top of page


During a recent dinner conversation with some friends in Dubai, I learnt how one of our common friends flunked the driving test because he answered a phone call from his mom as he was about to start the car. The instructor failed him even before he could move the car. To a lot of us, this assessment may sound completely unfair. Our outlook may change if we understand the reasons behind the instructor's decision.

A couple driving a car
Is driving a skill or a competency?

What is the difference between driving in Delhi and Dubai? If you understand this simple difference, for which you may have to observe closely how people drive in Delhi and Dubai, you will understand the difference between skill and competency. You may discover that driving in Delhi is a skill, whereas driving in Dubai is a competency. Getting a driver's license in both Delhi and Dubai require a person to pass certain tests. However, the structure and rigour of the assessment is very different. The theoretic test and practical assessment by an instructor in Delhi is a cakewalk when compared to Dubai. In Dubai, you will need to provide evidence to the instructor by demonstrating that you are competent to drive. And, the instructor is not only assessing your ability to drive but also your behaviour while driving. The friend I mentioned earlier flunked the test because he answered a phone call from his mom, an unacceptable behaviour.

The National Education Policy 2020 aims to implement competency-based education. In educational research, competency-based education is also referred to as outcome-based education, proficiency-based education or mastery-based education. This is because the concepts of competency, outcomes, proficiencies, and mastery are all closely related. So, if you understand one, you understand it all.

Teacher and school students learning on computers
For digital natives, learning online is effective.

Schools that wish to implement the NEP must first understand the seven characteristics that DEFINE the competency-based education. It is important to note that ALL these seven characteristics must be fully implemented to transition to competency-based education. So, let's go over each of these 7 characteristics.

1. Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.

Arrows hit in different zones of a target
You need to learn to hit the target before hitting the Bull's eye consistently.

Games like archery, darts, and shooting require a target (as shown above). The target defines the purpose of archery and the archer. Similarly, competencies define the purpose of education and learning. These competencies include a spectrum of knowledge, skills, and dispositions (attitudes, beliefs, values, behaviour) that students must acquire.

In the above target you can observe 5 zones that an archer needs to strike. The smallest zone at the centre is referred to as the Bull's eye (do you know why?). A competent archer is expected to hit the Bull's eye. However to achieve this competency an archer needs several hours of practice during which the archer keeps missing the Bull's eye as the arrow keeps hitting the other zones. Slowly, as the archer nears mastery, the arrow begins to hit the zones closer to the Bull's eye. The regions surrounding the Bull's eye are the milestones that an archer needs to achieve before consistently hitting the Bull's eye.

Similarly, learning outcomes are milestones that learners need to achieve in the journey to acquire a competency. In competency-based education model, learning outcomes represent expectations for learning that are rigorous and demonstrable.

Learning outcomes should be explicitly stated and articulated to ensure unambiguous understanding for all. These should also be transparent, measurable, and transferable.


The National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCF-SE) provides an illustrative list of competencies and learning outcomes that schools can contextualize and create their unique list of competencies and learning outcomes for their students.

2. Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems.

A gerden showing a variety of plants
Every school should be cultivated like a botanical garden.

Think of your school as a botanical garden with hundreds of different plants. Just as the garden provides each plant a safe environment to survive and grow, your school must provide each student a safe and happy environment to learn and grow. This is the simple principle of equity that is essential for competency-based education.

Equity should be part of the school culture. Simply put, equity should be the norm for whatever happens in the school.​ For this, we need to understand the seven components that define a school's culture.

The pedagogical practices of the school must be designed to ensure equity. For example, teachers must design learning experiences that give each student a chance to learn. Similarly, assessment must allow each student a chance to demonstrate his/her learning.

3. Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.

Student observing the globe.
There is never a unique way to travel between two locations

From any city of the world, there are multiple routes to reach another city. You may choose to travel by road, air, sea, or combine more than one ways. Travellers may also choose to pace their journey to suit their lifestyle, interests, or budgets. Some tourists prefer to visit a new destination in groups whereas other tourists may desire to travel solo.

Competency-based Education recognises that learners (like tourists) may want to travel the journey of acquiring competencies through different routes and at different pace. This flexibility and comfort of learning at your own pace is one the requirements of CBE that eventually makes learning enjoyable, stress-free, and effective.

When students learn at their own pace and follow their own learning curve they become comfortable to engage in active learning. They ask questions, reflect, and apply their learning proactively. These skills enable them to become lifelong learners and achieve their true potential.

4. Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.

A child glued to the mobile phone
I am learning!

Have you observed how little children interact with mobile phones? They know which app to open and decide which content they need to watch. And, when they watch they like, they get fully absorbed. Unconsciously, they learn new things.

For the record, research has established the perils of exposing young children to digital devices. But, adults are known to ignore research for their own convenience and interests. Whether we agree or not, whether we like it or not, children will continue to be exposed to digital devices because they are born in a digital world. These digital natives enjoy making decisions from a very early age. But, when they reach school, this decision making power is taken away from them. Someone else decides what they have to learn, what is the best method for them to learn, and how they will be assessed. This is against the definition of competency-based education.

The NCF advocates that students must be empowered to make decisions regarding their learning. They must be allowed to make decisions on which tasks they would prefer to do to demonstrate their mastery of the required learning outcome. They should also be able to choose how they want to complete the task and demonstrate their mastery. All of this requires educators to build choice into content, pedagogies, and assessment.

In fact, the NCF also advises schools to make students an integral part of the decision-making processes for those aspects that impact student learning.

5. Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence.

A student holding the assessment with A+ grade.
Does A+ necessarily mean exceptional proficiency?

In current practices, all stakeholders limit the value of assessment to the grade or score that a student earns. I recall getting 99% marks in the final assessment of "Representation Theory", a course I took during my M.Sc. in mathematics at Delhi University. The best part is that throughout the semester or even after scoring the fabulous score, I had no idea what representation theory really is. I am positive that I am not the only one who has experienced this futile power of assessment.

In competency-based education, assessment is a learning experience. This is referred to as "Assessment as Learning". Changing the mindset from "assessment of learning" to "assessment as learning" is a real challenge for two reasons. First most educators have not experienced how assessment can produce learning. Second, they have never been trained to design assessment that can be an enjoyable learning experience.

The NCF mandates that the focus of assessments should be on reasoning and not merely the recall of facts. Assessments, to be meaningful, should be planned to help students achieve specific competencies and learning outcomes. Such assessment must produce relevant and actionable evidence of the progress of each learner.

6. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.

A teacher helping a student.
Let me help you with that!

Each learner has different needs including one-to-one instruction, motivation, emotional support, or cognitive challenges to progress to the next level of proficiency. Schools that implement competency-based education will need to provide each student the support they need. This support must also be in synch with the individual interests, learning styles, and aspirations.

The NCF stresses heavily on individualised learning and mandates that each child's progress and performance will be documented through the complete educational journey.

This will require schools to use technological tools like a Learning Management System (LMS) to deliver and monitor support to each child. However, a successfull deployment of a LMS will require schools to define their unique learning standards and map the current and desired competencies of each child.

7. Students progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.

A student learning from his mobile phone
I dont need to be in school to learn!

One of the biggest myths on the traditional education model is that students learn only when they are in a classroom. This may have been true a few generations ago when the resources of learning were limited to the teacher and the textbook. In the digital world, learning is becoming self-driven, non-formal, and on-demand.

If you interact with your students you will find that they have several competencies which were never taught in the classrooms or the school. Even 11 year old students may have deep knowledge of various brands of automobiles and their engines or recipes of foods from international cuisines. If they can learn all this on their own, why do we feel that to develop domain specific competencies, they need to be seated in front of us in the classroom.

Competency-based education promotes anywhere, anytime learning. Students get promoted if they are able to demonstrate attainment of mastery for the desired learning outcomes. Thus, NEP 2020 recommends that schools provide students with opportunities for self-directed learning and online learning in addition to traditional classroom instructions.

This paves the way for schools to implement effective hybrid learning models by creating the required cultures, curriculum, content, pedagogies, and assessments.


Transitioning from content-based education to competency-based education is a journey of 3-5 years for a school. This journey entails a rigorous training of teachers as well as establishing completely new processes and procedures for school management. Each of the above 7 components of the definition of CBE involves new competencies that teachers must develop.

International Council for School Leadership (ICSL) supports schools to implement NCF 2023, NEP 2020, and competency-based education through its four initiatives:

  • Friday@5

  • Connect2Learn

  • APICAL Schools

  • Consulting Services

Please click on the links above to know more about each of these.




bottom of page