Why I Start with Key Competencies?

Dust off your copy of the New Zealand Curriculum and turn to page 12. Notice that the key competencies are at the beginning of the document, before the learning areas and their achievement objectives. Now focus on the first sentence of the first paragraph. It reads “People use these competencies to live, learn, work, and contribute as active members of their communities”. This, for me, sums up the overarching goal of teaching nicely. Cut through the noise of all the latest edu-fads and this is what you essentially get down to, helping young people become active members of society. This is why I am passionate about engraining and explicitly teaching these competencies in my day to day teaching. That is all well and good though, right? But who says these competencies with make us active members of society? Isn’t teaching about students learning stuff? This looks suspiciously like yet another thing to do, I hear you yell. In this post I will look at why do we have the key competencies and hopefully show why they are important.

So, where did they come from? Who has decided these they the five competencies that everyone needs? It starts back in 1997 with an OECD initiative called the Definition and Selection of Competencies Project (DeSeCO). This project set out to find “What competencies are relevant for an individual to lead a successful and responsible life and for society to face the challenges of the present and future”. Six years, many scholars and two international symposia later, the results of this were released in this report in 2003 and were to be the basis for a wave of curriculum change throughout most countries in the OECD. The findings were extensive but overall, they boiled down to a list of competencies that were deemed to overarch culture, industry, ability, countries, language etc to be essential for all humans in OECD countries to strive for to be successful today and into the future. These competencies were: Relating well to others, cooperating, managing and resolving conflict, acting within the big picture, forming and conducting life plans and personal projects, defending and asserting one’s rights, limit and needs, using language symbols and text interactively, and using technology interactively. We can already see links to our key competencies and other initiatives such as the ITL 21st Century Skills project.

We can already see some links here to our curriculum but how did we arrive where we are today? Hipkins R. (2018) has summarized the process in her paper which involved unpacking the DeSeCo project’s findings through a New Zealand lens. Throughout the different iterations of the new curriculum the key competencies have always been seen as a core part of the foundation of any school program. With this ideology in mind, I have moved to bring the key competencies to the forefront of my teaching and have built my current units from this foundation. This has been working exceptionally well and I am excited to see where it leads in the future.


New Zealand Curriculum (2006) – http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/the_new_zealand_curriculum

DeSeCo Project (2003) – https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED476359.pdf

How Key Competencies were developed (2018) Hipkins R.- http://www.nzcer.org.nz/research/publications/key-competencies-evidence-base

ITL 21st Century skills rubrics. – https://www.mendeley.com/viewer/?fileId=785abc80-eec9-bec1-7c9f-e495604b1384&documentId=320d32a2-6238-3b6b-870a-356143f7a383

Lee McClymont
Teacher | TiC Technical Production | Westlake Boys’ High School

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