In the fast paced and everchanging world of the 21st century, students need to develop multiple literacies, increase their depth of knowledge, and acquire a range of skills and abilities, all of which they will use to face complex challenges now and in the future.

Competency-based education focuses on the student’s demonstration of desired learning outcomes and is tailored so students advance at their own pace. It results in deeper learning for students as they apply, analyze, and evaluate academic content. Students learn how to think critically and creatively, to collaborate and communicate effectively, to adapt to challenges and complex problems. Competency-based education offers a student-centred learning environment to help develop the student’s voice. Research defines competency-based education using five design principles:

  • Students demonstrate mastery of competencies by performing complex, contextualized and meaningful tasks.
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning outcomes that empower students. A course is organized into measurable learning outcomes that are shared with students. Students take responsibility for their learning, thereby increasing their engagement and motivation.
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students. Consequently, the focus is on assessments for learning which are aligned with learning outcomes. Students receive “timely” feedback when assessment occurs, and they are encouraged to return to difficult concepts and skills until they achieve mastery. It is essential that assessments are student-centred.
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. The core idea of a competency-based model is that all students will master the desired competencies.
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions. A high-quality, competency-based approach requires students to apply skills and knowledge to new situations to demonstrate mastery.

The Atlantic Canada Framework for Essential Graduation Competencies /Cadre des compétences transdisciplinaires is a framework for the development of programs and courses. It provides a common vision of the competencies—a set of attitudes, skills, and knowledge—that prepare learners to engage in a lifetime of transitions and learning. 

The competencies describe expectations, not in terms of individual curricular areas but in terms of attitudes, skills, and knowledge developed throughout the curricula. They are cross-curricular in nature. Students learn to make connections and develop competencies across subject boundaries if they are to be ready to meet the shifting and ongoing demands of life, work, and learning today and in the future.

The Nova Scotia curricula emphasizes key concepts and encourages students to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of subject matter. It also reflects the core competencies that students need to succeed now and in the future. The Learning Outcomes Framework consists of a series of curriculum outcomes statements describing the competencies students are expected to demonstrate as a result of their cumulative learning experiences in the primary – graduation continuum. Teachers and administrators refer to the outcomes framework to design learning environments and experiences that reflect the principles of learning and are responsive to the diverse needs and interests of the students.