Research Summary

Building key competencies into an environmental education curriculum using a modified Delphi approach in South Korea

Key competencies in South Korea’s environmental education curriculum

Environmental Education Research
2020

Key competencies, or the skills required to overcome challenges presented in the cognitive, social, and personal domains, are a growing component of environmental education (EE) curricula. Competencies such as critical thinking, creativity, and communication provide students with the tools needed to resolve real life issues in a variety of contexts, including environmental or sustainability conflicts. By incorporating key competencies into traditionally knowledge-based environmental curricula, environmental education can become more activity- and context-based. This study aimed to identify key competencies in South Korea’s environmental curriculum and discuss the significance and limitations of these competencies in the 2015 edits of the curriculum.

This study was conducted in South Korea in 2015. Researchers used a modified Delphi approach to identify key competencies. The Delphi method collects expert opinions and reaches consensus by gathering a panel of experts in a particular topic, in this case environmental education, and completing a series of structured surveys. Panelists included five EE professors, five secondary school teachers who majored in EE, and five EE curriculum developers who volunteered to participate. To understand the nature of key competencies in EE, researchers conducted a literature review and preliminary survey of EE professionals, from which they identified three domains each containing three key competencies: intellectual (ability to use tools, critical thinking, creativity), personal (autonomy, ability to reflect, environmental sensitivity), and social (ability to communicate, problem-solve, and motivate). Participants then completed three rounds of structured surveys. The first survey contained 30 items to determine the necessity and validity of the key competencies; once the results were in from this survey, the second and third surveys were subsequently modified to focus on the items with high degrees of consensus.

Over the course of the three surveys, the panelists changed the domain terminology, eliminated and added some key competencies, and moved competencies to different domains, ultimately leading to an agreeance on three domains and eight key competencies. In round one, panelists called the three domains ‘intellect-oriented’, ‘personality-oriented’, and ‘relationship-oriented’, to increase general understanding of the groups. Round one also eliminated two key competencies, leaving creativity, critical thinking ability, autonomy, ability to reflect, environmental sensitivity, communication ability, and problem-solving ability to be considered in round two. The panelists also added career development ability as a key competency. In round two, panelists did not reach consensus on career development ability, and it was eliminated as a key competency, but they added ability to manage conflicts instead. Consensus was reached about the three domains and eight key competencies in round three after modifications to some definitions ensured that the competencies were grouped appropriately into domains.

Panelists agreed that middle and high schools should emphasize different competencies. In middle school, they recommend focusing on environmental sensitivity, communication ability, and ability to reflect; high school should emphasize critical thinking ability, problem-solving ability, and environmental sensitivity. The 2015 National Curriculum revision included six key competencies, four of which align with those identified through the Delphi method, while two drew from the existing curriculum. Some of the differences between the competencies identified by the panelists and those reflected in the Curriculum were based on definitions, leading to changes in the wording or categorization of certain skills. However, the overall content and goals covered by the competencies were largely similar, indicating an alignment between the competencies identified by the panelists and those included in the Curriculum revision.

This study did have limitations. The research focused on key competencies in South Korea, limiting the generalizability of results. Also, the Delphi method selects panelists from groups of professionals in the related fields, which limits the points of view and related knowledge available in the process. The group was also relatively small due to the constraints of the Delphi method.

The researchers recommend studying and further developing evaluation methods for key competencies so that competence-based curricula can be implemented in schools. They also emphasize the need for professional development for teachers centered around key competencies to ensure that they are implemented effectively.

The Bottom Line

Key competencies, or the skills required to overcome challenges presented in cognitive, social, or personal domains, provide students with the tools needed to resolve environmental issues. This study aimed to identify key competencies in South Korea’s environmental curriculum and discuss the significance and limitations of competences in the 2015 curriculum edits. Researchers assembled a 15-member panel of environmental education professionals and conducted three structured surveys using the Delphi method to reach a consensus. Panelists identified three domains (intellect-, personality-, and relationship-oriented), and eight key competencies (creativity, critical thinking ability, autonomy, ability to reflect, environmental sensitivity, communication ability, problem-solving ability, and ability to manage conflicts). The National Curriculum edits only contained six competencies. Discrepancies occurred due to different definitions of each competency and therefore resulted in similar themes across the panelists’ selections and those included in the Curriculum. Researchers suggest studying evaluation methods for competence-based curricula and recommend creating professional development for teachers around key competencies.