Azerbaijan journal of Educational studies

ISSN: 0134-3289
E-ISSN: 2617-8060
» » The critical role of competence-based education for sustainable development: an integrative literature review

The critical role of competence-based education for sustainable development: an integrative literature review

11 February 2020, Tuesday
Volume 689, Issue 4, 2019
Leyla Jabbarzade - M.A. in Education, University of Sheffield, UK.
E-mail:, ORCID ID:
Chilanay Safarli - Doctoral Student at the George Washington University, US.
E-mail:, ORCID ID:

This paper presents a review of the literature on the core competencies for Education for Sustainable Development(ESD) and the role of higher education institutions in developing these competencies in their students. The critical role of higher education in contributing to sustainable development has long been recognized by the global community, namely in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 (UN, 1992), the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–2014) and Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2015). Indeed, the main focus of Sustainable Development Goal#4 is to guarantee inclusive education of an equal standard to all, and to promote lifelong learning. Unfortunately, this goal cannot be achieved by simply increasing basic literacy. Undeniably, if the world wants to make progress towards the sustainability goals, the basic education worldwide must be redesigned to address sustainability by re-examining educational policies and practices to align with the development of the knowledge and competencies related to sustainability. Although multiple definitions of competency exist, this paper adopts the definition provided by the European Parliament Council(2009). The European Parliament Council defines competency as the «proven ability to use knowledge, skills and personal, social and/or methodological abilities, in work or study situations» (EC, 2009, 14). Some of these competencies for sustainable development include skills for creative and critical thinking oral and written communication, collaboration and cooperation, conflict management, decision-making, problem-solving, and planning (Stoltenberg, 2007). Sterling and Thomas (2006) also emphasize the importance of acquiring a sustainable development mindset through «a much more critical and interactive pedagogy than usually found in universities» (352). Azerbaijan has not moved towards a market-oriented education system despite attempting to integrate into the European Higher Education Area (Tempus, 2012). The current education system does not arm students with key competencies such as critical thinking and there is a discrepancy between what higher education provides and what the labor market demands. Thus, the purpose of this review was to explore the successful practices of higher education institutions in different countries which adopt an ESD approach and which prepare students well with adequate skills and/or competencies relevant for today's workplace. A comprehensive synthesis and critical analysis of the research and practice related literature provides an overview of models, practices, guidelines, and challenges and ways to implement them. This paper seeks to determine the role of higher education institutions in shaping the future of the world’s society in terms of sustainable development, since these institutions can generate new knowledge and contribute to the development of appropriate competencies and raise awareness of sustainability awareness. Finally, the implications for Azerbaijan's education system are discussed and a future research agenda is proposed.

Keywords: Sustainable development, Key competencies, Higher education, ESD.

To cite this article: Jabbarzade L., Safarli Ch. (2019) The critical role of competence-based education for sustainable development: an integrative literature review. Azerbaijan Journal of Educational Studies. Vol. 689, Issue IV, pp. 91–102.
This research was conducted as a conference paper for the ADA University 4th International Education Conference 2019 (June 19-20).


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