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Synthesis Report: Transversal Competencies in Education Policy and Practice (Phase I)


What skills and competencies are essential for people to live a more responsible, decent, and meaningful life in the 21st century?

There is a growing debate on how education today can respond to the various needs of learners in a fast-changing and interconnected society. In response, many education systems in the Asia-Pacific region, often associated with strong emphasis on factual knowledge and examinations, have moved to integrate “transversal competencies”, sometimes termed “21st century skills”, “soft-skills”, or “non-cognitive skills”, which are critical for people to meet the new needs of society, including technological advances and intercultural communication.

However, these valuable initiatives in the region have not been fully documented and shared. In response to this, UNESCO Bangkok’s new publication, Integrating Transversal Competencies in Education Policy and Practice (Phase 1), examines how different countries and economies in the Asia-Pacific region define and apply such transversal competencies in their education policies and practices. The regional research was conducted as part of the research activities of the Asia-Pacific Education Research Institutes Network (ERI-Net) in 2013 with participation of ten countries and economies– Australia, Shanghai (China), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (China), India, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines and Thailand.

One of the key findings of the synthesis report is that an emphasis on transversal competencies in education agenda is found in all ten case studies. It could suggest that there is indeed a growing trend in the region to place greater emphasis on transversal competences in their education polices. The research also reveals that the way of integration - interpretation and adaptation of transversal competencies - differs greatly by education system, reflecting the diversity and multiplicity of the region. The richness is described and discussed in the regional synthesis report in terms of rationale for integration, approaches to implementation, and modes of integration in curriculum.

The report also shows similarities and diversities in skills, competencies, values, and attributes documented in the case studies. One example of similarities is the prominence of skills found in the “Creative and Innovative Thinking” domain in the ERI-Net’s working definition of transversal competencies. This domain is exemplified by skills such as critical thinking, reflective thinking, and reasoned decision-making. At the same time, the case studies illustrate the skills and competencies unique to specific countries reflecting the diverse local contexts in the region. For instance, “dealing with stress” and ”yoga and health” were illustrated in India where the case study reported that students had been increasingly exposed to pressure from an academic-oriented society. The case study from the Republic of Korea mentioned “cyber etiquette”, which the government introduced recently to prevent online bullying at schools and facilitate appropriate communication via internet.   

While the synthesis report clearly indicates that all ten education systems have moved to integrate transversal competencies in their education agenda, the report also illustrates their endeavours are not always free from challenges. The issues discussed in the report include definitional challenges arising from a lack of, or a vague definition of, transversal competences in policy documents; operational challenges such as lack of adequate evaluation systems for transversal competencies; and systematic challenges including inconsistency between transversal competencies in the curriculum and the contents of the existing high-stake examinations, especially university entrance examinations.

This regional research was supported by Tokyo Institute of Technology, Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan, and Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE). 


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