Skills beyond school

Definition and Selection of Competencies (DeSeCo)


Definition and Selection of Competencies website

The importance of knowledge, skills, and competencies to individuals and society is widely accepted among policymakers in OECD countries. At least at the discourse level, a well-educated, knowledgeable, highly qualified citizenry is seen as playing an eminent role in facing the challenges of the present and the future.

To date, the major impetus in OECD countries for efforts in the area of key competencies has come from the business sector and from employers. From a purely economic viewpoint, competencies of individuals are seen as important because they contribute to:

  • boosting productivity and market competitiveness;
  • minimizing unemployment through developing an adaptive and qualified labor force; and
  • creating an environment for innovation in a world dominated by global competition.

From a broader social perspective, knowledge, skills, and competencies are important because of their contributions outside the domain of economics and work. They contribute to

  • increasing individual participation in democratic institutions;
  • social cohesion and justice; and
  • strengthening human rights and autonomy as counterweights to increasing global inequality of opportunities and increasing individual marginalization.

The development and maintenance of human and social capital represents an important factor for societies to not only generate prosperity, social cohesion, and peace, but first and foremost to manage the challenges and tensions of an increasingly interdependent, changing, and conflictual world.

In the last 15 years, there has been an increased demand from policy makers for information about the capabilities of individuals. As a result, the new interest in outputs of education extends beyond educational attainment-measured in number of years of education or highest degree earned-to what individuals know and how much they can do, and to the relationship between these capabilities to the goals of education (i.e., the effectiveness of educational systems) and to the inputs to education (i.e., the efficiency of educational systems).

This inevitably places questions about the objectives of education in centre stage. Tomorrow's curriculum has become a favourite topic of politicians' speeches and the core of everyday efforts geared to education reform. The concept of key competencies has become a vital component in the vocabulary of educational policy-makers and reformers. And the question of assessing and measuring the output of educational processes is a discussion topic that triggers keen interest all over the globe.

While in the 1980s the OECD adopted a pragmatic approach of using available output-related data on education systems, in recent years OECD countries have moved towards a more systematic, long-term data collection strategy for education indicators programs. At the same time though, there is a recognition among OECD constituents that the development and interpretation of such programs would benefit from additional theoretical and conceptual inputs. An analysis of previous competency related large scale studies within the OECD1 confirmed the lack of an explicit, overarching conceptual framework based on broad theories of what skills, knowledge, and competencies are and how they relate to each other.

The OECD Program Definition and Selection of Competencies: Theoretical and Conceptual Foundations (DeSeCo) was initiated to work towards filling this gap. DeSeCo seeks - through an interdisciplinary, international scientific approach in close collaboration with ongoing OECD assessment programs - to

  • advance the theoretical underpinning of key competencies
  • provide a reference point for indicator development and interpretation of empirical results
  • encourage an iterative process between theoretical and empirical work
  • and, eventually, to provide feedback for education policy