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Module 1. Eight key competences

The 21st century is a century of new technology, changes on the global job markets, new forms of communication and unlimited access to knowledge. At the same time, it is a trying time for Europe and the whole world.

Can education keep up? Modern times have changed the expectations we have about the role of schooling. Today, schools are not supposed to just prepare young people to live in a well-organised world, but make them capable of redirecting today’s changes, reorganising the world and facing serious challenges.


There is one thing on which most experts and educators agree. It is the conviction that the competences young people need in the 21st century are nothing like the ones provided in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 2006, the European Parliament and the European Council published a recommendation whose preamble says: “Key competences in the shape of knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to each context are fundamental for each individual in a knowledge-based society. They provide added value for the labour market, social cohesion and active citizenship by offering flexibility and adaptability, satisfaction and motivation. Because they should be acquired by everyone, this Recommendation proposes a reference tool for the Member States to ensure that these key competences are fully integrated into their strategies and infrastructures, particularly in the context of lifelong learning.”


Eight key competences were listed:

  • communication in the mother tongue, which 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;
  • communication in foreign languages, which involves, in addition to the main skill dimensions of communication in the mother tongue, mediation and intercultural understanding. The level of proficiency depends on several factors and the capacity for listening, speaking, reading and writing;
  • mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology. Mathematical competence is the ability to develop and apply mathematical thinking in order to solve a range of problems in everyday situations, with the emphasis placed on process, activity and knowledge. Basic competences in science and technology refer to the mastery, use and application of knowledge and methodologies that explain the natural world. These involve an understanding of the changes caused by human activity and the responsibility of each individual as a citizen;
  • digital competence involves the confident and critical use of information society technology (IST) and thus basic skills in information and communication technology (ICT);
  • learning to learn is related to learning, the ability to pursue and organize one’s own learning, either individually or in groups, in accordance with one’s own needs, and awareness of methods and opportunities;
  • social and civic competences. Social competence refers to personal, interpersonal and intercultural competence and all forms of behaviour that equip individuals to participate in an effective and constructive way in social and working life. It is linked to personal and social well-being. An understanding of codes of conduct and customs in the different environments in which individuals operate is essential. Civic competence, and particularly knowledge of social and political concepts and structures (democracy, justice, equality, citizenship and civil rights), equips individuals to engage in active and democratic participation;
  • sense of initiative and entrepreneurship is the ability to turn ideas into action. It involves creativity, innovation and risk-taking, as well as the ability to plan and manage projects in order to achieve objectives. The individual is aware of the context of his/her work and is able to seize opportunities that arise. It is the foundation for acquiring 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;
  • cultural awareness and expression, which involves appreciation of the importance of the creative expression of ideas, experiences and emotions in a range of media (music, performing arts, literature and visual arts).


Download the file and print out the key competences of the 21st century. Put the text in a visible place and look at it frequently. Make the development of these competences central in your future endeavours.