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Policy Implications for Competency-based Assessment

Prof K Ramachandran

Prof. K. Ramachandran, Professor, NIEPA is an eminent educationist. He is, at present, working as Advisor, India-Africa Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (IAIEPA), National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), New Delhi. During the period 1990-2008, he worked with UNICEF as Senior Education Specialist and Senior Programme Coordinator. Prior to this, he was a member of faculty of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), New Delhi (from 1975 to 1990)". He has contributed in preparing many reports on state of education in India including “India : Education for All – Towards Quality with Equity” and “Teachers in Indian Education System – How We Manage Teacher Work Force in India”.

There are two words we use in assessment. The first word is skills, the second is competencies. Quite often we say competencies and skills are used interchangeably. But there is a slight difference. Skills refers to the relevant knowledge and experience needed to perform a specific task or a job.

Competencies are slightly above that and refer to not just skills but also knowledge, attitude and mindset. That apart it includes various soft skills associated with various fields of learning, work or occupation or professional practice such as law, engineering, and so on. 

Mindset is a set of beliefs that shape how we think, how we feel, and how we should respond to. For eg. there was a mindset long back that girls need not study, let them work at home. That was a fixed mindset. Gradually it changed and society came to accept that girls need education and equity must be established. Then another mindset was girls cannot learn mathematics, boys can't read well. We have overcome that mindset also. This is the attitudinal change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. The mindset keeps on changing and should change from one mindset to other. 

A few weeks ago I was in the academic council meeting of a University in Delhi. They were running hospitality and hotel management courses. They gave us a very good lunch. When I came out of the room, they asked me whether I can get a job for them in a 5-star hotel. Their mindset was they need wage employment. I told them you are such wonderful chefs, why don't you start a restaurant by your own efforts. They asked, "Is it not risky?." When I explained they realized that young age is the time when they should be willing to take risks. Their mindset changed from 'I can't do it'  to 'I can do it'. This is called the growth mindset. 

What are the competencies we are looking at in the case of a student. Four competencies related to interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary learning. All students should be able to acquire a coherent understanding of disciplinary or interdisciplinary areas. And linkage between different courses in that area. For eg. in chemistry- what is the linkage between physical chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, organic chemistry, and inorganic chemistry? Second, procedural knowledge is required to become a professional. To build a bridge, what kind of knowledge is required about construction? Third is skills- that is ability to build a bridge. Can the individual apply the knowledge and skills to build a bridge? Four aspects have to be assessed-coherent knowledge of the subject area, procedural knowledge, skills related to doing a task, and application. In addition, a lot of 21st century skills are required- such as problem-solving and critical thinking. When a Union Government proposes a budget, can a student of economics critically look at it? Will it produce more jobs or is it jobless growth? The third competence is creativity and the fourth is communication skills. Digital skills and literacy are important for all functions. Another competency is ethical and moral reasoning. The New Education Policy talks of holistic development. It means a development in terms of intellectual, physical, social development, ethical development, emotional development, aesthetic development and moral development. 

So we need to assess the competencies specific to these developments. There are discipline-specific or subject-area-specific competencies. There are generic learning outcomes such as problem-solving, critical thinking, creative thinking, and leadership readiness. They are basically two types of mindset- fixed and growth mindset. Is it possible for a person to go from a fixed to a growth mindset? What is 360-degree assessment? Whatever we do in the education programme must recognise, identify and foster the unique capabilities of each student so as to assess holistic development. 

Competency-based assessment- it is based on a mastery of a competence. There will be variations in competency mastery among students. In competency, what is required is not a comparison between two students but a student's present competency level and what is required to reach the ideal level. So the challenge before us in the field of assessment is how do we make learning or education competency-based. If we specify the competency required, it is easy to assess it. For eg. in mathematics, one criterion may be subtracting a smaller two-digit number from a larger two digit number with out regrouping and regrouping. 

Three aspects of assessment-Assessment as learning. It means using the results of assessment to improve one's own learning or self-reflection. The second one is the assessment of learning. It is the summative assessment. The third is assessment for learning. To further improve learning. More emphasis is now given for assessment for learning. Now institutions need to use assessment as learning, of learning, and for learning in a bigger way. 

(Based on the presentation made at the 90th Rajagiri Round Table Conference on the topic Assessment Simplified: How to Assess Mindset Development, held on 18th January 2023 on Zoom. )

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