04/09/2003 - A new publication from the OECD identifies key competencies that are essential for the personal and social development of people in modern, complex societies, thereby shedding light on how investments in human capital can bring benefits to both individuals and societies. It lays out a conceptual frame of reference for performance evaluations of education systems, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Key Competencies for a Successful Life and Well-Functioning Society breaks new ground by defining three categories of key competencies: interacting in socially heterogeneous groups; acting autonomously; and using tools interactively.
The ability to relate well to others, to cooperate, and to manage and resolve conflicts, grouped under the first category, "interacting in socially heterogeneous groups", is particularly relevant in pluralistic, multicultural societies. Individuals need to learn how to join and function in groups and social orders whose members are from diverse backgrounds and how to deal with differences and contradictions.
"Acting autonomously", the second category, includes key competencies that empower individuals to manage their lives in meaningful and responsible ways by exercising control over their living and working conditions. The ability to act within the big picture or the larger context, to form and conduct life plans and personal projects, and to defend and assert one's rights, interests, limits, and needs is crucial for participating effectively in different spheres of life - in the workplace, in personal and family life, and in civil and political life.
The ability to "use tools interactively", the third category of key competencies, responds to the social and professional demands of the global economy and the modern "information society", which require mastery of socio-cultural tools such as language, information, and knowledge, as well as physical tools such as computers. Using tools interactively does not simply mean having the technical skills to use a tool (e.g., read a text, use computer mouse, etc), but assumes a familiarity with the tool itself and an understanding of how the tool changes the way one can interact with the world and how the tool is used to accomplish broader goals. The three key competencies listed in this category are the ability to use - interactively - language, symbols, and text, as defined by tests in reading and mathematical literacy; knowledge and information, as defined in tests for scientific literacy; and technology.
Each of these key competencies implies the mobilisation of knowledge, cognitive and practical skills, and social and behavioural components including attitudes, emotions, and values and motivations.
The report presents the conclusions of the interdisciplinary OECD Project DeSeCo Definition and Selection of Competencies: Theoretical and Conceptual Foundations, which was led by Switzerland
Key Competencies for a Successful Life and a Well-Functioning Society can be ordered on-line from Hogrefe & Huber Publisher. For further information, journalists may contact Dominique Simone Rychen (Tel.  32 713 61 60, Cell:  79 29 25 1 78), or Andreas Schleicher in the OECD's Education Directorate .