Content of education and training curricula, development of key competences

Problem statement

Policy-makers, educational institutions, educators and other stakeholders seek to understand what is worth teaching during the limited time of a learner’s educational development, and what competences are most beneficial. Competences refer to combinations of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values which help to lead successful individual, communal and citizen lives [1]. The European Commission recognises the following key competences that education systems should develop: communication in the mother tongue; communication in foreign languages; mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology; digital competence; learning to learn; social and civic competences; sense of initiative and entrepreneurship; cultural awareness and expression [2] [3]. Key competences are necessary for individual personal fulfilment and development, employment and a functional social and cultural life, irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, culture, family background and class. The acquisition of key competences should be the focus of all levels of education curricula and serve as the basis for its development.

Implications for Education

European curricula vary significantly in their approaches to educational development in terms of content and the way the curriculum is formed [4]. Across Europe, education systems also vary in the extent and manner to which they involve stakeholders in developing curricula. Some states choose to regulate the curricula, setting the goals and assessing the results via examination, others leave most of the freedom and initiative for monitoring, evaluation and decision-making at the school level. The decisions on the content of the curricula are usually made by governments or educators, although, according to a recent study, in some countries parents and students can also be involved [5]. However, around one-third of the EU countries do not have a comprehensive strategy for developing the basic skills outlined in the key competence framework [6]. Transversal competences such as ICT, entrepreneurship and civic and social competences are not fully integrated into curricula across the EU and sometimes are accessible only to students in higher levels of studies. Low achievement in the key competences such as communication in mother tongue, math, science and technology skills remain a problem, especially among socially disadvantaged groups [6].  Moreover, a significant number of young students and children across European educational institutions are multilingual, however, it is rare that education systems further develop the languages these children already know [7]


In the lifelong learning perspective, the curriculum in every education system should support key competence development. It is also important to find the right balance between curriculum regulation and deregulation, where the states provide a clear and consistent curriculum framework, whereas schools and educators have certain flexibility and autonomy to make specific decisions on what is to be learnt and how it can be assessed, as well as to reflect on the diversity of needs specific to a particular school.  Moreover, educational curricula should encompass cultural sensitivity and strategies for successful development of languages [7].  In addition, policy-makers should ensure that learners, including those from socially disadvantaged groups, develop basic skills and have access to transversal skills acquisition at lower levels of education [6].

[1] Hoskins, B.; Deakin Crick, R., ‘Learning to learn and civic competence to sides of the same coin?’, European Journal of Education Research, 45(1), 2010, pp.121-137.

[2] Looney, J.; Michel, A., KeyCoNet’s Conclusions and Recommendations for strengthening Key Competence Development in Policy and Practice: Final Report, European Schoolnet, Brussels, 2014. PDF file

[3] European Parliament, Council of the European Union, Key Competences for Lifelong Learning – A European Framework, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2007.

[4] Halasz, G.; Michel, A., ‘Key Competences in Europe: interpretation, policy formulation and implementation’, European Journal of Education, 46(3), 2011, pp. 289-306.

[5] Kuiper, W.; Berkvens, J., (eds), ‘Balancing curriculum regulation and freedom across Europe’, CIDREE Yearbook 2013, Enschede, the Netherlands, SLO, 2013. PDF file

[6] Eurydice, Developing Key Competences at School in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities for Policy, Eurydice Report, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2012.

[7] ‘Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)’, British Council, June 4, 2015. Web Link