Basic skills learned in EU

The notion of “basic skills” varies in space and time; consequently, when agreeing on the
competences or skills we should guarantee for all, we may find different definitions: from
understanding that it is a matter of acquisition of basic skills (reading-writing and numeracy),
as well as the ability to use these skills in a way beneficial for socioeconomic development, to
promotion of “critical” literacies to promote social change.
3.1. The debate on the definitions.
In the definition of “basic skill needs”, each country or institution highlights those aspects it
considers more important at a specific moment, according to its aims and situation.

 Thus, while
the EU is already referring to basic skills for the development of lifelong learning, most
countries in the world aim at generalising literacy across the whole population with the aim of
improving living conditions and expectations for economic growth. Therefore, we see that
although the EU benchmark for basic skills has been raised to a fairly high level, Spain has not
necessarily met other, less ambitious benchmarks, either, especially with regard to the
populations born in the post-war period (and particularly for women and some groups of
UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report 2006 on the project Education for All (EFA) is fully devoted
to this subject. The report is seen as a providing the fundamental guidance for eliminating
poverty and improving living conditions throughout the world. It also supports the
establishment and maintenance of free and democratic systems.
The UNESCO report analyses different approaches that have shaped this field over the last
century, summarising them and organising them in four general categories 3
1. Literacy as an autonomous set of concrete skills, especially reading and writing.
2. Literacy as applied, practised and situated in a context.
3. Literacy as a learning process.
4. Literacy as text, as object of study, understanding that what is taught creates reality for
those who learn, for it builds, legitimates and reproduces already existing structures of

3 The first three, with value per se, and the fourth one, as a metalinguistic reflection on the
basis of post-modern approaches.
The definition of “basic skills” in Spanish policy guidelines is refers to these definitions, which
are elaborated in general and on an international level. As in most EU countries, phenomena
such as school failure, longer life expectancy and extra-Community immigration require us to
maintain the aims of the different ways of understanding literacy simultaneously. Thus, policies
for advanced literacy specific to the knowledge society co-exist with policies aimed at fighting
basic deficits in reading-writing, mathematics or the social and work situation of less-privileged
3.2. Operational definitions and users.
According to the needs and goals for basic skills identified in Spain, we find three different
operational definitions of the term “basic skills” .

 All of them may be useful to address different
a. Basic skills as a series of elementary skills needed for daily life.
We refer to the UNESCO definition (1978) of basic skills, limiting them to the
term “functional literacy”: “A person is functionally literate who can engage in all
those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his/her group
and community and also for enabling him/her to continue to use reading, writing
and calculation for his/her own and the community’s development.”
According to official statistics in Spain, in the fourth quarter of 2005 there were 774
100 individuals who may be categorised as “illiterate”, on the basis of the
aforementioned definition. (EPA-Encuesta de Población Activa, Survey on Working
Population). Within this group, about 70% are women (536 400); in addition, 65% of
these women are over 60 years old.
b. Basic skills obtained after concluding the compulsory period of official
The skills required at present in Spain to obtain an official certificate of basic
studies are the same as those assessed for Compulsory Secondary Education
(Enseñanza Secundaria Obligatoria, ESO), and are certified with the diploma of
Graduate in Compulsory Secondary Education (Graduado en Educación
Secundaria Obligatoria, GESO). This diploma is usually obtained in official schooling at
the age of 16, but adults may also earn it through specific programmes, as described
below in section 

c. Basic skills that are required to have access to lifelong learning.
Complying with European recommendations regarding the need to develop lifelong
learning as a measure to foster economic growth and competitiveness, on the one
hand, and to reduce the risk of social fracture, on the other hand, there is a third
definition of basic skills that we consider appropriate for the Spanish framework.
According to this definition, basic skills must be understood as those transversal skills
allowing people to continue learning throughout their lives in a changing, uncertain
and technologically advanced society. According to the European Commission, the
following set of basic skills is considered necessary/desirable in confronting the social
and economic challenges of the region foreseen for the future. They are4
1. Communication in the mother tongue;
2. Communication in foreign languages;
3. Mathematical competence and basic skills in science and technology;
4. Digital competence;
5. Learning to learn;
6. Interpersonal, intercultural and social skills and civic competence;
7. Entrepreneurship; and
8. Cultural expression.

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