This glossary is based in the: "Glossary of Curriculum Terminology" (UNESCO 2013) 

Brief definition of each key competence (EU 2006)


Competency-based curriculum

Core curriculum

Key competences


Brief definition of each key competence (EU 2006)


1. Communication in the mother tongue


Communication in the mother tongue is the ability to express and interpret concepts, thoughts, feelings, facts and opinions in both oral and written form (listening, speaking, reading and writing), and to interact linguistically in an appropriate and creative way in a full range of societal and cultural contexts; in education and training, work, home and leisure.

Communication in the mother tongue requires an individual to have knowledge of vocabulary, functional grammar and the functions of language. It includes an awareness of the main types of verbal interaction, a range of literary and non-literary texts, the main features of different styles and registers of language, and the variability of language and communication in different contexts.

2. Communication in foreign languages


Communication in foreign languages broadly shares the main skill dimensions of communication in the mother tongue: it is based on the ability to understand, express and interpret concepts, thoughts, feelings, facts and opinions in both oral and written form (listening, speaking, reading and writing) in an appropriate range of societal and cultural contexts (in education and training, work, home and leisure) according to one's wants or needs. Communication in  foreign languages also calls for skills such as mediation and intercultural understanding.

3. Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology


A. Mathematical competence is the ability to develop and apply mathematical thinking in order to solve a range of problems in everyday situations. Building on a sound mastery of numeracy, the emphasis is on process and activity, as well as knowledge. Mathematical competence involves, to different degrees, the ability and willingness to use mathematical modes of thought (logical and spatial thinking) and presentation (formulas,  models, constructs, graphs, charts).

B. Competence in science refers to the ability and willingness to use the body of knowledge and methodology employed to explain the natural world, in order to identify questions and to draw evidence-based conclusions.


Competence in technology is viewed as the application of that knowledge and methodology in response to perceived human wants or needs. Competence in science and technology involves an understanding of the changes caused by human activity and responsibility as an individual citizen.

4. Digital competence


Digital competence involves the confident and critical use of Information Society Technology (IST) for work, leisure and communication. It is underpinned by basic skills in ICT: the use of computers to retrieve, assess, store, produce, present and exchange information, and to communicate and participate in collaborative networks via the Internet.

5. Learning to learn


‘Learning to learn’ is the ability to pursue and persist in learning, to organize one's own learning, including through  effective management of time and information, both individually and in groups. This competence includes awareness of one's learning process and needs, identifying available opportunities, and the ability to overcome obstacles in order to learn successfully. This competence means gaining, processing and assimilating new knowledge and skills as well as seeking and making use of guidance. Learning to learn engages learners to build on prior learning and life experiences in order to use and apply knowledge and skills in a variety of contexts: at home, at work, in education and training.

6. Social and civic competences


These include personal, interpersonal and intercultural competence and cover all forms of behavior that equip individuals to participate in an effective and constructive way in social and working life, and particularly in increasingly diverse societies, and to resolve conflict where necessary. Civic competence equips individuals to fully participate in civic life, based on knowledge of social and political concepts and structures and a commitment to active and democratic participation.

Civic competence is based on knowledge of the concepts of democracy, justice, equality, citizenship, and civil  rights, including how they are expressed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and international declarations and how they are applied by various institutions at the local, regional, national, European and international levels. It includes knowledge of contemporary events, as well as the main events and trends in national, European and world history. In addition, an awareness of the aims, values and policies of social and political movements should be developed. Knowledge of European integration and of the EU's structures, main objectives and values is also essential, as well as an awareness of diversity and cultural identities in Europe.


7. Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship


Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship refers to an individual's ability to turn ideas into action. It includes creativity, innovation and risk-taking, as well as the ability to plan and manage projects in order to achieve objectives. This supports individuals, not only in their everyday lives at home and in society, but also in the workplace in being aware of the context of their work and being able to seize opportunities, and is a foundation for more specific skills and knowledge needed by those establishing or contributing to social or commercial activity. This should include awareness of ethical values and promote good governance.

8. Cultural awareness and expression


Appreciation of the importance of the creative expression of ideas, experiences and emotions in a range of media, including music, performing arts, literature, and the visual arts. Essential knowledge, skills and attitudes related to this competence:

Cultural knowledge includes an awareness of local, national and European cultural heritage and their place in the world. It covers a basic knowledge of major cultural works, including popular contemporary culture. It is essential to understand the cultural and linguistic diversity in Europe and other regions of the world, the need to preserve it and the importance of aesthetic factors in daily life.



Competence: Within the European Union area a competence is defined as a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the context. Competence

indicates the ability to apply learning outcomes adequately in a defined context (education, work, personal or professional development). Competence is not limited to cognitive elements (involving the use of theory, concepts or tacit knowledge); it also

encompasses functional aspects (involving technical skills) as well as interpersonal attributes (e.g. social or organizational skills) and ethical values. (CEDEFOP 2011).

Competences can be domain-specific, e.g. relating to knowledge, skills and attitudes within one specific subject or discipline, or general/transversal because they have relevance to all domains/subjects. In some contexts the term ‘skills’ (in a broader sense) is sometimes used as an equivalent of ‘competences’.


Competency-based curriculum:


A curriculum that emphasizes the complex outcomes of a learning process (i.e. knowledge, skills and attitudes to be applied by learners) rather than mainly focusing on what learners are expected to learn about 13 in terms of traditionally-defined subject content. In principle such a curriculum is learner-centred and adaptive to the changing needs of students, teachers and society. It implies that learning activities and environments are chosen so that learners can acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to situations they encounter in everyday life.

Competency-based curricula are usually designed around a set of key competences/competencies thatcan be cross-curricular and/or subject-bound.


Core curriculum:  The body of knowledge, skills and attitudes expected to be learned by all students, generally related to a set of subjects and learning areas that are common to allstudents, such as languages, mathematics, arts, physical education, science and social studies.


Key competences:

Within the European Union area key competences are defined as the sum of skills (basic and new basic skills) needed to live in a contemporary knowledge society. In their recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning (2006), the European Parliament and the Council set out eight key competences: communication in the mother tongue; communication in foreign languages; competences in mathematics,

science and technology; digital competence; learning to learn; interpersonal, intercultural and socialcompetences, and civic competence; entrepreneurship; and cultural expression. (Source: CEDEFOP 2011). The recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council also states that the key competences are all considered equally important, because each of them can contribute to a successful life in a knowledge society. Many of the competences overlap and interlock: aspects essential

to one domain will support competence in another.Competence in the fundamental basic skills oflanguage, literacy, numeracy and in information and communication technologies (ICT) is an essentialfoundation for learning, and learning to learn supports all learning activities. Critical thinking, creativity,initiative, problem solving, risk assessment, decision taking, and constructive management of feelings play a role in all eight key competences. (Source: European

Parliament 2006).


Curriculum policies increasingly focus on competences that students are expected to develop during the whole process of learning across specific subjects or disciplines and that they need to succeed in education and for personal development, employment and inclusion in a knowledge society. A variety of terms are used to indicate these competences, the most frequent ones being competences or competencies (defined as key, core, general, generic, basic, cross-curricular or transversal competences) and skills (defined as key, foundation, core, basic, essential, cross-thematic, cross-curricular or 21st century skills). Beyond the European Union area, several organizations, partnerships and consortia have defined and endorsed different core competences/skills frameworks.