Self-assessment is everywhere. It is the essential key to personal development, the underpinning rationale of curriculum development, the main indicator for measuring achievement, the political foundation of recognition, the clandestine enigma of accreditation.
Instruments are designed at high speed – from self-assessment forms to personal development plans, from self-perception inventories to competence improvement maps – resulting in a cacophony of abbreviations that seems only a little shy of setting new records.
A rigorous evaluation of these instruments – looking at aims, scopes and approaches as well as usage, usefulness and impact – is as much missing as a painstaking analysis of underlying frameworks and tacit assumptions.
It is clear already, however, that the entire assortment of self-assessment instruments fails to respond to some key questions, among them:
- In the absence of quality standards, what do you measure yourself against?
- In the absence of external expertise for validation, how exactly should recognition and accreditation come about?
Even when leaving all political intentions and inconspicuous ambitions in relation to validation, recognition and accreditation aside, I have trouble finding value in any of these instruments for their most palpable purpose – self-assessment.
Take whichever you want – SAF, SPI, CIM, PDP – they all start from yourself as a trainer and educator. Not yourself as a trainer and educator in a particular project or context, but rather yourself as a trainer and educator in life. Through this inherent claim of being universally relevant and the resulting decontextualisation, the self-assessment process loses most of its value for me.
Let me pick three quandaries to exemplify and justify my defiance:
Firstly, this approach implies that there is a potentially agreeable set of competences for non-formal educators. It assumes that there is a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes that, once mastered, makes for a non-formal educator of tolerable, decent or outstanding quality.
Secondly, this approach implies that there is a universally acceptable scale along which any set of competences could and should be measured. It assumes that there is a common understanding of what it means to be moderately or exceptionally competent or incompetent in a specific area.
Thirdly, this approach implies that educators are generally aware of what specific competences entail before they have fully mastered them. It assumes that there is sufficient understanding of knowledge, skills and attitudes required to achieve basic or advanced levels of proficiency.
Research can prove what common sense and practical experience tell us: none of this is true, none of these assumptions hold, they crumble at first sight. And yet we continue to invent and re-invent self-assessment tools, defeated before we start by their envisaged universality…
How then, you ask, could a useful self-assessment instrument look like?
A very good question indeed :)
I will gladly take on the challenge to develop some ideas for alternative tools in the second part of this mini-series, but let’s first leave some time for your questions and ideas, your criticism and feedback. Fire away!