Competency development in vocational education

 The education and training of young adults today is becoming an increasingly pertinent topic. It is little wonder, for there has been a marked increase in value of the role of human resources. A new option in the offer of educational opportunities available to young adults is post-secondary vocational further education. The value and overwhelming advantage of this form of education lies in the fact that the methodological focus is on the development of competencies.

In the last few years one comes across the term competency ever more frequently in the area of education development. Competency is defined as those skills and abilities which enable a person to transform his/her previously acquired knowledge and available information into effective problem-solving action. The concept of competency is not new, emerging earlier in the fields of personalistic psychology and the cognitive sciences, for instance. Apart from knowledge, ability and skill, a more comprehensive term was necessary to denote and reflect the multi-faceted complexity of the concept. It is not surprising that the term competency in education initially appeared in vocational education and training, as acquiring knowledge and attainment in particularly these fields are worth little if they cannot be constructively applied and implemented for the completion of work in practice.

A restructuring of the vocational education system – enabling it to anticipate and adapt to the rapidly changing demands of the market – can contribute to more appropriately prepared individuals in the work force who are equipped with the marketable skills in demand. The success of this preparation hinges on a complete, all-encompassing overhaul in approach and attitude, as well as on the extent of practical implementation of such a paradigm shift in the system.

Competency is also directly associated with the concept of Life Long Learning. The competent individual is not merely able to do something but is capable of action, of bringing him-/herself into a position of action. The concept of competency is therefore much more than ability.

The 3rd millennium is very much about life-long learning. We are bombarded with an immense amount of information everyday and must be able, in a relatively short time, to sort through and select out bits of significant information we need.

Within vocational education the development of various competencies requires conscious and methodic planning of the learning-teaching process. Competency-based education fundamentally transforms the function of the educator, as apart from the transmission of knowledge, their role in the development of students and in assisting in tackling individual learning problems becomes emphasized.

Development is a significant element of economic competitiveness and involves how effectively one can adapt to changing circumstances, how effectively the knowledge and information acquired in childhood and youth can be continuously renewed. This requires a continuous self-training and further education – in other words life-long learning.  Life-long learning can be successfully achieved provided that appropriate motivational elements are in place at every age level, including adulthood. Regardless of the age of the learner, there must always be an underlying incentive/motive that not only sets the learning process in motion but also sustains a stable, long-term momentum. For efficacy in learning and the attainment of success, appropriate learning motivation is paramount together with the necessary abilities and competencies.

Students enter school with varying degrees and types of motivation. For the most part the differences in individual motivation can be attributed to past experiences and results attained in the learning process thus far. There are significant differences in the individual life experiences of children and youths that effect their achievement-oriented behaviour and determine the intensity of resultant incentive factors.

Childhood experiences and environment have a determinant role. Receiving reward in the form of love and acknowledgement in childhood for positive behaviour and achievement, and receiving assistance instead of reprehension in the case of failure have a nurturing effect.

If the student has emotional ties to the subject matter, learning will be easier, more pleasurable and result in more permanent retention. This is especially true if the environment is one which not only permits the disclosure of personal thoughts but also encourages and values such behaviour. The emergence of a positive emotional state in conjunction with a particular activity, observably transforms into a stimulating motivational factor spurring the given activity. Therefore motivation and emotion are mutually inducing, continuously generative processes of each other, jointly serving to sustain and perpetuate the activity.

It would be extremely beneficial if competence-based education appeared not only in academic and pedagogical periodicals but also in schools and institutions of vocational education. It is precisely this ability for thinking in wide-ranging interconnected thinking, this seeing the ‘big picture’ that allows us to find our bearings in the world, that enables us to meet the important challenges we face in our lives. Co-operation, conflict management and autonomous operation are all complementary aspects of each other. In our dynamically developing world only those organizations who are capable of adapting to the changes and whose primary focus is on the development of practical core competencies can survive. These skills cannot be acquired over night. The emergence of these conditioned responses takes much longer to develop and is therefore a tedious time-consuming process. However once acquired, they last a lifetime.

Skills associated with emotional intelligence as well as cognitive abilities are truly effective when applied together: the best achievers possess both. The more complex and involved a job/task is the greater the significance of emotional intelligence. Empathy, self-discipline and initiative are what separate the best from those who are just good enough to keep their jobs.

Greater emphasis is placed on the so-called content-independent competencies – those not associated with a particular discipline, subject or general knowledge area (i.e. cooperative skills, problem-solving abilities, creativity and motivation)

Non-formal and informal education will become increasingly more important In vocational education.  It is a well-known fact that the greatest difficulties experienced by young people – especially those in vocational education – is the overwhelming emphasis on verbal learning and the subsequent lack of effort, willingness and motivation. The volume of subject-matter is continuously increasing, while increasingly less and less time is spent on practicing. Nevertheless, one of the most important aspects of learning is activity, the completion of tasks with zeal and enthusiasm. If the student feels that learning is an imposed chore, he/she will be a passive recipient or bystander and not much lasting applicable knowledge will be acquired.

Higher-level vocational education places greater emphasis on the ratio of skills development subjects, as this form of instruction ensures the greatest efficacy. (Small-) Group activities by their nature have the decided advantage of enabling students to learn from their peers and also contributing to the development of more direct and personal student-teacher relationship. Project activities teach students how to execute and follow through with a task from the planning, through the implementation and evaluation stages. It instils in them a sense of independent work as well as cooperative team work. Students are usually more motivated in performing such tasks as they also have a say in the planning phase and at the same time, a favourable attitude and work ethic also develops.

There are competencies (core competencies) which no one can do without. It is the educational institution’s task to develop these in their learners. The transition to competency-based education requires a dramatic and concurrent change in teacher attitude and conduct, as well as a change in the learning environment, which can only be achieved in slow gradual increments. Learners must be provided with more active tasks and greater opportunity for operation.  They must be presented with problem situations that they can solve themselves, as the operational powers and skills needed in life can best develop in life-like situations. Teachers must be equipped to use a wide variety of teaching methods so the most appropriate method can be selected and applied in the given teaching situation. This requires continuous development of the teacher’s knowledge of the subject matter, as well as teaching practices and on-going further training.

The eight core competencies (listed here are those set forth by the Hungarian National Curriculum, namely:  native language communication, foreign language communication, computational, technical/digital, learning, social and citizenship, initiative and entrepreneurial, cultural awareness and sense of expression) are all closely inter-connected, nonetheless, I would like to single out the learning competency. The skill of learning to learn is one that brings advancement. The individual must be proficient in the skill of managing and organizing his/her own individual, as well as group learning situation, including effective management of time and prioritizing of tasks and information. In the interest of productive learning, the student is capable of overcoming obstacles in his/her path, is familiar with the accessible opportunities available and is capable of capitalizing on them. By learning to learn the student realizes how to apply and utilize previously acquired knowledge and how to integrate new information into his/her existing body of life experience. In the current stimuli-rich environment of the information age children are also undergoing drastic changes. Although it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract and hold their attention, their scope of interest is becoming ever broader. This change demands that scholastic education allow for greater student independence and creativity to enable the student to try his/her wings and abilities in a variety of situations. Greater emphasis must be placed on nurturing the development of personality and on student independence and autonomy.

Apart from the development of student learning skills and strategies, social competencies must also receive greater emphasis. This is unfortunately a sorely neglected area to do this day, even though deficiencies in these competencies significantly decrease chances of, or altogether prevent entry into the work force of otherwise qualified vocational program graduates, as well as diminishes the possibility of reintegrating those re-entering the job market.

Determining/Establishing the objectives of social and learning competencies development is much more complicated task than/ compared with core vocational program development; there exist no or limited practice of this development, practically no statistics and surveys to rely on, and furthermore the requirements are rapidly changing on both the demand and supply side of the equation/market.

The competency content of personal and social competency includes elements of emotional intelligence. The rate of personality development greatly depends on the extent to which various components become ordered into a system, the degree to which an internal system of rules emerges and on the level of skills acquisition and mastery. Personality development is partially a product of spontaneous socialization and partially that of conscious nurturing and education.

A number of researchers have found that an increase in IQ is directly proportional to a decrease in emotional intelligence. Such people have less consideration for others and pay less attention to their own behaviour and the consequences of their behaviour. It is the educational institution’s responsibility to teach relationship and conflict management skills. One of the most powerful tools of the instructor is his/her own emotional intelligence. A teacher with a developed emotional intelligence is capable of being empathetic and of creating an open and trusting atmosphere.

In most secondary schools teachers also serve as mentors, for students are increasingly in greater need of individual attention, tailored guidance and direction. Mentor programs can help improve drop-out rates and academic achievement, and can contribute to the handling of student mental issues, as well as to the development of personality through the establishment of a favourable rapport and relationship. The general experience of institutions with an effective mentorship shows they are usually able to detect problems in the early stages of onset, while internal communication and even institutional culture improve.

In the last approximately two decades the number of youths seriously in danger of, or actually dropping out of the general education system has continuously grown. The result of the system of normative funding, coupled with dwindling numbers of children results in schools striving for ever greater enrolment numbers. The once prevalent selective-evaluative-qualitative approach has been supplanted with a quantitative approach, which better serves the survival of the school.

Students with learning disabilities, i.e. are unable to comprehend or ascertain the main points of various types of texts in written or oral presentation, or are incapable of focusing their attention, certainly require mentoring intervention.

However, mentoring processes are also needed for those students with exceptional abilities in a particular area, especially when the further development of these abilities surpasses the limitations of the conventional school framework. A crucial element in the success of the mentoring process is the nature and quality of the relationship between involved parties. The stronger these ties become, the more they facilitate the development of respect and accommodating behaviour.

In addition to the above issues problems in behaviour, adaptation, conduct and manner of living must also be dealt with, for they, too, are all potential sources of endangerment and can lead to a dropping out of the school system.

Students should also be taught the application of various techniques for self- awareness, for controlling and mobilizing their emotions (i.e. in standing up for their interests, developing positive thinking, etc.). Mastering these strategies is important also because emotional factors have a significant impact on learning achievement. For effective learning to take place, application of both intellectual strategies and emotional strategies (self-awareness, self-control and self-image) are equally necessary.

The concept of learning is therefore interesting not merely from a educational perspective, but from an economic one as well – especially as regards its constituent components (rather than its general definition). Interpretations of learning distinguish two basic types – an enmeshed combination of both are required for learning to materialize. The two types are ‘gap-closing’ and ‘self-fulfilment’- type learning (Krisztián, 2007).

Involving students in establishing their own learning objectives, the planning process and the assessment of their own and others’ achievement are also important aspects. Ideally the teacher-student relationship should be based on mutuality; educators should supply positive fee-back to students displaying initiative.

Personal competency is the ability and capacity of developing self-knowledge, self-worth and self-control. Utilization of methods such as debate, peer-teaching, learning facilitation, practice of cooperative and problem solving techniques, e-learning, project work and role-plays should prevail both within and outside the classroom. These learning method strategies are most effective in non-traditional learning formations i.e. independent or pair- work, or small group settings.

Social competency is another area to be developed in students by schools. One of the fundamental forms of developing this competency is cooperation; the collaboration of student and teacher. Due to the intensity of this relationship,  a more enhanced, robust development of emotional intelligence is facilitated. Collaborative activities develop communication and conflict management skills while making up for various deficiencies in socialization processes and also provide for the mastery of different social roles. Cooperation leads to an improved sense of self-worth and appreciation of others, increased level s of motivation, self-knowledge and independence and can become a source of pleasure and happiness. The emotional development of students is greatly enhanced by creative activities. They learn to concentrate on their experiences and actions, and be in-tune to their feelings and thoughts. Different creative tasks, activities and competitions strengthen different areas of emotional intelligence.  There are those that focus on development of self-control and self-image, while others facilitate the better understanding and accepting of others or in the handling of others’ emotional expressions.

József Zsolnai in his work entitled ‘A Practice-Based Pedagogy,’ coins the term special pedagogy to denote the synthesis of analyses and generalizations of experiences amassed in classrooms.

Special pedagogies provide guidelines for the effective practice of education.

Those special pedagogies which have great bearing on skills development are those that belong to the category of scientific pedagogy, while those methods that facilitate transmission of values belong to the so-called expectation pedagogy category.


Dr. Krisztián Béla (2007). Mindig tanulni, Felnőttképzés, 2007. 1. 2-4.

Zsolnai József (1988). Egy gyakorlatközeli pedagógia: kutatásaink elméleti alapozása, Oktatáskutató Intézet, Budapest.

Zsolnai József (2001). Paradigmák és paradigmaváltások a magyarországi anyanyelv- és irodalompedagógiai kutatások körében, Veszprémi Egyetem Tanárképző Kar Pedagógiai Kutatóintézet, Pápa.


Kazarján Erzsébet

Schola Europa Akadémia SZKI, Budapest

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