14.06.2013 - UNESCO Office in Santiago

Newsletter LLECE: Skills for innovation: knowledge with attitude. Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, senior analyst at the OECD

«Knowledge and skills are important, but not as much as the right attitude». This statement is a leitmotiv of the analysis of the Aravind Eye Care system, an enterprise that has made world-class eye care affordable and accessible to disadvantaged Indians. Other cases presented in C. K. Prahalad’s book, The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. Eradicating poverty through profits, show that many inclusive innovations do not rely on better knowledge, but just perhaps on a «right attitude». What the Aravind Eye Care system has invented is not so much a new knowledge about blindness, but a new way of thinking a sustainable healthcare process that could be accessed by very poor people, building on social and behavioural skills as much as on technical skills, and putting in place a host of organisational and marketing innovations.

As this example demonstrates, knowledge and innovation are crucial to improve people’s wellbeing around the world. Most countries now recognise the importance of fostering a broad set of skills in formal education, in addition to traditional learning outcomes. These skills can be described as belonging to three broad categories: technical skills, that is, know-what and know-how in specific subjects or areas; skills in thinking and creativity, that is, the ability to challenge usual assumptions and to imagine new ways of doing things; and social and behavioural skills, the ability to work with others, to communicate and understand people, to present and convince people to have the right behaviour, and also energy and dedication. All these skills are demonstrated in many successful enterprises and innovations.

While school systems have a long established tradition in testing the acquisition of knowledge in formal education, our understanding of how «higher order» skills as well as behavioural and social skills can be nurtured and measured in a school setting is still limited. Along content and procedural knowledge, these skills can allow the design and implementation of innovations that will improve people’s individual and social well being. And interestingly, this is probably equally true in OECD and partner countries.

Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin is a senior analyst at the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills leading the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) Innovation Strategy for Education and Training (www.oecd.org/edu/innovation). The opinions expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OECD and of its members.

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