimulates their ability to reflect on their own learning – a procedure called metacognition.

In the book Ten New Skills for Teaching, published in Brazil by Editora Penso, the Swiss Philippe Perrenoud presents the necessary approaches so that teachers can develop skills in the classroom. Among them are:

Organize and manage learning situations

Design and evolve differentiation devices

Team work

This whole strategy is even more effective when accompanied by a technological base. Virtual assistants and the use of LMS can combine other models, such as hybrid or fully distance learning, in order to guarantee more autonomy to the student.

By teaching by competencies, HEIs will be better prepared for the great challenge of teaching in the 21st century: training individuals to operate in a complex and constantly developing market.

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