Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

Senior Secondary navigation


You are here:

Developing key competencies in EfS

Our sustainable future depends on being able to think critically, participate, act, reflect, and connect. Developing the key competencies is part and parcel of EfS. EfS promotes development of the key competencies through learning activities that engage, encourage, challenge, and motivate students and teacher actions that foster student inquiry, discussion, understanding, active participation, and reflection.

There are generally no right answers in the process of inquiry and discussion, but there must be opportunities for exploring new understandings and insights about how we live in relationship to one another and all living things on this planet, and how these opportunities can lead to positive change and actions.

EfS equips young people to identify and think critically about sustainability issues and the choices necessary to secure a decent and humane future. Our future depends on people understanding the web of life and understanding the need to be responsible citizens of a biotic community.


Teachers model active curiosity about the world. They encourage students to reflect on ideas, experiences, and information and to critique underlying assumptions about sustainability issues.

Well-designed learning activities help students become aware of:

  • their own ways of thinking
  • their approaches to and strategies for problem solving and appreciative inquiry
  • how (and why) other people think the way they do
  • their own perspectives and motivations.

These learning experiences can help students to draw on others’ strengths in active group work to find collaborative solutions and take actions.

Understanding the consequences of our ways of thinking and acting is a necessary constraint on creative thinking. Creative thinking, using multiple perspectives and knowledge systems, leads to innovative ideas for a sustainable future.

Students develop curiosity about sustainability issues. This spurs them to research to create knowledge and to develop decision-making skills to respond to new opportunities.

Students could:

  • investigate consumer pressures and relate them to their own actions
  • use information about climate change, examine the implications for the school environment, identify key stakeholder groups and barriers and enablers to achieving change, and develop a strategy to present to their school board
  • identify an issue relating to sustainability (for example, energy use) and investigate alternatives or solutions to be used in their schools or homes.

Using language, symbols, and texts

EfS requires students to interpret how implicit and explicit messages are communicated to individuals and society and to understand how this knowledge can be used to challenge and communicate positive change in a range of communicative modes.

Students begin to understand sustainability from a variety of perspectives by recognising and using a range of languages, symbols, and texts to explore ideas and issues in relation to different target groups.

Students could:

  • investigate the language of consumerism in advertising (‘upsizing’, ‘buy one get one free’, and so on)
  • investigate shop designs and layouts
  • analyse slogans and communications strategies used by social marketers, protest movements, or lobby groups and explore how these use knowledge about different target groups
  • examine media clips and films about sustainability issues for the messages they contain.

Managing self

Taking action for a sustainable future is central to EfS. Only by learning to reflect on their own values, attitudes, and behaviours are students in a position to understand what drives others, and so take effective action. Students need to have opportunities to set goals, manage timelines, negotiate with others, and respond appropriately in the face of difficulties.

Students need support as they explore what an individual can do to influence and bring about small- and large-scale change. Also, they need to examine the negative impacts anonymity can have on individual behaviour. They need to realise that they are part of an ecological system and that they have a responsibility for that system. They also need to recognise and understand their own strengths and weaknesses and take these into account when making plans.

Students could:

  • understand that their use of resources has local and global impacts and implications
  • develop and carry out an action plan, for example, changing a behaviour to make their way of life at home more sustainable
  • survey other students’ attitudes to making change, consider the responses, and develop possible actions
  • organise a guest speaker to motivate and inspire other students and teachers to take part in action on waste.

Relating to others

Many EfS learning activities require students to collaborate with others, providing opportunities for them to develop their abilities to listen and hear, recognise and appreciate different points of view, negotiate, and share ideas.

Activities also require students to engage with complex issues where they examine processes, diverse perspectives, and underlying assumptions. These activities may involve exploring traditional cultural and/or religious practices that embrace or challenge notions of sustainability. Students may find themselves relating to or empathising with people whom they may never meet.

Students could:

  • allocate roles in an action task to achieve certain collective goals
  • invite experts to class to discuss an environmental or sustainability issue from a range of different perspectives to find a compromise that could work for all stakeholders
  • build a vision map of their school
  • plan a strategy for a business, integrating sustainability into their practices.

Participating and contributing

EfS can be context situated and authentic on all levels from local to global.

Learning experiences aim to engage students in real issues that affect them now and may continue to do so in the future.

Learning opportunities in both authentic and simulated contexts allow students to apply and practise their new learning.

By working with others on issues relevant to their communities, students see that they have a role to play in influencing change and that they can contribute to problem solving and decision making. Engaging with others on sustainability issues helps them understand the meaning of interdependence and their responsibilities to others now and in the future.

Students could:

  • work in partnership with a marae committee to improve their waste system
  • understand the importance of forests and initiate a planting event at their own school
  • join or organise a school envirogroup or group of eco warriors to raise awareness of sustainability issues in their own school.

Developing the key competencies in EfS, years 1–13

A table showing how the competencies can be developed through experiences in education for sustainability in early childhood and years 1–13 through to tertiary education is provided at

Last updated April 22, 2015