Using an Epistemological Perspective to Understand Competence-based Vocational and Professional Education
Competence-based approaches to vocational and professional education remain internationally ascendant, despite the weight of critical argument against them. In this paper, an epistemological analytic framework is used to illuminate that situation. Four distinctive epistemologies are characterised – here labelled disciplinary, constructivist, emancipatory and instrumental – competence-based approaches being grounded in instrumental epistemology. Each epistemology has a distinctive conception of what constitutes knowledge, its development, its learning, its use and its contribution to human well-being and the nature of educational approaches informed by it. The epistemologies may be seen as competing paradigms, generating substantially incommensurable criteria for assessing educational value. Since unresolved criticism of competence-based education is grounded in noninstrumentalist epistemologies, any resolution to concerns about competence-based vocational and professional education would demand a change in the order of a paradigm shift. However, the compatibility of instrumentalist epistemology with the contemporarily prevailing cultural context of globalising performativity gives competence-based approaches an immediate appeal that cannot be matched by its alternatives. The analysis points to the probable futility of attempts to hybridise competence-based approaches with elements from noninstrumentalist epistemologies. It suggests also that continuing changes in the prevailing cultural context and continuing critical argument and evidence against competence-based approaches may be leading to the generation of a new situational educational epistemology out of and replacing instrumental epistemology as the cultural dominant, through its responsiveness to the heterogeneity of the emerging cultural context.
Competence-based Vocational and Professional Education
Specialist Studies in Education not elsewhere classified