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Education or training?

2023-07-15 | Spain
Education or training?

We are at a historic stage in which changes are taking place that will shape, for the worse, the future of the upcoming generations. For more than 25 years, education has been the workhorse of political and economic leaders. As early as 1996, UNESCO in its Delors report on education for the 21st century set out in black and white what the objective of capitalism was for its workforce: to create skilled, but not educated, efficient, diligent and competent, but not intelligent subjects; in short, education would stop transmitting scientific knowledge, forming intellectually capable subjects, and start inculcating knowledge, skills and attitudes focused on the resolution of specific tasks. That's what competency means!

The new educational paradigm, which is not just another pedagogical fad, but a detailed plan to change the root of what education still means, and has meant in capitalism since almost its beginnings, adapts education to the situation in which the system finds itself today, in which growth (of capital) is increasingly antagonistic to (human) development. That is why, in the current state of technological development, knowledge receives the unfortunate adjective of instrument, a simple useful tool to achieve certain ends, previously fixed by those who manage the system.

Competency-based education is an unprecedented attack on the waterline of what humanity understands by culture, science and teaching: it turns teaching into instruction, culture and science into instruments that can be measured and evaluated in terms of their usefulness in the accumulation of capital. In short, it distances students from the acquisition of knowledge understood as a path to personal improvement, and which has an impact on their future autonomy in life and thought.

What is competency-based education?

The crux of the matter is to adapt education to what companies require, without realizing that often the bets made by companies on emerging technologies translate into a trap: let's take the example of big data. What is now happening with those specializations, in master's degree format, that focused on data collection? Well, they have been left behind in the race for employability, with the rise and boom of generative AI.

The establishment spread the mantra that every educational institution should be "governed" as if it were a business and geared to save training costs for companies. It was necessary to capitalize all educational resources, saving expenses (more students) and making costs profitable (fewer classes, schools and teachers); now it is a matter of capitalizing the same knowledge, commercializing it in the form of competencies .

Knowledge, a devalued way of speaking of knowledge, and competencies, modulate a teaching-learning process in which reality is not apprehended in a complete way, but rather different mechanisms, directly applicable to specific cases, are sequenced and dismembered, placing special emphasis on the student not knowing why such and such a procedure is applied. The idea is that the student is a machine that chooses what to do in each case, without being able to understand why such a solution is the most valid to solve a problem. In fact, they will not even be able to ask themselves this question.

It amounts to defenestrating theory in the classroom: without theory, without scientific background, what is learned becomes a bag of un-knowledge, from which we take this or that idea, and we test, like a sycophant, if our product, the so feared and hated end product, works or not. Do our pedagogues want to return to experimentation, to empiricism, in a continuous endless trial-error loop?

We no longer teach to evaluate, to obtain an objective result that tells us whether the student has learned or not. Now we evaluate to teach: they want us to invert the terms of the equation, to design the evaluation first, and from that design, we assemble the didactic sequence. Where is the knowledge? And the role of the teacher? We no longer have to teach anything, we have to facilitate the students' acquisition of learning, which they supposedly and magically already have within themselves, we have to make it easier for knowledge to emerge, in a kind of adulterated mayeutic exercise. We have to facilitate learning, to be an executive coach for our students.

In the end, what we are trying to do is to create parts for the industrial machinery, people who are quickly interchangeable, without criteria, and who know how to compete among themselves, and obey any order, without questioning it. As the philosopher Jean-Claude Michéa points out, education by competencies is:

The teaching of ignorance, which consists of learning skills and abilities, technical practices and applications of knowledge, but without the need to learn and understand that knowledge and technology.

The predictable consequences

The labor power that feeds surplus value, the only place reserved for us by the possessing classes, will be more uniform, more uncritical, and of course, more replaceable. The cheapness of the main factor of production, primordial in capitalism, will have reached unsuspected limits, with almost no distinction between one worker or another: they will be mere pieces, the pawns of a sinister chess, in which you never reach the square where you can become queen (although evidently, the propaganda machine will tell you, and show you, that this is always possible).

In an economic system where every innovation that can be profitable for capital is quickly taken up, it is not surprising that the skills we diligently teach our students are useless even the following month. We have already given the example of Big Data, and we are going to soon be able to give many other examples in the future. If we do not provide young people with knowledge and content that will enable them to form their own judgments about reality, when there is a technological or business-oriented change of direction, and the skills they have acquired with so much care are no longer valid, the helplessness and sense of powerlessness will be unparalleled, feeding another of the whirlwinds that threatens coexistence today: individualism and the identity imaginary, the only escape left to people once they are unable to participate in the productive life of their closest community.

Finally, we cannot fail to mention how to escape from this overwhelming maelstrom: by placing the knowledge that our species has been generating on the pedestal it deserves, and establishing as the ultimate goal of education, its transmission and improvement, creating educated people, and not just trained ones. Otherwise, the present will turn increasingly decadent and the future will grow darker by the day.