03 SES 13 B, Curriculum Issues Related to the Integration of Competences and Transferable Skills
The main purpose of this study is to examine how three South Korean (hereafter Korean or Korea) secondary teachers respond to the recent emphasis on competency-based curriculum, how they have revised their curricula to develop students’ competencies, and what the effects are of these efforts. Based on these cases, this study addresses theoretical and practical issues pertaining to competency-based curriculum in a wider context.
Developing students’ competencies has received a growing attention in many parts of the world including Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Germany, and so on (Biesta & Priestley, 2013; Bellanca & Brandt, 2010; Boyd & Watson, 2006; Hong, 2012; OECD, 2005; Parsons & Beauchamp, 2012). Even though the context and the extent given to the significance of developing students’ competencies are different, recent curriculum changes in these countries underscore that school curriculum help students develop key competencies such as creative thinking, self-management, interpersonal/intercultural skills, or ICT skills (e.g., Alberta Education, 2011; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2008; Singapore Ministry of Education, 2006). On the other hand, competency-based curriculum is known to have theoretical issues that still need to be addressed. For example, there are two different rationales for developing students’ competencies; One underscores improving the quality of students’ learning experiences whereas the other is more interested in the outcome of education (Bellanca & Brandt, 2010). Some scholars are also worried that competency-based curriculum can reintroduce the utilitarian approach to education by emphasizing job-related skills and attitudes while neglecting intellectual, moral or social values of education (Reid, 2006).
Korea is not an exception to the transnational interest in competency-based curriculum. As a matter of fact, the number of research papers, academic conferences, seminars and research projects dealing with the development of students’ key competencies has proliferated since the 2000s (Hong, 2012). Many scholars and educators have argued that Korean school curricula need to be reformed to develop students’ competencies essential in this fast-changing, knowledge-based society instead of transmitting content knowledge in subject areas (Hong, 2012). As a result, the National Curriculum was revised in 2015, which announced that the main goal of school curricula is to develop six key competencies; Self-management Competency, Knowledge-information processing skills, Creative Thinking skills, Aesthetic-emotional competency, Communication skills, and Civic competency (Korean Ministry of Education, 2016). As this is the first time that competencies were officially mentioned in the national curriculum, fostering students’ key competencies is likely to be main agenda among scholars and educators.
However, as Reid (2006) argues, when people talk about competencies, they can actually mean very different things. This is because even though the significance competencies e.g., creative thinking or self-management skills, seem to be clear and evident, they can have very different meanings in diverse contexts and conditions (Biesta & Priestley, 2013). In addition, the way theses competencies are integrated to the existing curricula could be affected by teachers’ interpretation of those competencies and the nature of subject areas that they are teaching.
Therefore, it seems not the case that putting several competencies in curriculum guidelines and expecting that teachers will change their curricula to develop those competencies. In this context, this study examines how three Korean secondary teachers teaching different subject areas in different contexts interpret the meaning of competency-based curriculum, how they have revised their curricula to develop students’ competencies, and what the main results of these changes are. Based on these cases, this study addresses theoretical and practical issues inherent in competency-based curriculum in a wider context (Biesta & Priestley, 2013).
In addressing above topics, this study makes use of qualitative data collected from three teachers teaching in different schools in the vicinity of Seoul, the capital city of Korea. One teacher was teaching English; another teacher, Korean Language; and the other, Biology. Even though their teaching subjects and working conditions were different, three teachers commonly admitted that they were aware of the recent emphasis on competency-based curriculum and working to revise their curricula to develop students’ key competencies. Main data was generated through teacher interviews, classroom observations and focus-group interviews with several students in each school, which took place between 2015 and 2016. Teacher interviews were conducted to examine how three teachers interpret the significance and the meaning of competencies, how they have developed their ideas about combining proposed competencies with existing curricula and how they believe the effects of their efforts are. To gain more concrete understandings of each teacher’s competency-oriented-teaching, classroom observation was conducted in each school for about 3-4 months. All the main contents of teaching, instructional methods, evaluation tools, and students’ behaviours during observation were recorded in field notes. Finally, to obtain students’ lived responses to their teachers’ curriculum changes, focused-group interviewed with several voluntary students were conducted from each school. All the interviews were transcribed to be analysed along with observation notes and field notes. Referring to the process of data analysis in qualitative studies (Corbin & Anselm Strauss; 2008; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016; Miles & Huberman, 1995), all the data were carefully analysed, compared, coded and categorized to provide substantial understandings of competency-based curriculum in three locations.
Main findings support that competency-based curriculum approves participating teachers’ beliefs that the prevalent teacher-centred, textbook-based instruction should be reformed. They mentioned that, even before the national curriculum guidelines included key competencies, they had strived to change their instructional methods to create a more engaging and student-centred learning environment. They seemed to be assured by changes in the national curriculum which confirm their effort to revise the teaching-learning process. This finding supports that competency-based curriculum needs to stimulate teachers to change the process of their teaching, instead of enhancing the outcome-based reform or the accountability system. Secondly, participating teachers selectively focused on specific competencies out of the proposed list of competencies, considering the nature of their subjects and the conditions of their students. They also constructed their own understandings of chosen competencies, e.g. interpersonal skills or problem-solving, to make them applicable to their teaching. This demonstrates that local selection and definitions should be encouraged instead of imposing a fixed list of key competencies or fixed definitions of those competencies. Lastly, according to the classroom observation and student-interview data, students seemed to recognize that the three teachers are distinctive in terms of teaching styles and evaluation methods. At the beginning, students seemed to be unfamiliar with teachers’ innovative teaching methods. However, as time went on, they began to assume more responsibility and participation during the class, getting familiar with presentations or group workings. In interviews, most of the students agreed that they had multiple opportunities to exercise and develop competencies such as interpersonal skills, civic responsibilities and creative thinking. Based on these and other findings, this study further addresses theoretical and practical issues pertaining to competency-based curriculum (Biesta & Priestley, 2013; Reid, 2016)
Alberta Education (2011). Inspiring education. Alberta, Canada: Alberta Department of Education. Bellanca, J. & Brandt, R. (Eds.) (2010). 21st century skills: Rethinking how students learn. Indiana, US. : Solution Tree Press Biesta, G. & Priestley, M. (Eds.)(2013). Reinventing the curriculum: New trends in the curriculum policy and trends. UK: Bloomsbury Publishing. Boyd, S., & Watson, V. (2006). Shifting the frame: Exploring integration of the key competencies at six normal schools. New Zealand: New Zealand Council for Education Research. Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2008) Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). California: Sage. Hong, W. P. (2012). An international study of the changing nature and role of school curricula: from transmitting content knowledge to developing students’ key competencies. Asia Pacific Education Review, 13(1), 27-37. Korean Ministry of Education (2016). National guidelines for elementary and secondary curriculum. Korea: Korean Ministry of Education. Merriam, S & Tisdell, J E. (2016). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). California: Jossey –Bass. Miles, M., & Huberman, M. (1995). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. California: Sage. OECD (2005). The definition and selection of key competencies: Executive summary. Paris: OECD. Parsons, J., & Beauchamp, L. (2012). From knowledge to action: Shaping the future of curriculum development in Alberta. Canada: Alberta Government. Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2008). 21st century skills, education and competitiveness. Arizona: Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Reid, A. (2006). Key competencies: A new way forward or more of the same? In New Zealand Council for Educational Research (Ed.), Key competencies: Repacking the old or creating the new? (pp. 5-16). New Zealand: New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Singapore Ministry of Education (2006). Teach less, learn more. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from http://www.moe.gov.sg/bluesky/tllm.htm
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