Abstract: The Knowledge-based Economy has been considered in the last decades to be a powerful economic imaginary. Every region in the world is trying to format its economic policies in a way that it can allow the full integration of information, technology and knowledge. These are the new raw materials for the 21st century. In this concern, the European Union has established, through the Lisbon Strategy (2000-2010) the goal of becoming the most competitive Knowledge-based Economy in the world. The materialisation of this goal depends on several social sectors.
Among them, education, mainly Secondary Education, plays unquestionably, a great role. However, Secondary Education in the context of the European Union faces some obstacles which can impede it from contributing to this process of promoting a Knowledge-based Economy. The first obstacle is related to the fact that a large percentage of young workers within the European Union are skilled after lower Secondary Education due to the fact that a significant percentage of European Union Citizens aged 18-24 years drop out of school early. The second issue refers to the competences that students of Secondary Education are still developing.
I propose that these competences might not be the ones that are indispensable to integrate positively in the so-called Knowledge-based Economy. It is in this context that the present paper will aim to address some issues. The fundamental objective of this paper is: to reflect about the solution for the above-mentioned problems. How to adjust the Secondary Educational curriculum in order to face new challenges imposed by the complex Knowledge-based Economy? Whether, European Union Member States should harmonise their educational systems or whether the strategy of open method of coordination is enough.
Key Words: Knowledge-based Economy, Competences, Secondary Education. 3 1-Introduction The task of constructing an understandable analysis focused on the role that education can play in a given society is directly linked to the perspective elected, that is, the position of enunciation. The selected standpoint should be objectively presented in order to allow for comprehension and debate. The fundamental purpose of this paper consists in promoting a theoretical discussion about the relationship among three main issues: Knowledge-based Economy (in the context of European Union), new Competences and Secondary Education.
The term Knowledge-based Economy constitutes a hegemonic discourse that has emerged in the last decades in order to characterize the specificity of the current society where the economy and social dynamics are linked to technology, information and knowledge. According to a UNESCO Report 1, this way of understanding the current society is largely accepted by practically every region in the world. The European Union, the object of the current theoretical analysis, established as a goal becoming the most competitive Knowledgebased Economy in the world. 2 The so-called Knowledge-based Economy is a part of Knowledge-based Society.
Living in this sort of society implies new ways of understanding the complex social reality that we are facing. New competences and abilities should be developed. That is, the capacity to realize theoretical knowledge in a practical way, i. e. what we can do with what we know, is essential. In fact, developing competences is a learning process. Its might be argued that, the traditional educational system implies a process of knowledge transference which enables the construction of an encyclopedic mind. Education today must redraw its proposals and objectives.
Consequently, Secondary Education as a strategical educational sector, should reformulate its curriculum and its pedagogical way of teaching/learning. This reformulation is the consequence of the contemporary economic, social and political dynamics. Supported by the three main elements briefly announced above, the present paper intends to debate how Secondary Education can be reformulated in terms of general competences in order to respond to the main demand of the so-called Knowledge-based Economy. What are the challenges that the European Union is facing in the context of so-called Knowledge-based Economy?
Why does this new sort of complex society imply the centralization of Secondary Education learning process on competences? Which competences talking about? In which manner can the current situation of the European Union justify the (re) connection between 1 2 Jerome Binde, Towards Knowledge Societies (Paris: UNESCO, 2005). COUNCIL, (2000) Presidency Conclusions, Lisbon European Council (23 and 24 March 2000), http://ue. eu. int/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/ec/00100-r1. en0. htm (Accessed, February 2010). 4 the characteristics of Knowledge-based Economy and Secondary Education?
The reflection about these questions will be done through the analysis of fundamental documents related to these issues published by the European Union and other institutions such as: the Delors Rapport (Unesco, 1996); Lisbon Strategy (European Commission, 2000); Improving Competences for 21st Century: An Agenda for European Cooperation on Schools (Commission, 2008); Europe 2020, A Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth (Commission, 2010); Why Skills are Key for Europe’s Future (Lisboncouncil, 2010) and others considered as important.
To finish the presentation of the current paper? s borders, it might be underlined that even if in the present reflection the idea of Knowledge-based Economy is primarily related to economic issues, my position is that its meaning is much more comprehensive than that. It includes social, political and cultural issues as well. However, the perspective that I will emphasize is mostly related to the economic issue.
I am not reducing the function of Secondary Education only to an economic concern, however, I can emphasise at the very beginning that the ambition of European Union to become the most competitive knowledgebased Economy in the world should be accompanied by structural reforms in education, specifically in Secondary Education. The paper has the following structure: in the first part some historical background about the concept of the Knowledge-based Economy will be provided. The objective is to clarify its principal characteristics and demands, namely in the context of education.
The second part of this paper will be devoted to a discussion about the implication of centralizing the learning process through competences. The main idea here is to demonstrate that the Knowledge-based Economy requires new competences and new abilities for facing daily life. For that, Secondary Education, the third part of the present analysis, should reformulate its curriculum and pedagogical methods in order to allow for this objective. In the last part of the paper, I will try to propose a critical approach towards “Knowledge-based Economy”, “Competences” and “Secondary Education” within the European Union.
Here I intend to demonstrate how the new challenges brought by Knowledge-based Economy are requiring new competences and how successful the European Union is in promoting these skills in Secondary Education. In this last part, statistical information will be presented in order to clarify some specific situations. 5 2. The so-called Knowledge-based Economy and its implication in the educational field. The knowledge-based economy provides the most adequate description of current trends in contemporary economic development, the discourse of the ‘KBE’ has become a powerful economic imaginary in the last 20 years.
3 It is largely accepted that the XX century has experienced several technological innovations as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution process. Alonso-Martinez emphasizes this idea very clearly when he underlines that “ in the very beginning of the industrialization process, the technological innovation was destined to modify the ways of producing, the machines and the tools, and it has affected, consequently, the process of producing” 4 This innovation has obviously contributed to the quantity and quality of production as well, as to economic growth.
However, due to this fact, it might be argued that some other important and profound transformations can be invoked such as the new skills that were required of the workers and also the resources, that is, the raw materials that were needed. New ways of producing and new sectors of economy emerged. The spectacular improvement of the new technologies of communication and information can be considered as an example of these new sectors.
Simultaneously, with this rapid improvement another interesting element that should be pointed out is technologies spread throughout the entire world. Alonso-Martinez again confirms this statement when he points out that “from 1970 the technology of information and communication has spread to international scale and it is affecting the production of all material goods and service sectors as well” 5. In fact, these innovative technologies allowed by the Industrial Revolution have contributed to the emergence of a new economy, which is based on information and knowledge.
According to Fernandez Sanchidrian this deep change that occurred in the economic production through new technologies has provoked the transition from the Fordist model of economic production to the Post-Fordist or Post-Industrial model 6. In his point of view, what is currently named as Post-Industrial Society is directly related to the emergence of new products, services and technologies. Technology has been considered as a strategical tool for 3 Bob Jessop, introduction to Education and the Knowledge- Based Economy in Europe, by, Bob Jessop, Norman Fairclough, and Ruth Wodak, eds.
(Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2008), 2. 4 Carlos Berzosa Alonso-Martinez, Los Desafios de la Economia Mundial en el Siglo XXI. (Madrid: Nivola Libros, 2002), 34. 5 Ibid. 6 Jose Carlos Fernandez Sanchidrian, ‘“ Sociedad Post Industrial’ in: Diccionario de Sociologia”, ed. Octavio Una Juarez and Alfredo Hernandez Sanchez (Madrid: ESIC Editoral, 2004), 1348. 6 improving its quantitative and qualitative production, organization and distribution. In this new model of economic production, information, knowledge and technologies play key functions.
This situation has contributed to the characterisation of the current society as a “knowledge-based Society”, supported by a “Knowledge-based Economy”; “Informational Society”; “Technological Society” and so on. All these nomenclatures intend to demonstrate the specificity of this economic system supported basically by the importance that information, knowledge and technology have acquired in the current ways of economic production, work organization, relation with the consumers and so on.
Ruperez analyses in a very fascinating way the specificity of the Knowledge-based Economy. In one hand he states that this specificity can be seen through the intensification of the relationship between economy and knowledge 7. Concerning this aspect, the author underlines that more than 50% of GDP 8 of the countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are based in the production and distribution of knowledge.
On the other hand, the same author points out that the technological sector has largely increased in the last years as a consequence of strong capital investments on it. Once again, he reinforces his idea by underlining that the expectation about Investigation, Development and Innovation (I+D+I) is increasing continually. According to him, these evident transformations in the field of technologies of information and communication have contributed to the fluidity of knowledge.
In sum, then, he agrees that the singularity of the Knowledge-based Economy is supported by the flexibility of knowledge, that is, by being aware that the current society is effectively experimenting a new stage where technologies, information and knowledge are its motor. Therefore, if we are living in a sort of Knowledge-based Economy, that means that economic production should operate based on technology and knowledge. Indeed, it is clear that the modus operandi of this sort of economy is deeply different from its predecessor.
According to Robertson, a notorious teacher at Bristol University, the discourse of “Knowledge-based Economy” was firstly used during the sixties in the academic works of the following authors: Fritz Machlup (1962), Peter Druken (1962) and Daniel Bell (1973) 9. All these scholars generally agree that the industrial society has been transformed into a Francisco Lopes Ruperez, Preparar el futuro: la educacion ante los desafios de la globalizacion (Madrid: Murralla, 2001).
8 Total market value of the goods and services produced by a nation’s economy during a specific period of time. 9 Bristol University, “Producing Knowledge Economies: The Word Bank, The KAM, Education and Development” by Susan Robertson, 2008, http://www. bristol. ac. uk/education /people/academicStaff/edslr/publications/19SLR/ (Accessed April 2009). 7 7 knowledge-based Economy, Post-Capitalist and Post-Industrial. Robertson also underlines that researche done by Castells 10 has illuminated the idea presented by those referred authors.
Castells states that we are living in a Network Society where information and knowledge are the main forces of the economy. Due to this fact, the current economy is a sort of “Information-based Economy. Robertson continues her explanation about the genealogy that she proposes for the expression “Knowledge-based Economy” emphasizing that the OECD 11, the organization that includes a significant number of European Union Member States, was influenced by the debates happening during the sixties and seventies and due to this reason has adopted the idea of “Knowledge-based Economy.
” 12 Another organization that has adopted the concept of the Knowledge Based Economy is the World Bank, the most important financial organism in the world. According to Robertson, this organization has accepted the notion of “Knowledge-based Economy” in the year 2004 when it launched its first newsletter called Knowledge for Development (K4D). In this newsletter the institution has clearly established that knowledge and its use constitutes the key factor to promote economic development.
In the context of the European Union, the European Council of State or Government established, in March 2000, the goal “to become the most competitive and dynamic Knowledge-based Economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion. ” 13 According to Hurbert, this fact could be understood as “the new strategic aim for the European Union. ” 14 In fact, the Lisbon Strategy’s flagship event was based on innovation and creativity. These two elements are the key issues to promote and develop an economy that is proposing itself to be based on knowledge.
Since this event, the European Union has made the expression “Knowledge-based Economy” its motto. Several initiatives were taken in order to materialize this objective. Every strategic His main idea about this issue was developed in his trilogy "The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture" that was published by Blackwell in 1996-98. His works were translated in more than 20 languages. 11 OECD- International organization founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.
Current members include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Member countries produce two-thirds of the world’s goods and services. Today it is considered one of the most important Think Tanker in the world. This organization has promoted many economic and educational reforms.
12 Bristol University, “Producing Knowledge Economies: The Word Bank, The KAM, Education and Development” by Susan Robertson. 13 COUNCIL (2000) Presidency Conclusions, Lisbon European Council (23 and 24 March 2000). http://ue. eu. int/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/ec/00100-r1. en0. htm (Accessed, February 2010). 14 Hurbert Ertl, “European Union Policies in Education and Training: the Lisbon Agenda as a turning point? ” Comparative Education 42 (1) (2006): 06. 10 8 document and discourse produced adopted this umbrella concept.
However, according to some opinions 15 it might be underlined evident contradictions between the discourses and practical measures taken in order to execute this ambitious project. This brief historical approach presented above about the concept of “knowledge-based Economy” can demonstrate how this homogenous economic discourse has been produced, appropriated and transformed into a strategic idea in order to understand the current society and economic production. Nowadays, some authors and institutions (Berzosa, Castells, OECD, WB, respectively) accept that we are living in the so-called “Knowledge-based Economy”.
I have to strongly underline that the triumph of information, knowledge and technology have contributed to the deep transformations of the ways of economic production. In sum, the transformation occurred in these three fields allowed the transition of standardised way of economic production characterized by programmation, control and uniformization, the so-called Fordist model, into another model characterized mainly by the creative and adaptable capacities through the use of information, knowledge and technology, normally called Post Industrial.
These transformations have provoked deep changes on the productivity, market dynamics, worker abilities and other sectors. UNESCO emphasises strongly this position that: Today the concept of Knowledge based Society has become an essential framework of reflection not only for most member countries of the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD) but also for many emerging economies and developing countries, specifically in East and Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub Saharan Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and Arab states.
16 In sum, then, I might state that the so-called “Knowledge-based Economy” has promoted evident changes in economic ways of production. Supporting and promoting it require learning new competences. But, which kind of competences should be developed? How can these new competences be constantly adapted to the rhythm of change that characterizes the “Knowledge-based Economy”? What is the role that the Secondary Education system within the European Union plays in this process? What can be the contributions that Secondary Education can give in order to materialize the goal of being the most competitive economy in the world?
See for instance: Lisboncouncil, Lisbon Council Policy Brief: EU 2020, Why Skills are Key EU 2020: Why Skills are Key for Europe’s Future. Brussels: The Lisbon Council asbl, 2009 by Paul Hofheinz, http://www. lisboncouncil. net/publication/publication/54-skillseuropesfuture. html, (Accessed, March 2010). 16 Binde, Towards Knowledge Societies, 21. 15 9 3. Competence: the learning process by emphasizing the capacity of solving problems When it comes to the issue of competences 17, two key words, ambiguity and polysemy, characterize the concept 18.
However, another unquestionable element constitutes a part of its conception: the fact that this concept is traditionally linked to the context of training workers within a given company. Ambiguity and polysemy are deeply related to the fact that sometimes the several definitions that are presented are not clear at all and do not coincide in terms of meaning. This situation can be easily perceived in the field of education, my principal objective of reflection.
Maybe it could be understood as the consequence of the fact that this concept is still quite new in the referred field. Many educational systems around the world face serious problems when trying to draw up a kind of educational system based on competences, as such a system has direct implications in all other sectors that constitute the body of the referred educational structure. The focus of a given definition depends on several values, its epistemological understanding and the idiosyncrasy of a given educational system.
For instance, De Ketele, one of the most well known thinkers on this issue, defines competence as “… the capacity that one person has to mobilize a set of resources (cognitive, affective, relational…) to carry out one category of task or to solve a set of problem situations” 19. Another prominent research on this issue is Perrenoud. He conceives competence as “the faculty of mobilizing a set of cognitive resources (knowledge, capacity, information…) to solve with pertinence and efficacy a set of situations” 20.
Tardif, an additional leading thinker on this issue defines competence as “knowing how to complexly act based on the mobilisation and efficient usage of different internal and external resources within a set of. ” 21 From these definitions several main ideas should be summarized such as: (i) the concept of competence involves personal characteristics and attributes; (ii) competences are directly I would like to say that in this reflection I use the terms competence and competences and not competency and competencies.
According to Hyland (1994) quoted by Bryony Hoskins and Ruth Deakin Crick (2010, 123) competence refers to the holistic understanding of an individual’s capacity, such as the competent mechanic or the competent carer. The term competency alternatively refers to a speci? c activity. 18 See, for instance, Jean Marie De Ketele, “Caminhos para a Avaliacao de Competencia”, Revista Portuguesa de Pedagogia, 40 (3), 2006 and Philippe Perrenoud, in interview with Paola Gentile and Roberta Bencini, 2000, http://www. unige. ch/fapse/SSE/teachers/perrenoud/php_main/php_2000/2000_31.
html (Accessed, May 2008). 19 De Ketele, “Caminhos para a Avaliacao de Competencia, 138. 20 Perrenoud, in interview with Paola Gentile and Roberta Bencini, 2000. 21 Jacques Tardif, L’evaluation des competences: Documenter le parcours de developpement (Montreal: Cheneliere Education, 2006), 22. 17 10 related to the capacity of execution and aim to produce positive results and (iii) the idea that competence as ability implies a sort of holistic perspectives. In addition, what could be viewed as further important, inherent element of competence are the ones suggested by Tardif.
According to him, competence has a combinatory character in the way that different resources support each competence; the developmental character meaning that every competence evolves during a person’s lifespan; and also the evolutionary character meaning that every competence has the possibility to integrate new resources and new situations without compromising its own nature 22. This paper considers these elements as strategical when analysing the secondary education and its challenges.
To sum up the key ideas presented and discussed above, it might be underlined that competences are a set of integrated capacities and abilities that can be mobilised as a critical and reflected response to a given problematic situation. They are related to the transference of knowledge into the practical way of life aiming to solve a given situation. It is a way to give a practical sense of knowledge by solving concrete problems. It is concerned with the fact of what we can do with what we know. As I already stated, European Union has established as its strategical goal, “becoming the most competitive Knowledge-based economy in the world”.
At the same time, the European Union is aware of the importance of new competences in achieving that goal. Indeed, the concretization of this objective requires a deep analysis about the ways that can allow this objective. For instance, the project named Definition and Selection of Competences Project 23 (DeSeCo) considers that key competences should fulfil several conditions such as, its relation with economic and social objectives; its capacity in producing benefits in diverse sectors of society, namely the labour market; the role that it plays for all social groups in the society.
It is clear that the current society imposes new challenges to individuals. These challenges are mainly characterised by the complexity of life. This situation requires a kind of continuous reformulation of individual competences in order to be able to adapt to this permanent rhythm of change. This capacity and ability to adapt to the uncertain rhythm of social dynamics can 22 23 Ibid, 26. DeSeCo: Project which provides a framework that guides the longer-term extension of PISA assessments into new competency domains.
PISA is a program launched by OECD member countries in 1997, with the aim of monitoring the extent to which students near the end of compulsory schooling have acquired the knowledge and skills essential for full participation in society. The 8 competences are: Communication in the mother tongue; Communication in foreign languages; Mathematical competence and basic competences in Science and Technology; Digital competence; Sense of initiative; Social and Civil Competence; Cultural awareness and expression. For more information see: http://www. oecd. org/document/17/0, 3343,en_2649_39263238_2669073_1_1_1_1,00.
html. 11 be considered as one of the key competences important to “the well-being of individual citizens as well to social cohesion and the development of the economy. ” 24 Education is normally appointed as a strategical sector to materialize such an objective. The European Union recognizes this fact clearly when it states that “the trend in the school curriculum is to help learners acquire knowledge and the skills and attitudes necessary to apply in the life situations. ” 25 One point should be underlined in this concern. Becoming the most competitive Knowledge-based Economy in the world is not
only the task of introducing new technologies in the school and all the structures that support it. I maintain my position that new competences should be developed through the curriculum of Secondary Education. That is, this level of education should be reorganized in order to prepare its students to interpret the complexity of the current society. 4. Secondary Education: searching for the strategy to connect to the society It is precisely Secondary Education, which provides pupils with an all-around education, which touches the conscience and addresses the meaning of knowledge.
26 Elitism and selectivity are the two main elements that I can extract from the initial history of Secondary Education in Europe or maybe in the entire world 27. However, the end of the Second War World in Europe can be understood as a turning point in that after this dramatic fact, several measures were taken in order to promote its availability to the large sectors of the society, for instance, the exam to select the ideal clientele that normally is accepted into this level of education.
Some significant international organizations such as UNESCO and OECD played a great role in the promotion of this exam. In contrast to the idea of ideal clientele, the principle of merit and ability as well the change of the curriculum gradually became the core characteristics of Secondary Education. As Benavot points out, these measures taken might not be understood only as the consequence of an educational reform but also as the direct outcome of the social, political and economic dynamics that Europe (mainly Western Europe) has experimented after the Jean Gordon et al., Key Competences in Europe:
Opening Doors for Lifelong Learners Across the School Curriculum and Teacher Education (Warsaw: CASE, 2009),11. 25 COMMISSION, Improving Competences for the 21st Century: An Agenda for European Cooperation on Schools (European Union: Brussels, 2008), 5. 26 Roger-Francois Gauthier, The Content of Secondary Education Around the World: Present Position and Strategic Choices (Paris: UNESCO, 2006), 18. 27 See for instance:
Donald B. Holssing, Positioning Secondary School Education in developing countries (IIEP: Paris, 2000) and Susan L.Mitz, “‘History of Secondary Education in,’ Encyclopedia of Education,”cood. James W. Guthrie (USA: Thomson Gale, 2003). 24 12 referred period 28. This approach is unquestionably important to understand the educational dynamics nowadays. It simply means that the development of educational issues could be not understood only as the consequence of measures taken in the field of education. Other social agents and interests play an unquestionable role in the educational change. Several studies have underlined Secondary Education’s inadequacy to the society, for instance, to the labour market.
Delors Report noted that Secondary Education has a deficient connection with the society and for that it has been incapable of preparing young people to the tertiary education and the labour market. At the same time he highlights that the Secondary Education gives less importance to the development of the attitudes and values and for that he underlines the importance of the referred level of education in promoting the process of building up a comprehensive and democratic society underpinned by the four pillars that he proposes.
He concludes his analysis of Secondary Education, saying that its contents are not so pertinent at all. 29 According to the WB in the context of developed countries, the main issue regarding Secondary Education is the fact that the productive sector of the society, that is, industry and services, is claiming that Secondary Education must bet in the development of basic and essential competences and abilities in order to promote the competitiveness of the current world. They, for instance, underline the so-called non-cognitive competences such as creativity, spontaneity, flexibility and entrepreneurship.
30 The issue is combating the disarticulation between Secondary Education and the vision of development, that is, the economic project. Therefore, what is important to stress here is the continuous necessity of articulation between the goals that Secondary Education intends to materialize, according to its social mission, and the project of development that the same society draws for its citizens. However, it is clear that these two processes are always changing and they are interdependent.
In spite of the contrarieties mentioned above in the framework of Secondary Education trajectory within Europe, it is normally accepted as a strategical element to promote economic and social development. In fact, according to what I have already stated before, the WB and the OEDC bring together the direct relationship between Secondary Education and the economic overcome of a given country. This direct relationship is made due to the fact that Aaron Benavot, “The Diversity of Secundary Education: Educational Curriculum in Comparative Perspective”, Profesorado, Revista de Curriculum y Formacion, 10 (1), 2006.
29 Jacques Delors, Educacao um Tesouro a Descobrir, (Porto: UNESCO/ASA, 1997), 134-135. 30 World Bank, Expanding Opportunities and Building Competences for Young People: An Agenda for Secondary Education (Washington: World Bank, 2005). 28 13 Secondary Education, through the competences and abilities that it can develop in students, allows them to integrate positively in the labour market and improve their participation in the society. Nowadays, the rhythm of economic development, as I referred to in the first part of this paper, is requiring new competences and abilities.
Countries/regions such as Denmark, New Zealand, Hong Kong are giving priority in its Secondary Education curriculum to a of new competences such as: the ability of critical, creative, reflexive and logical thinking; improving the imagination; initiative and flexibility; the capacity of identifying, describing and redefining problems; the capacity to analyse the problems from different perspectives: the capacity to establish connections and relations among the problems; the capacity to investigate, to explore, to generate and develop new ideas.
31 As I can see through this example, the main task has been focused in the process of developing complex thinking and learning. In fact, as I stated when talking about competences these are the main characteristics of it.