General capabilities are a Trojan Horse for inquiry learning

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General capabilities are a part of the Australian Curriculum. The problem is that they are not in any sense general. The capabilities listed, such as critical thinking, are highly subject specific.

A new piece in Australian Council for Education Research’s (ACER) magazine points to the work of ACER’s Centre for Assessment Reform and Innovation (CARI). CARI is developing ways to assess general capabilities. This, in itself, is interesting, given the results of the Gonski 2.0 review and its call for assessment based on learning progressions in a range of areas, including the so-called general capabilities. It is particularly interesting given that ACER is headed by Geoff Masters who, in a striking piece of foresight, was able to preempt the review’s conclusions back in March.

Of course, no such robust assessments have ever been created, because you can’t assess something that doesn’t really exist. Nevertheless, ACER are keen to develop them, if only, according to the new magazine article, ‘to correct the perception that such skills are so nebulous and elusive that they simply cannot be assessed’. I look forward to having my perception corrected.

And what do these assessments involve? Funny you should ask:

“Despite slow progress in this area of research, it is moving. In particular, there is a large movement around teaching general capabilities using problem-based or inquiry-based learning – most likely because problem solving is one of the most frequently mentioned ‘in demand’ skills and features consistently across frameworks…

Work has already begun in trialling this new, classroom-based assessment in Australian schools, using a Year 8 collaborative problem-based learning task about refugee resettlement. An additional STEM-based problem context at Year 8 – as well as new Humanities- and STEM-based tasks at Grade 5 – are currently in development to be trialled later in the year.”

Inquiry-based learning and problem-based learning are ineffective. So when you are ideologically wedded to them, you need to keep inventing new reasons for their pursuit. The general capabilities appear to be the latest such reason.

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3 thoughts on “General capabilities are a Trojan Horse for inquiry learning

  1. I feel so ignorant. Problem-solving as a skill for the future. It’s dark in here. Someone invent a light bulb!

  2. I will be very interested to see what these general abilities turn out to be, because apparently I lack them.

    I build gaming computers as a hobby and look after my wife’s business PC’s, she has 6, trouble shooting and finding problems and fixing them. So when her website had problems, she called on me.

    “Websites are like computers” she said, “and you can fix computers”. Turns out she was wrong, after looking at a screen filled with terms I could not even understand the meaning of, there was no way I could problem solve or use any of these “general ability skills” to even work out what was missing, broken or not working. I did get to experience feeling stupid though, always a valuable reminder.

    Turns out I can’t problem solve something I know nothing about.

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