Blog post by Alan Carr, Lecturer at the Limerick Institute of Technology
The recent changes of title of the Irish Department of ‘Education’ to ‘Education and Science’, to the present ‘Education and Skills’ has prompted questions, here and elsewhere, on the meaning of this change and what change of values or emphasis can be construed from it. While no official explanation of the change has been offered (to the best of my knowledge), it may be worthwhile reflecting on the importance of skill within the whole educational enterprise.
A great asset in this reflection is the Nation Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) document ‘Grid level of indicators’, which outlines the learning outcomes associated with knowledge, skill and competency. Skills outcomes within the NFQ are defined through outcomes associated with ‘Know-how and Skill-Range’ and ‘Know-how and Skill-Selectivity’. It is a worthwhile exercise to follow the development of skill outcomes from the lower levels of what are considered further education (Level 1: ‘Demonstrate basic practical skills, and carry out directed activity using basic tools’, and ‘Perform processes that are repetitive and predictable’) through to the higher levels of what are considered higher education (Level 8: ‘Demonstrate mastery of a complex and specialised area of skills and tools; use and modify advanced skills and tools to conduct closely guided research, professional or advanced technical activity’, and ‘Exercise appropriate judgement in a number of complex planning, design, technical and/or management functions related to products, services, operations or processes, including resourcing’).
The framework in its entirety is an important asset in the understanding of skill and its development within education and training. It presents the basic elements of skills and their development towards expertise. This provides a navigation aid for both the learner and provider. It is important also to recognise that skills are developed through the commitment and effort of the learner. Skill development occurs through the practice, and the refinement of that practice, into expertise capable of delivering quality. Considering the investment required in developing skill expertise it is of critical importance that the provision of skill related education and training maintain a perpetual effort at identifying present day and future demand for skills and abilities. The efforts required towards mastery by the learners demand that the skills they seek to master be of relevance to the present and future society and be tradable in the present and future workplace.
A constant attention and vigilance is required to ensure that the skills that are offered, learnt and developed are of relevance to current and future needs. It should be a priority for the Department that the skills we seek to distinguish ourselves by, both individually and nationally, are acknowledged internationally as being of the highest quality. The framework is there, but perhaps further effort is required in challenging present and future learners to recognise and invest in higher levels of skill expertise?