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Education for Sustainable Development is commonly understood as education that encourages changes in knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to enable a more sustainable and just society for all. Education for Sustainable Development aims to empower and equip current and future generations to meet their needs using a balanced and integrated approach to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

Today, most learning is functional or informational learning, which is oriented towards socialization and vocational goals that take no account of sustainability. This has been reinforced in Western educational systems by the introduction of a managerial view of education which has paralleled recent economic restructuring. This modernist educational paradigm derives from a broader social and cultural paradigm, which is fundamentally mechanistic and reductionist. There is a poor fit between this dominant paradigm and our experience of increasing complexity, interdependence, and systems breakdown in the world. Asserting education for sustainable development within the present educational framework can only meet with limited success, as such forms of educational change are marginalized by the mainstream. The real need is to change from transmissive toward transformative learning, but this, in turn, requires a transformed educational paradigm. Educators for change need a clearer understanding of an ecological, participatory worldview from which a strong ecological educational paradigm and culture can be developed. Realization of a sustainable education paradigm requires vision, image, design, and action from all concerned with achieving healthy, ecologically sustainable societies. Time is critically short to make the educational changes necessary to ensure a secure future. Case studies that exemplify a more ecological educational paradigm are presented in the areas of government, nongovernmental organizations, schools, teacher education, higher education, and business and professional practice. An appendix to the booklet presents a list of 38 resources. [1]

Entebbe, Uganda

Quality Education on Sustainable Development

With a world population of 7 billion people and limited natural resources, we, as individuals and societies need to learn to live together sustainably. We need to take action responsibly based on the understanding that what we do today can have implications on the lives of people and the planet in future. Education for Sustainable Development empowers people to change the way they think and work towards a sustainable future. [2]

Lillesand, Norway

The aims should be to improve access to quality education on sustainable development at all levels and in all social contexts, to transform society by reorienting education and help people develop knowledge, skills, values and behaviours needed for sustainable development. It is about including sustainable development issues, such as climate change and biodiversity into teaching and learning. Individuals are encouraged to be responsible actors who resolve challenges, respect cultural diversity and contribute to creating a more sustainable world.

There is growing international recognition of Education for Sustainable Development as an integral element of quality education and a key enabler for sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the global community for the next 15 years include Education for Sustainable Development. [2]

The development of Education for Sustainable Development has been a dialogue between education and sustainable development, i.e. integration of education into sustainable development and integration of sustainable development into education.

Education for Sustainable Development aims to develop competencies that enable and empower individuals to reflect on their own actions by taking into account their current and future social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts from both a local and a global perspective. It requires individuals to act in complex situations in a sustainable manner – to explore new ideas and approaches and participate in socio-political processes, with the objective of moving their societies progress towards sustainable development. Education for Sustainable Development understood in this way aims to enable learners to take responsible actions that contribute towards creating sustainable societies now and in the future. It ‘develops the skills, values and attitudes that enable citizens to lead healthy and fulfilled lives, make informed decisions, and respond to a local and global challenge. [3]

Mombasa, Kenya


[1] Sterling, Stephen, Sustainable Education: Re-Visioning Learning and Change. Schumacher Briefings (2001)

[2] UNESCO 2018

[3] Leicht, A. J  Heiss and W. J. Byun (eds) Issues and trends in Education for Sustainable Development. UNESCO 2018

All picture for this article: Karl Skaar

Categories: Development, Education, Environment

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