The steal roller of « competencies » in education

The economic, historical and cultural crisis which is now confronting our societies in different forms and modes is creating a menacing landscape around scholarly institutions and educational practices. A certain subjectivity and a politics of the immediate control and give shape to current pedagogical practices. The pedagogy which is being imposed on us seeks the development of “tools” for life and the idea of a human being to educate tends to become one of a “man without qualities” upon which the educator is expected to glue “key competencies” which will lead to success in a life which is essentially defined by the criterion of “employability.” In this “new school” we no longer teach what it means to be human, but rather how much things are worth. Knowledge has no value except in response to the needs of the market, if it is possible to establish such a value.

Coming essentially from the world of business and relayed by a technological will to optimize the efficacy of educational systems, the “competency approach” in education has been introduced in all countries (North as well as South, and at all levels of the educational systems, in general as well as technical education), indifferent to current practice and stealing the precious time dedicated to teaching and educating. Presenting itself in the forms of programs or pedagogies by competencies or new forms of highly standardized evaluation (or all three), it imposes an essentially evaluative and normalizing logic to behavior, tending to pull down the sense of scholarly efficacy and in favor of economic efficacy and to discredit knowledge. We believe, to paraphrase Hannah Arendt, that one would not know how to educate without a minimum of separation between the world of the school and the world of work.

Not all of our children walk the same paths. Their qualities, chosen affinities and sociocultural anchor points condition the nature of these paths. But that does not mean that we should understand these differences as weaknesses as the followers of the competency model would like us to do. When our institutions decide, for example, that there is a foundation of competencies that “no one can be unaware of at the end of his/her obligatory education under penalty of finding oneself marginalized” (Socle de connaissances et de competences francais, adopté par décret en 2006), what else does this do but to ratify the social fracturing and to render these future excluded ones (and their teachers) responsible for an exclusion whose roots lie elsewhere ? How can we instruct and educate under such a threat ? The key competencies will become an unhappy passport to survival for our students, inviting us to choose a completely different profession : That of artificially constructing professionally and economically useful efficacious behaviors. In this matter, the experience of Quebec speaks eloquently. Competency based reform, imposed more than ten years ago, has produced such ravages that today, the very foundations of the public schools have been shaken.

To educate, we are convinced, means something else. It is not that we wish to cling to the academic forms of the past : schools must respond to the needs of the times. One of the challenges facing us is certainly to transmit knowledge and understanding which will be useful to the students, not in the not in the sense of pure economic and individual efficacy, but efficacy in multiple senses, the sense of the past and of the world, of engagement in the construction of the future of society. But this challenge cannot be met by any policy decided in the abstract, still less by short term standards of economics and efficacy. We insist on the expertise as to the invention, daily and sustained, of our métier, teaching. And we demand that the institutions in which we work sustain the practices and the knowledge of the terrain which we have in order to permit teachers to actualize their power to act to succeed in the challenges presented by schools which they are best placed to understand, rather than responding to a divisive and brutal logic.

Normand Baillargeon, professeur et essayiste, UQAM (Québec) ; Gérald Boutin, professeur en sciences de l’éducation, UQAM (Quebec) ; Michel Bougard, historien des sciences, Université de Mons (Belgique), Fanny Capel, professeur agrégée de lettres, membre de l’association Sauver les lettres. Robert Comeau, historien, professeur associé, UQAM (Québec), Kaddour Chouicha, enseignant chercheur, Université des sciences et de la technologie d’Oran (Algérie), Huguette Cordelier, ex-enseignante spécialisée, fondatrice de Sud Education (France). Charles Courtois, professeur CMRSJ (Québec) ; Liliana Degiorgis, sociologue, directrice du laboratoire de recherche de EDUCA (République Dominicaine) ; Angélique del Rey, professeur de philosophie et essayiste (France) ; Joseph Facal, professeur agrégé, HEC Montréal (Québec), Luis Javier Garcés, Dr. en Education, enseignant-chercheur de l’Université Nationale de San Juan (Argentine) ; Willi Hajek, formateur syndical, TIE (Allemagne) ; Nico Hirtt, enseignant chercheur (Belgique) ; Ken Jones, professeur en éducation, Université de Londres (Angleterre) ; Sylvain Mallette, vice-président à la vie professionnelle de la FAE (Québec) ; Estela Miranda, Dr en Education, directrice du doctorat en Sciences de l’Education de l’Université Nationale de Córdoba (Argentine), Rosa Nunez, membre de l’institut Paulo Freire du Portugal et professeur à la Faculté de Psychologie et de Sciences de l’éducation de l’université de Porto (Portugal) ; François Robert, consultant indépendant en éducation (France), Juan Ruiz, Dr. en Education, enseignant-chercheur de l’Université Nationale de la Patagonie Australe (Argentine), Pierre Saint-Germain, Président de la FAE (Québec)