‘New Basic Skills’, Nonbasic Skills, Knowledge Practices and Judgement: Tensions Between the Needs of Basic Literacy, of Vocational Education and Training and of Higher and Professional Learning

  • Martin Gough
Part of the Lifelong Learning Book Series book series (LLLB, volume 19)


The emphasis, in the service of promoting lifelong learning, in various national and European level government policy initiatives on developing basic skills in their populations for the workplace and for other uses in life has been, and is still, in different ways both appropriate and not appropriate. It is appropriate if we place the emphasis on the term ‘skill’ as a form of knowledge, and if we place emphasis on ‘basic’ in the context of providing a focus for increasing life’s opportunities for those relatively dispossessed. It is inappropriate if we are forced to pretend that skills are discrete, specific entities that can, along with the people in possession of them, ‘transfer’ unproblematically from one learning context to another. It is inappropriate further if we were to treat skills as always basic and technicist, as if lower knowledge levels are the limit of entitlement for citizens, or always a-contextually generic. The English conception of ‘skill’ promotes this inappropriate emphasis, which is also an economic and employment-led perspective, fuelled by neo-liberal hegemony. Domination of the English language, and hence prevalence of the English term ‘skill’, across the European Community will be reinforcing this particular conception as if it were universally appropriate. The key question concerning how we serve the appropriate policy for lifelong learning is ultimately an ontological one about the nature of skills. Certain amongst both proponents and opponents of the skills agenda are stuck in a ‘realist’ mindset which demands critique. It promotes, on the one hand, an unhelpful deficit model of skills as discrete concrete requirements and, on the other hand, gives licence to the equally unhelpful challenge that skills and higher knowledge attainments are worlds apart. Reconceptualising skills as ‘knowledge practices’ enables us to open up analysis of the term and avoid the unhelpful connotations. In turn, we can understand better how an agent can exploit knowledge from one context of use into another and can develop judgement, the most important of all ‘skills‘, and get closer to the ‘Good Life’.


Lifelong Learning Basic Skill Knowledge Practice High Education Degree European Qualification Framework 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Education StudiesDe Montfort UniversityLeicesterUK

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