5P Competences is a European partnership that brings together education & training providers, non-governmental organisations and municipalities from 5 European countries with a view to develop a competence framework for sustainable development that is tailored to the needs of adult education. The following blog post describes the conceptual framework, developed in the first phase of the project. 

Rather than reproducible knowledge the central concern for ESD (education for sustainable development) lies at the level of action. It is about concrete actions to be taken towards building a sustainable society. Those actions can occur in all areas of life, whether professional, private or political, and they relate to the entire lifespan. ESD in essence means lifelong learning.

An important characteristic of lifelong learning can be seen in the fact that it connects different types of learning, from formal to informal. The latter not only is central to the concept of lifelong learning, but also a key element of UNESCO's strategy, which emphasizes that sustainable development is closely linked to everyday life. (UNESCO 2014, Eckert & Tippelt 2017).

Accordingly, a competence framework for ESD must not only refer to formal and non-formal learning, but also to informal learning, which is closely linked to practical activities on site. Europe's competency framework GreenComp provides solid ground for building sustainability skills and competences within the formal education system. 5P adds to this work by bringing in the perspective of informal learning, as a major driver of sustainability action on local level.

Sustainability as developmental task

Although lifelong learning concentrates on learning related to a person's actions taking place in everyday situations, it differs from incidental learning, i.e. learning in the course of action. This is because, as a prerequisite for informal learning, orientation towards a (learning) goal is essential. This means that informal learning cannot be understood as a consequence of a commitment to sustainable development, but conditional for it. Or as a help to improve decisions that have already been made or made in the direction of sustainability. 

Since there is no curriculum for informal learning and such a curriculum must be ruled out by definition, the development of a competence framework must be based on a concept that is open in terms of content. For this purpose Havighurst's concept of development can be used and adapted. This includes culturally and socially specified requirements and expectations that are placed on people in a certain age group at a certain point in time. Sustainability is thus interpreted as a cultural requirement that applies to the entire span of life.

The concept of developmental tasks is prominently used in developmental psychology. Originally it means culturally or societally determined requirements or expectations at a certain point in time dedicated to persons of a certain age. Havighurst (1972), one of the prominent founders of the concept, referred it to adolescents and addressed e.g. the following tasks to them: preparation for a professional career, preparation for marriage and having a family, adaption of sex roles, acceptance of one’s own body and person or the (emotional) independence from parents and other adults. Havighurst points out, that the concept can be adapted to early adulthood (choosing a life partner, establishing a family, take care of home, establish a career), middle age (maintain a standard of living, perform civic and social responsibilities, maintain a relationship with spouse, adapt to physiological changes) or later maturity (adjust to deteriorating health, adjust to retirement, meet social and civil obligations, adjust to loss of spouse). 

German sociologist Hurrelmann (1998) further developed the concept, bringing into the perspective of socialisation. He formulated four key developmental tasks:

  • Training of discipline and acquisition of intellectual and social competences, to actively overtake tasks and duties which are personally satisfying and useful for the public welfare.
  • Design of a self-image of body and soul, to gain a personal identity, to get a close connection to beloved persons and to maintain satisfying contacts to other personsTaking responsibility.
  • Skills to productively use offers from economic, leisure and media and to develop strategies to relax and regenerate.
  • Value orientation and the ability to participate actively in the political design of the conditions for living.

Analysis of developmental tasks

Based on a review of UNESCO, EU and national documents on ESD we were able to identify three overarching developmental tasks

  • Learning from previous generations, taking care of future generations
    This task is about questioning norms and values and living consciously. Moreover, it's about asking yourself what you want to leave behind for your own children, the children of friends, the community you live in, the country and also the world
  • Promoting justice
    The task is about questioning justice between nations as well as justice between regions and people. Closely related to this are questions of equality and inequality, including the distribution of natural resources, material resources as well as the distribution of intellectual resources or the organization of power and domination
  • Taking responsibility of sustainability
    This is about taking responsibility for one's own actions, for one's own values and one's own commitment to sustainability. But it is also about taking responsibility for others in terms of their requirements for a 'good life' and is therefore closely related to the concept of generations.

In order to make the developmental tasks more concrete, the project partners conducted a document analysis of policy objectives formulated and published on different levels: EU member states, regions and municipalities. The consideration of different levels of action results from the ESD roadmap, which emphasizes that ESD must start with the individual, but shall also lead to a societal transformation towards sustainability. To this purpose different levels of sustainable action have been as expressed in the goals for 2030, which relate to both individuals and collective actors. However, the intended path turned out to be unworkable, since the documents analyzed essentially replicate the UNESCO aims and goals at the municipal level, so that a corresponding analysis could not take into account either the specification of the objectives or the regionality of the formulations. Instead, a larger number of projects and initiatives in the field of sustainable development were identified and analyzed in the partner countries. The specification of development tasks resulted from an in-depth analysis of the aims and objectives of thsoe projects.

The regionality was analyzed with reference to American psychologist Uri Bronfenbrenner's socio-ecological theory of socialication. The theory refers to the psychological proximity or distance of different social relationships of a person. The smaller the psychological distance, the higher the character of a situation that calls for action, and the better the mutual coordination of the levels, the greater the importance of the objectives for an individual. Based on this theory, the following levels of action can be distinguished:

  • whether the development tasks are addressed by project objectives that take place in a person's immediate personal environment, i.e. primarily concern the person themselves (micro level),
  • whether they are aimed at a person's environment that is in direct, personal contact with them, such as family or immediate circle of friends (meso level),
  • whether it addresses groups or events in a person's immediate environment, of which the person is not a member or involved, but which have a significant impact on their ability to act, such as changes in opportunities for sustainable consumption or sustainable energy use (exo level),
  • or whether it refers to things that prevail in society as a whole, such as values, conventions, traditions, regulations, laws or ideologies (macro level).

The project partners from the above mentioned empirical analyses derived an initial competence framework for sustainable development. However, since it cannot be ensured if the analyzed projects cover the variety of projects that actually exist and, the majority of the projects do not primarily pursue educational objectives, further work needs to be done. The competences found through empirical analyses in the next step shall be classified and fed into a general competency model that will be created on a theoretical basis. The general model will be based on the concept of self-organization, which will allow us to take into account the interplay between self-determined action and self-directed learning typical for informal learning.

Based on working paper issued by Prof. Dr. Thomas Eckert, Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich