In today’s and future work environments and societies there is an increasing need for highly competent work force well as educated and cultivated citizens to tackle with the challenges of globalised world. Typically, higher education should generate these competences involving understanding, interpretation and analysis of complex information – so called adaptive expertise (Bohle-Carbonell et al. 2014). The aim of our study is to analyse competences of Finnish higher education graduates in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments.
There are numerous classifications of competences ranging from more generic ones to content- and discipline-specific skills of higher education graduates (e.g. Allan 1996; Allen et al. 2005; Jayasingam et al. 2016) but nonetheless they all agree that high level cognitive skills are crucial for the success of individuals and societies. What do we then mean by the term ‘competence’ or ‘skill’? The term ‘competence’ has typically been defined as ‘the ability to successfully meet complex demands in a particular context through the mobilisation of psychosocial prerequisites including both cognitive and non-cognitive aspects’ (Rychen & Salganik 2003). Kulikowich and Alexander (2003) includes in their definition also metacognition and sum up competence as comprising both cognitive (knowledge and skills), non-cognitive (motivational, volitional, affective, and social dispositions) and metacognitive (e.g. self-regulation). A basic characteristic of these definitions is its holistic nature: competence refers to using different cognitive and non-cognitive components at the same time and to the successful completion of an authentic task: competence has to be shown in practice. (Humburg & van der Velden 2015).
PIAAC (OECD 2013) study has shown that higher education graduates possess higher basic competences (literacy, numeracy, ICT) compared with those with lower educated. Nonetheless, higher education graduates are not a homogeneous group. Graduates having obtained the necessary competencies, are said to have an edge in terms of employability compared with those who are lacking in such competencies (Quek 2005). Furthermore, Allen and van der Velden (2011) found differences between the skills of graduates from different fields of study and observed significant relationships between the level of skills and individuals' labour market outcomes. Schmidt et al. (2006) noted that student centered and interactive approaches to teaching and learning, such as problem-based learning in higher education, had more impact on promoting professional competences than the characteristics of graduates such as gender and age.
The way competence is defined in PIAAC study also includes cognitive and non-cognitive elements. The cognitive dimension includes information-processing activities such as literacy, numeracy, ICT, and problem solving. The non-cognitive element includes general activities such as learning at work, influencing, self-organizing, or physical activities (OECD 2013). Our focus is on the former, cognitive elements of competences in where we comprehend literacy as the ability to understand and use information from written texts in a variety of contexts to achieve goals and develop knowledge and potential. Numeracy, in turn, is the ability to use, apply, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas which is an essential skill in an age when individuals encounter an increasing amount and wide range of quantitative and mathematical information in their daily lives. Problem solving in technology-rich environments refers to the ability to use technology to solve problems and accomplish complex tasks. Instead of “computer literacy”, this rather measures the cognitive skills required in the information age (OECD 2013).
The purpose of our article is to analyse the competences of higher education graduates in literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments. We also analyse whether gender, age, time from graduation, work experience and field of study and make a difference in the level of competences.
Allan, J. 1996. Learning outcomes in higher education. Studies in Higher Education 21(1), 93-108. Allen, J., Ramaekers, G. & van der Velden R. 2005. Measuring competencies of higher education graduates. New Directions for Institutional Research, 126, 45-59. Allen, J., and R. van der Velden, eds. 2011. The Flexible Professional in the Knowledge Society: New Challenges for Higher Education. Higher Education Dynamics, 35. Dordrecht: Springer Humburg, M. & van der Velden, R. 2015. Self-assessments or tests? Comparing cross-national differences in patterns and outcomes of graduates’ skills based on international large-scale surveys. Studies in Higher Education 40(3), 482-504. Jayasingam, S., Fujiwara, Y. & Thurasamy, R. 2016. ‘I am competent so I can be choosy’: choosiness and its implication on graduate employability. Studies in Higher Education. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2016.1221918 Kulikowich, J. M., and P. A. Alexander. 2003. “Cognitive Assessment.” In The Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, edited by L. Nadel, Vol. 1, 526–32. London: Nature Publishing Group. OECD (2013), OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264204256-en Quek, A. 2005. “Learning for the Workplace: A Case Study in Graduate Employees’ Generic Competencies.” Journal of Workplace Learning 17 (4): 231–42 Rychen, D. S., and L. H. Salganik. 2003. “A Holistic Model of Competence.” In Key Competencies for a Successful Life and a Well-functioning Society, edited by D. S. Rychen and L. H. Salganik, 41–62. Göttingen: Hogrefe and Huber, 43. Schmidt, H. G., Vermeulen, L., van der Molen, H. T. 2003. Longterm effects of problem-based learning: a comparision of competences acquired by graduates of a problem-based and a conventional medical school. Medical Education 40, 562-567.
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