The concept of sustainable development
was popularised in 1987 with the publication of the “Brundtland Report
” – the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development
. This landmark report highlighted the need to conceptualize sustainable development that would “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Five years later, in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) met in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the planet’s dwindling resources in the face of unrestrained economic growth and the failure of humankind to achieve equitable development. The “Earth Summit”, as the UNCED came to be known, resulted in countries agreeing to the Rio Declaration setting out 27 principles for achieving sustainable development and complemented by Agenda 21, a guiding document for sustainable development.
It has generally been accepted that achieving sustainable development will require balancing environmental, societal, and economic considerations in the pursuit of development and an improved quality of life. A number of ideals and principles underlying sustainability have been identified. These include intergenerational equity, gender equity, just and peaceable societies, social tolerance, environmental preservation and restoration, poverty alleviation and natural resource conservation. Agenda 21 identified education as an essential tool for achieving sustainable development and highlighted four areas of action for education.
- Improve the quality of basic education;
- Reorient existing education programmes to address sustainable development;
- Develop public awareness and understanding; and
- Provide training for all sectors of private and civil society.
Despite much effort in these and other areas, reports prepared by countries for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002, the ten-year review of Agenda 21, revealed that the goals laid out in Rio were still a long way from becoming reality. There was clearly a need to rethink education. Education for Sustainable Development paves the way for this “rethinking”.
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a vision of education that seeks to empower people to assume responsibility for creating a sustainable future. Central to ESD is the concept of culture as an essential underlying theme. It has been acknowledged that there is no “single route” to sustainable development. Further, it is clear that understandings of, and visions for, sustainability will be different for each of us and that we will need to work together to negotiate the process of achieving sustainability. There are many different stakeholders in sustainable development (i.e., governments, businesses, educational institutions, media, youth, etc). Each of these sectors has a different vision of sustainable development and how it can contribute. Some are interested in environmental preservation and protection, some have economic development interests while others may be more interested in social development. In addition, how each nation, cultural group and individual views sustainable development will depend on its own values
. The values held in a society help define how personal decisions are made and how national legislation is written (UNESCO (2005). International Implementation Scheme for the DESD
The challenge is to bring these different stakeholders together so that they may collaborate in partnerships to find a balance between their interests and priorities. Various approaches to ESD encourage people to understand the complexities of, and synergies between, the issues threatening planetary sustainability and understand and assess their own values and those of the society in which they live in the context of sustainability.
What are the core characteristics of ESD?
If ESD is to be an effective tool for engaging people in negotiating a sustainable future, making decisions and acting on them, it must first address the way we think about sustainable development and about education in general. Essential to ESD are the following skills (Adapted from Tilbury, D. and Wortman, D (2004), Engaging People in Sustainability):
- Envisioning – being able to imagine a better future. The premise is that if we know where we want to go, we will be better able to work out how to get there.
- Critical thinking and reflection – learning to question our current belief systems and to recognize the assumptions underlying our knowledge, perspective and opinions. Critical thinking skills help people learn to examine economic, environmental, social and cultural structures in the context of sustainable development.
- Systemic thinking – acknowledging complexities and looking for links and synergies when trying to find solutions to problems.
- Building partnerships – promoting dialogue and negotiation, learning to work together.
- Participation in decision-making – empowering people.
These skills should be learnt and applied according to the cultural contexts of different groups and stakeholders.
Who will be involved in ESD?
Some key stakeholder groups for ESD include:
- Governments and intergovernmental bodies
- Mass media
- Civil society and non-governmental organizations
- The private sector
- Formal education institutions
These sectors can be further divided into sub-groups to allow for fuller engagement of a wider range of people. Stakeholders will choose to become engaged in different ways. It will be important to develop partnerships so that people learn from, and support each other in their endeavors.
Challenges to ESD
The very concept of ESD challenges the way most people think about the world today. Economic growth and increased consumption patterns tend to characterize the aspirations of a large proportion of the planet’s society. ESD aims to challenge these aspirations by encouraging us to imagine a different future and reflect on how our values, beliefs and current behavior might affect our collective ability to realize such a future. To do this requires that we also change our view of the purpose of education. This transformative aspect of ESD makes the concept difficult for many to grasp. Thus, there is a need for proponents of ESD to establish for themselves an understanding of the concept and decide how they will communicate this to those in a higher position of responsibility. This will take planning, good communication strategies and a willingness to be open to the ideas of those who may not be seen as traditional partners in ESD.
The United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD)
In recognition of the importance of ESD, the United Nations
General Assembly declared 2005-2014 the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) UNESCO
was requested to lead the Decade and to develop an International Implementation Scheme (IIS)
for the Decade. The IIS identifies two goals for the Decade:
(1) to provide an opportunity for refining and promoting the vision of, and transition to, sustainable development – through all forms of education, public awareness and training
(2) to give an enhanced profile to the important role of education and learning in sustainable development.
The objectives of the DESD are to:
- facilitate networking linkages, exchange and interaction among stakeholders in ESD;
- foster increased quality of teaching and learning in ESD;
- help countries make progress towards and attain the Millennium Development Goals through ESD efforts;
- provide countries with new opportunities to incorporate ESD into education reform efforts.
Timeline of Sustainable Development/Education, a US perspective.
In the Early United States, resources are dispersed by the government as a commodity into private hands to create
- Early 1800s Interest in nature and landscape grows in America.
- 1840s-1850s Emerson and Thoreau write of nature in new ways. Other relevant authors include George Perkins Marsh. "In wildnes is the preservation of the world," Thoreau.
- 1850s-1890s Parks movement, Yosemite, Yellowstone. "Sublime" areas should be maintained in their natural state, and preserved for the American People. First national park was Yellowstone.
- 1890-1920 Progressive conservation movement.
- 1891 Congress passes "General Revision Act," leads to national forest system. Pieces of land are closed to claim and settlement for conservation of natural resources: they would be managed for resource use.
- 1892 John Muire establishes Sierra Club, citizen conservation activism launched.
- 1905 Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt establish Forest Service. Greatly increase forest service, to a total of .
- 1916 National Park Service Act creates the National Park Service. Two views exist in the US Government, preservation and utilitarian
- 1930 Great depression spurs "big government" conservation. Drought leads to dust bowl in areas such as Oklahoma and Texas, top soil literally blows away. Creation of Soil Conservation Service. A more powerful Fish and Wildlife Service and the private group National Wildlife Federation are response to period environmental catastrophe.
- 1940s-1960s Postwar economic boom. The United states ramped up its industrial capacity in World War II, huge pollution problems are a consequence. the modern consumer economy faces a new set of problems such as resource depletion and pollution-caused health problems. Conservation movement expands to environmentalism. 1962, Rachael Carson writes Silent Spring, calls for recognition of unintended negative consequences that outweigh the benefits of technology. Popular worldwide.
- 1960s-1970s Many laws are passed to protect the environment.
- 1972 United Nations convene first conference on "Human Environment" in Stockholm. There is recognition that the developing world needs sustainable development.
- 1969 Journal of Environmental Education Established
- 1970 National Environmental Education Act
- 1971 NAEE established.
- 1975 UNESCO and UNEP launch International Environmental Education programme, convene in Belgrade, produces the Belgrade Charter.
Discusses what should be the goal of environmental education.
- 1977 Tblisi Declaration.
- 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development, produces the Brundtland Report. Developing world must consider new schemes, developed world mustn't shake the foundation that its sustainability depends on.
- 1992 UN Conference, boycotted by United States
- 1996 PCSD publishes Education for Sustainability: An Agenda for Action.
- 1994-Present Reactionary politics stalls environmental and sustainability movement.
- 2002 World summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.
Why should you become involved in the Decade?
The DESD was initially proposed at the WSSD
by 45 countries led by Japan to signal recognition of the importance of education and learning in developing appropriate approaches to sustainable development. The Decade offers an opportunity to build education and communication more strongly into national sustainable development strategies and make education an integral component of sustainable development at the national level. With focused efforts, together we have the opportunity to develop innovations and learn new skills to achieve sustainable development.
Are there any “good practice” examples of ESD?
ESD is based on the premise of “learning by doing”. Each cultural/societal group will choose to address ESD in the context of its own aspirations for sustainable development. Thus there can be no “one-size fits all” approach to ESD. The challenges in formal education, for example, will be quite different from the challenges for engaging the private sector in ESD. How a small coastal community addresses ESD will, similarly, be different from how an urban community does. There are many examples of initiatives and programmes aimed at improving the quality of life of people. These initiatives already practice many of the principles and tools of ESD. However, many of these initiatives tend to occur in isolation from each other. As a result, the opportunity to build on the strengths inherent in each initiative is lost. ESD offers an opportunity to reorient such programmes to encompass the broader vision of sustainable development and thus improve outcomes and strengthen the groundswell for ESD.
Some examples of ESD in action and the potential of ESD are provided below:
In small communities throughout the Pacific islands, ESD approaches are helping to engage communities in decision-making about their own lives. Drama and comedy are used to help communities share their concerns about their economic and social well-being. As a result, communities have been encouraged and empowered to take action and interact with government bodies and non-governmental organisations in eliciting change in areas such as health and environmental protection.
In Vanuatu many villages are visited periodically by a traveling theatre group known as Wan Smolbag Theatre. This group puts on plays that simultaneously entertain and inform villagers about important issues such as HIV/AIDS and malaria-reduction through mosquito control. In 1995 the theme of the main play was concerned with the need to conserve sea turtles. This play initiated selecting ‘a turtle monitor’ in over 100 coastal Vanuatu villages to help encourage turtle conservation (UNESCO (2004). Evolution of village-based marine resource management in Vanuatu).
Programmes such as Peace Education, Human Rights Education, Environmental Education and “Young Entrepreneur” schemes are carried out in many schools. “Whole school” approaches to such initiatives help students and teachers gain an understanding of the inter-linkages that need to be addressed for sustainable development to become a reality. Within the curriculum itself, interdisciplinary approaches are being trialed whereby illustrative ESD examples are integrated into each subject area.
In Thailand Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has, since 1980, undertaken numerous projects to develop the well-being of disadvantaged children and youth in remote areas of Thailand. The implementation of the projects has focused on “Total School Development” by addressing multiple dimensions of development – food and nutrition, health and hygiene, education, training in vocational skills and cooperatives, as well as environmental and cultural conservation. The emphasis has been on education to provide life and occupational skills. The philosophy behind this approach is to use the school as the centre of learning for the community and to use the community as a learning resource of the school. The royally-initiated projects have yielded a positive impact in enhancing the potential of many children, reinforcing their self-sufficiency and improving their quality of life.
At Ikeda High School attached to Osaka Kyoiku University in Japan, they and the other high schools worldwide associated with their cell of UNESCO's ASP (Associated Schools Project), ESD is used as the focal point for learner-centered research projects, collaboration between high schools, exchange programs between representative students from the various high schools as well as teacher knowledge exchanges about how to incorporate ESD into 'Integrated Studies' courses or others with similar goals.
Training and Research
In many European nations, universities and technical colleges are training students of science, economics and business management in skills that may help to build more sustainable societies through energy-efficient buildings, socially-conscious businesses, waste-efficient production technologies, and so on.
These examples are some of many initiatives that have in common a desire for a better future and a willingness to participate in “action research” or learning by doing. They aim to find solutions for current problems and innovate for alternatives to our current lifestyles. They challenge people’s values and belief systems and rely on discussion and dialogue with all of us to ensure that the whole community is able to learn together as we work towards a common vision of a sustainable future.