Beyond the competencies agenda in large scale international assessments
A Confucian alternative
This article examines a Confucian conception of competence and its corresponding response to the competencies agenda that underpins international large-scale assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). It is argued that standardised transnational assessments are undergirded by a technical rationality that emphasises proficiency in discrete skills for their instrumental worth at the expense of moral cultivation and personal mastery. Challenging the competencies agenda, this paper draws upon a relational model of competence proposed by Jones and Moore (1995) that views competence as essentially communal, situated within social practices, and manifested through tacit achievement. Building on their work, a Confucian notion of competence is advocated wherein skills are predicated on the virtue of ren (humanity) and demonstrated through appropriate judgement in everyday settings. A Confucian perspective offers an alternative to the behaviourist and generic notions of performance in global assessments by highlighting the interpersonal, cultural, and ethical dimensions of competence.