Competencies and general culture. A reflection on the competency-based approach in pre-university programs and general education




Tremblay, Raymond Robert

There seems to be a widespread opinion that the competency-based approach is adequate for technical training but not for general education or pre-university programs. However, just like the technical sector, competencies – which are defined by the ministère as learning objectives and sub-objectives as well as standards and performance criteria – constitute the organizing principle of pre-university training and general education courses. And similar to technical training programs, a competency is defined as the integration of knowledge, cognitive skills and attitudes required to solve problems or act appropriately in a given situation. Several authors have agreed with the idea that ‘’general education2’’ teaching is based essentially on a humanist approach that differs in form and content from the competency-based one, which is considered simplistic because it focuses on practical learning (know-how). In spite of the many achievements in general education and pre-university programs that have demonstrated the compatibility of a competency-based approach with a humanist one, some CEGEP and university teachers still associate it to instrumentalism and a decline in general culture or the subordination of education to neoliberalism. If this were the case, there would be cause for alarm. The purpose of this article is not to debate the issue again, or suggest that these opinions are without substance. It intends simply to show that the pedagogical principles of a competency-based approach are likely to make a humanist approach more accessible to a greater number of people; a successful pathway upon which many teachers have embarked. In short, a competency-based approach that is nuanced and adapted can very adequately support an integrated education for the student and the citizen; it succeeds in providing general education that is authentic. This is the premise upon which the following statements rest.


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