Learning Expectations for Transformative Education

SDG 4.7 calls on us to, "by 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development."

In order to encourage this kinds of transformative education outlined in Target 4.7, these learning areas must be translated to specific competencies that educators can design curriculum and learning experiences around. This section presents a proposed set of Learning Expectations by grade band that are designed to promote knowledge, attitudes, and skills for transformative education while aligning to common standards in core subjects.  

Following the Learning Expectations below, read on to explore existing frameworks that align with SDG 4.7 and inform the Learning Expectations, such as 21st Century skills, Social-Emotional Learning, and Action Civics. The section further presents case studies on existing curricular standards and an analysis of the gaps and opportunities. 

First Things First:  Basic Literacy and Numeracy are a Priority

Cognitive skills are tools that help to acquire knowledge, and combined with effective skills such as attitude and behaviors, are able to produce the desired competencies. The global discourse on the types of skills that are required has become mainstreamed with the Sustainable Development Goals focused on learning outcomes. During the Millennium Development Goals, access to schooling and gender equity gathered much momentum. However, the focus on quality education was weakly measured until recently. 

In the last 10 years, the hidden learning crisis has become the focus of global education, as evidenced by the 2019 introduction by the World Bank and UNESCO of a new multidimensional indicator to measure Learning Poverty.  In most developing countries, however, the reality is that by the time the child reaches grade 1 of primary schooling, she/he/they is developmentally behind in every learning and anthropometric measures. Entering Grade 1 should be the stepping-stone to success, but many schools are failing to make children even grade 1 ready. The learning lag continues to widen even further in primary education. Even among the children who attend school, there are 130 million children who still cannot read or do basic math after four years. In recent assessments in Ghana and Malawi, more than 80% of students at the end of grade 2 were unable to read a single familiar word such as the or cat

COVID-19 has made learning goals much worse off. The World Bank has estimated that due to learning losses and increases in dropout rates, this generation of students stand to lose an estimated $10 trillion in earnings, or almost 10 percent of global GDP, and countries will be driven even further off-track to achieving their Learning Poverty goals – potentially increasing Learning Poverty levels to 63 percent.

Basic numeracy and literacy are the building blocks of higher-order thinking. With SDG 4, the focus on achieving learning outcomes and expanding learning opportunities throughout one’s life-span became the center of education dialogues.  With SDG 4, “quality education” needed to be measured and reported. What should these learning outcomes be? At the very minimum, every student needed to have basic literacy and numeracy skills, as defined by the respective countries. Although these are floor-level competencies, millions of children are still lagging behind.  It is estimated that on average, children are at least 2 grade levels behind what they ought to be. It is estimated that at the secondary level, there are 617 million youth worldwide that lack basic mathematics and literacy skills. The education systems have failed many students in helping them to reach the top level of the learning ladder. 

Moving Beyond the Basics with Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes to Achieve the SDGs: Adapting Learning Expectations for SDG 4.7

Goal 4 on Education has given the world an opportunity to think beyond literacy and numeracy and subject area silos to consider the possibilities of defining what education goals should be for the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs. Transformative education as outlined in SDG 4.7 looks at the possibilities to teach community problem-solving, teamwork, self-awareness and empathy, civic participation, and skills for resilience across the lifelong learning spectrum.

The Learning Expectations for SDG 4.7 presented below are adapted in part from UNESCO's 2017 report "Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives". For each of the 17 SDGs, the UNESCO report presents 15 learning objectives across three learning categories - cognitive, social-emotional and behavioral. For each SDG, topics are suggested to help achieve the learning objectives. The learning objectives intersect with other common education and action frameworks such as 21st Century skills, climate and environmental justice, green skills, and action civics, however they lack grade-lever specificity and guidance on how to apply the objectives to core subjects. 

To make UNESCO’s learning framework more easily applicable to specific grades, Mission 4.7 conducted an extensive mapping exercise to identify alignments between the UNESCO standards and common science and social science standards. The grade-by-grade Next Generation Science and Social Science Standards for New Jersey was used as the first sample curriculum for the mapping exercise. 

This mapping informed development of generalized learning expectations according to 4 grade bands - lower primary, upper primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary. These learning expectations can help guide curriculum developers, education system and school leaders, and educators in integrating SDG 4.7 content knowledge, skills, and attitudes across subjects and grade levels. In other words, education stakeholders will be able to answer the question: what should a student of grade 2 know about the SDGs, Education for Sustainable Development, and Global Citizenship?  

These learning expectations are a reference point rather than a comprehensive set of skills and competencies that students must have. In developing these grade level competencies, the team developed analysis criteria, conducted multiple panel discussions and internal discussions to understand needs and priorities while avoiding discrepancies and redundancies. The Mission 4.7 team is aware that not all the proposed learning expectations may be applicable for all countries given the different national standards and common practices. However, we hope that this attempt to provide a baseline for further improvement can support educators in progressing toward achievement of SDG 4.7 and the SDGs more broadly.

Learning Expectations by Grade Band

Lower Primary

Cognitive Learning Expectations

The Learner is able to...

Social-Emotional Learning Expectations

The Learner is able to...

Behavioral Learning Expectations

The Learner is able to...

Upper Primary

Cognitive Learning Expectations

The Learner is able to...

Social-Emotional Learning Expectations

The Learner is able to...

Behavioral Learning Expectations

The Learner is able to...

Lower Secondary

Cognitive Learning Expectations

The Learner is able to...

Social-Emotional Learning Expectations

The Learner will be able to...

Behavioral Learning Expectations

This Learner is able to...

Upper Secondary

Cognitive Learning Expectations

The Learner is able to...

Social-Emotional Learning Expectations

The Learner is able to...

Behavioral Learning Expectations

The Learner is able to...

Review of Intersecting Frameworks Informing the Learning Expectations and Implementation Approaches for SDG 4.7

The framework reviews summarized below highlight how these respective frameworks overlap with SDG 4.7, education for sustainable development, and global citizenship. These frameworks have informed the development of our Learning Expectations for inculcating the kinds of knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to achieve SDG 4.7.

Social Emotional Learning

Some education systems have begun to reorient themselves toward a broader sense of purpose that not only aims to go beyond developing the cognitive, academic, and technical competencies of learners, but also aims to promote learner well-being by developing social and emotional competencies as well. While this is an important and welcome shift, and teachers and students in such systems are often enthusiastic and well-intentioned in implementing such policy shifts, Shirley notes that school well-being programs tend to focus on a narrow conception of well-being. Well-being is conceived of in an individualist sense that prioritizes positive feelings within individuals and functions to pacify teachers and students to better manage the unhealthy levels of stress inherent to education systems that still largely revolve around high-stakes testing. As Simmons notes, many popular SEL frameworks do not explicitly confront forms of racist violence and various societal inequities. Programs aimed at improving well-being and social-emotional skills are often taught in ways that are divorced from the larger sociopolitical context, and without considering the potential for improved well-being that comes from learning and applying skills for recognizing injustices and taking action toward addressing them.

There is ample evidence that SEL needs to expand much more than what was required before COVID-19. With SEL being the immediate need in curricula across all levels, values such as empathy towards each other and towards the planet will help communities to recover from this pandemic and avoid future pandemics (Iyengar, 2021). Religious leaders like the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis have emphasized empathy towards each other and our environment. The importance of value driven education has been stated much before. The first word revealed to the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) was "Iqra", meaning to read (emphasis on seeking knowledge and learning). Pope Francis's Laudato Si4, or "On Care for Our Common Home," urges us to be empathetic about our environment. This "Environmental encyclical" is a meeting point between the environment and spirituality. He delicately balances using scientific words such as "global warming" and "carbon emission" and puts it in a spiritual perspective. Pope Francis takes his inspiration from St Francis of Assisi and relates to nature as "sister earth", "brother sun" and "sister moon". He urges humanity to connect with different aspects of the planet to cultivate the "ecological virtues". A broadened understanding of SEL that incorporates empathy for our shared home on earth as an extension of empathy for each other, and that links individual and community resilience to environmental resilience, can help raise awareness of how issues like environmental degradation and biodiversity loss pave the way for spread of deadly pandemics like COVID-19, droughts that cause mass hunger, and other human challenges. 

Pope calls for a "consciousness-raising" to prevent further all the health and environmental risks caused by humankind. An approach to SEL that incorporates empathy for each other and for the environment will help us to be mindful of our own actions and will help us to look deeper within ourselves to break the "myths" of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market)." This reflective practice will also help in "establishing harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and other

living creatures, and with God."

As destruction has taught us about empathy in real-life, how can we take theses lesson and integrate them into our schooling systems? Pope Francis thus explains the real purpose of environmental education, which can be incorporated into SEL, is to not teach facts, but an approach to question one's own practices and meaning-making. He urges educators to encourage "ecological ethics" in developing "ecological citizenship." Pope Francis gives examples of small, but essential practices that we could all learn from this form of education"…such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or carpooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. "This could be such a profound way of "cultivating sound virtues" where people will be empowered to"..make a selfless ecological commitment".

Social Emotional Learning Skills

Perhaps the most widely referenced framework for Social Emotional Learning comes from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). The CASEL model includes 5 broad competency areas and associated skills:

Self-Awareness - The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose. Such as:

Self-Management - The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation & agency to accomplish personal/collective goals. Such as:

Social Awareness - The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, & contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports. Such as:

Relationship Skills - The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed. Such as:

Responsible Decision-making - The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being. Such as:

Harvard School of Education’s EASEL Lab SEL Taxonomy Project analyzed dozens of SEL frameworks to identify the main themes, which they classify into six main domains of SEL:

Their Explore SEL tool (http://exploresel.gse.harvard.edu/) allows visitors to browse various models of SEL and compare frameworks to see how different SEL competencies and skills are prioritized in different ways across models, helping educators identify models that best fit their learning goals.

Mindfulness and Meditative Practices 

Richard Davidson’s work includes research on the neural bases of emotion and methods and interventions to promote human flourishing. His research most salient to Mission 4.7 includes work on mindfulness and other meditation practices for improving attention and process-specific learning; the prospects of mind-training for American education; and mindfulness interventions to promote well-being for teachers and pro-social behavior and self-regulatory skills for school children.


Early work included explorations of neural asymmetries corresponding to stimuli processing in children, depression, and cross-cultural differences. He has also conducted various studies with implications for the lateralization of emotional behavior. One study suggested that right-sided prefrontal asymmetry could predict vulnerability towards restrained eating. Davidson has written on the importance of valence as a key feature for understanding the structure of emotion, and defined ‘affective style’ as the neural network of associations which mediate experiences of emotions, thus spearheading the discipline of affective neuroscience.


Davidson has long been interested in meditation, attention, and the transformation of consciousness through self-regulation and other means. An early co-authored study compared the effects of meditation versus exercise on anxiety, finding that exercisers experienced less somatic anxiety and more cognitive anxiety than meditators. One co-authored paper suggested that voluntary smiling could produce some of the same physiological changes induced by involuntary smiling. Another investigated manipulating affect (negatively and positively) through the presentation of visual materials. Plasticity and the experience of emotion have been areas of inquiry for Davidson and colleagues across the years, including the social influences on neuroplasticity. He has been involved in the study of pain, and specifically the manipulation of the experience of pain, including studies that suggest that perceived ‘control’ modulates the neural responses to pain. Another co-authored paper investigates the neurobiological impact of early childhood adversity. Davidson has also contributed to studies on the possibility of identifying neurophenotypes for asthma. Davidson has also collaborated on papers on the neural correlates of well-being and the relationship between well-being and affective style. He has collaborated with scientists and scholars and practitioners of Buddhism to investigate Buddhist and psychological perspectives on emotions and well-being, and happiness and neuroplasticity.


Davidson has conducted extensive research on meditation, its neural correlates, and its short and long-term impacts. One paper investigated the neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditators. A co-authored paper concluded that mental training could improve control over the distribution of limited brain resources, another suggesting finding that mental training specifically enhances ‘attentional stability.’  Davidson has studied the regulatory effects of expert-level compassion meditation on the neural circuitry associated with emotion, in addition to the effects of compassion training on altruism and neural responses to suffering. One co-authored paper suggests that long-term meditation might mitigate stress reactivity and decrease chronic inflammation. Davidson has argued that meditations designed to enhance specific core cognitive processes may specifically promote process-specific learning. One review of meta-analyses suggested that mindfulness-based interventions demonstrated better outcomes compared to passive controls, but these effects were smaller and less significant than those from active controls. Davidson has written on mind training’s prospects for American education, and participated in studies investigating the possible use of mindfulness for mitigating teacher burnout and stress and a mindfulness-based kindness curriculum for promoting pro-social behavior and self-regulatory skills in preschool children.  Another co-authored study connected mindfulness training to a reduction in PTSD symptoms and improvements in stress-related health outcomes for police officers. Davidson has worked on testing smartphone meditation applications for improving well-being outcomes, and the neural correlates of improving empathic accuracy through video games.


Davidson has also studied behavioral inhibition in children and its relationship to parental personality and behavior. Temper tantrums were the feature of several studies, including tantrum timelines, post tantrum parental affiliations, and context inappropriate anger. He has studied the biological underpinnings of asthma through neuroimaging,


The final portion of Davidson’s work we will mention include his contributions to the study of depression and its neural correlates, and a process-based approach for research, diagnosis, and treatments. He has also written on the viability of mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy for preventing depressive relapse.


21st Century Skills

21st Century education skills and the roadmap to attain them 

To meet SDG4.7’s transformative education goals, it is important to understand the larger goals of education as defined by 21st Century Skills. What are these skills and will students be able to do with these skills? 

21st Century competencies as defined by Russell (2016) are as follows-

The United States Department of Education (2002) specifies that learning skills required a part of the 21st Century skills as:

These skills and competencies are by the United States Department of Education (2002) are aligned to SDG4.7, specifically to Global Citizenship. As it details out the 21st Century Content as:

The “new normal” in education as defined by the OECD

Many ideas of active citizenship are embedded in the “new normal” in education as defined by OECD, 2019). 21st Century education as defined by OECD (2019) exerts that educational systems are a part of the larger ecosystem. It acknowledges that students have a non-linear progression, specifically that, students are on their own path of discovery and that their baselines are different, and they are learning from various sources acquiring various skills and knowledge along the way. 

The key competencies as defined by OECD (2019) for 21st century education are as follows- 

‒ The ability to use language, symbols and text interactively

‒ The ability to use knowledge and information interactively

‒ The ability to use technology interactively

‒ The ability to relate well to others

‒ The ability to cooperate

‒ The ability to manage and resolve conflicts

‒ The ability to act within the “big picture”

‒ The ability to form and conduct life plans and personal project

‒ The ability to assert rights, interests, limits and needs.

According to OECD (2019), “OECD Learning Compass 2030” provides system wide thinking to enable achieving these competencies. This compass has seven elements- 

Green Skills

Green skills for transformation are in the context of contributing to the 1.5 Degree Centigrade target which involves transformative changes at the personal, political and practical aspects, keeping beliefs, values, worldviews and paradigms interacting with systems and structures to influence behaviors and technical responses. 

Kwauk and Casey (2021) categorize the green skills into three buckets. 

The authors state that this list is not an exclusive list, but the idea here is to present some skills that hint at the categories of skills that fall under each bucket. These skills should be considered an essential input that will be matched by knowledge and attitudes and behavior to lead to the desired competencies (Kwauk & Braga, 2017). 

How does one translate these green skills into an actionable design? Kwauk and Casey (2021) propose five elements- Cognitive, Affective, Existential, and Empowered Action that translate green life skills into curricular resources. The theory of change as proposed by Kwauk and Olivia include gaining knowledge across subjects on the environment, have an empathic outlook, make it second nature to live those pro-environmental practices, have ownership of those practices in your communities, have an action oriented outlook to resolve those challenges. 

Learn more with the below resources:

Learning through Play

The Lego Foundation (2018) identifies playfulness to achieve 10 skills outlined by the World Economic Forum for the workplace in 2020. They are:

The Lego Foundation defines the associated competencies as: 

Learn more with the below resources:

Environmental & Climate Justice

The pandemic has laid bare the ways that inequities across socioeconomic, racial, and health lines intersect with climate and environmental issues to inequitably impact human lives. Stapleton (2018) argues that climate change must be framed as the most urgent social justice issue we face, and that climate change is interlinked with questions of power, equity, and justice.  Kwauk and Olivia (2021)’s article explains that the green new learning agenda needs to go beyond climate education and action, but looks at the intersectional issues of social justice, equity, gender, economic and social marginalization in-order to highlight the cross-linkages with climate justice issues and the relevant action needed. They explain that science and technological solutions alone, without addressing the social inequities that must be addressed, will not bring transformative change in the anthropocene that we are in.  Therefore, these inter-linkages have to be recognized and brought into education as connected issues.

Kwauk and Olivia (2021) also raise an important topic -  gender-blind focus on competencies is seriously flawed. This also undermines a lot of existing literature on eco-feminism which has created a lot of activism in communities worldwide. The authors also place special emphasis on marginalized communities like persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, LGBTQI+ people, minorities and refugees along with displaced peoples. Therefore place-based and people centric approaches need to be adopted to translate these green skills in schools and communities.

Norat (2020) defines the purposes of eco-pedagogy as one that drives eco-consciousness, sustainable culture and solidarity consciousness. The author defines solidarity as the ethics of compassion and care and planetary citizenship. Therefore eco-pedagogy encourages a holistic vision of education which includes-

Norat (2020) discusses the methodological approaches that should be the foundations of a holistic approach to learning. 

Learn more with the below resources:

Climate Literacy

According to Global Change (2009) a climate-literate person:

Under the title “ An audacious yet achievable goal: Climate action projects in every school by 2025” . Kwauk and Winthrop (2021) gave an example of US students being able to “…map and monitory local environmental challenges, analyze local practices, policies, and laws that perpetuate or enable these challenges, and design and implement or advocate for a sustainability plan that addresses the root cause(s)."

Norat (2020) defines the educational competencies for Education for Sustainability as the following-

Learn more with the below resources: