Overview of topics
General skills
DK + IT
Summary
General skills 

Knud Illeris & Claudia Pasti

Summary of the topic study - October 1999
(Original topic study of 1999 in DUOQUAL folder)

Message
General and specific skills
Search model
Learning and education
Practical experience



Message

The question of how to combine vocational and general education is usually solved by a combination of vocational and educational subjects in a fixed scheme or with the possibility of individual choices following certain rules. This sort of curricula will be likely to assure that both vocational and general skills are developed, but certainly not in an integrated way including the development of ‘higher order skills’ or ‘key qualifications’ such as the understanding of vocational areas in a broader professional or societal context, or such personal qualities as flexibility, responsibility, creativity and the like. In order to come closer to this type of qualification some sort of curricular integration, interdisciplinarity or project education must be developed – a process which will inevitably meet problems and resistance as it brakes with traditional administrative and academic patterns, psychological defence structures and actual teacher qualifications. However, the very process of overcoming such obstacles is at the same time contributing to the development of the type of skills demanded. In the DUOQUAL project the Danish-Italian topic study on General Skills is dealing with this challenge in theory and practice.

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General and specific skills 

This topic study is focusing on the concept of general skills. Skills are broadly defined as all practical and mental abilities and capacities that an individual can develop in all kinds of activities throughout life. In education and working life - and also in the DUOQUAL project - some types of skills are regarded as general and others as specific. However, which skills are general and which are specific depend on the point of view.
    From a societal point of view general skills are what everybody should acquire in order to keep up with the actual requirements of today’s working and everyday life, and specific skills are what only some members of society need in order to fulfil their specific jobs and private situation. And a very important development in modernity has been that more and more skills have become general needs.
    But seen from the individual´s point of view the question of what is general and what is specific is related to the individual self or subjectivity: it is the personal touch or the connection to the personal ideas and understandings which constitute generality. What is general is what a person can recognize and appreciate as relating to his or her generalized self, i.e. to his or her identity. And as learning is an internal psychological function it is important for educators and the educational system to understand and respect the subjective meaning of generality, not the least in relation to the acquisition of societally general skills.

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Search model 

In order to illustrate to clarify and to keep attention to the duality of what is perceived as ”general” in relation to the acquisition and meaning of skills the topic study concentrates on the development of a search model that can be used as a basis for understanding and delibera-tion of skills in different contexts, the central problem being to find categories and establish a connection between essential differences of skills in such a way that it can be normative for the character of the learning and qualifying processes through which they can be developed.
    The construction of the model is made in two stages. In the first stage three different areas of the inner dynamics of subjectivity are delimited: Working life, social life and the personal area. This is illustrated in the so-called ”Tulip model” showing the external areas of working life and social life as two petals folding round the internal core of the personal area.
    In the second stage the ”tulip” is folded out so that the petals take the form of two wings bordering the core, and a horisontal division is made between three levels of skills. In the bottom and closely integrated are the basic skills which concern the individual´s understanding of himself or herself in relation to the personal role and placing and to the basic consciousness or unconsciousness of assumptions as to how working and social life are structured. In the middle is the comprehensive level of skills that are indicative of a broader insight into or understanding of contexts or causes that make it possible to process and transfer experiences. And at the top are the more separated and concrete specific skills that can be linked to a given context or be of limited significance for the individual.

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Learning and education 

Finally, it is given a practical example of an Italian training course in an enterprise. The training concerned mainly general skills. The model, together with the empirical experience, draws the attention to some important basic features of learning and education:
    Firstly, as already indicated that learning is a subjective process and therefore must be understood in the psychological context of the individaul and its situation (and not in the external context of the subject matter that is to be learned). This means that the learner must be considered as a person, as a whole, with different aspects (personal, social and working area) that are connected and integrated between them. The individual´s past experience, needs and motivation do have an influence on the learning process. This consideration has a practical consequence: educational efforts must be made to recognise the importance of the learner in the learning process, and this should be considered while planning the curricula.
    Secondly, that the learning of one kind of skills is always subjectively related to other kinds of skills and to the entirety and identity of the individual. As suggested by the model, there are different areas and different levels of generalisation, divided by transparent barriers. One of the challenges for the educational system is to provide instruments to break through these barriers; to help teachers and students, or trainers and trainees, to find connections and links between the different areas. The teacher, or trainer, therefore will be a facilitator, that supports the transferability of skills between areas.
    Thirdly, that some kinds of skills are closer to the personal identity and therefore also closer integrated into the entirety and more difficult to influence and change.
    The search model in this way is meant to be a tool or a mind map which can help to draw and keep attention to some very basic conditions in relation to the understanding and planning of educational activities.

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Practical experience 

Linking a theoretical model to a practical experience can be useful for different reasons. The mutual learning of this topic study has been: 

  • that the totality of the learners´ situations and motivations must be taken seriously when policy makers and practitioners try to work out educational approaches;
  • that theory and practical experience are both necessary for developing knowledge and gaining deeper awareness on the topic under study;
  • and that, although apparently quite far away, it has been nevertheless proved useful to deal with cross-country problems and trends in the complicated area of the development of general skills.

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