The most common complaint in the place of work today is that the education system has been spitting out half-baked graduates. This concept of half-baked graduates is blamed not only on Universities and tertiary institutions, but also on basic education. It clearly brings out the disconnect existing between academic education, and the skills-set and mindset required at the work place in particular and in life in general. Globally, educators and employers believe that it is necessary to ensure the acquisition and development of relevant skills. Put in another way, they should be competent.
It is this desire that led Kenya towards changing the curriculum from one that was deemed to be too exam–oriented, to one that focuses on the development of competencies. But what exactly are these competencies? Is it possible to agree to a universal definition or understanding of what competencies are?
Most of us that speak the English language feel that we sufficiently know what the word ‘competence’ means. It is derived from the word competent which means “having the necessary ability, knowledge or skills to do something successfully”. It is easy to describe competence or being competent in some areas of education but not very easy when it comes to other areas.
Experts and researchers in education, though, have a wide variety of opinions as to what competency-based education is. The variety in their opinions tells us that it is not that straightforward. The Kenyan Competency Based Curriculum (KCBC), defines competency as ‘the ability to apply appropriate knowledge and skills to successfully perform a function’. In order to develop competencies among students at the basic level of education therefore, the KCBC proposes a design that focuses on the development of core competencies. The seven identified being:
- Communication and Collaboration
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
- Creativity and Imagination
- Digital Literacy
- Learning to Learn
The above competencies are learnt through the various learning areas. They are geared towards helping learners become engaged, empowered, and ethical citizens, and to thrive in a fast-paced 21st century world, solving real-life issues.
The acquisition and development of competencies calls for the adoption of different teaching methods, such as role-play, projects, study visits, case studies, and problem-solving. These teaching methodologies are learner-centered, conducted through direct exploration and experience. Under CBC, the teacher is merely a facilitator guiding the learning process, rather than an expert. Learners can also develop and apply the competencies through opportunities presented in Pertinent and Contemporary Issues (PCIs) and Community Service Learning (CSL).
Competency-based education approaches bring about meaningful connections between the learning areas and the competencies to be developed. However, the focus is not only on the development and acquisition of competencies and skills, but also on the ability of learners to apply them in real-life situations.
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