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Education for Sustainable Development

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We as individuals living in a world where the population is growing and the natural resources are limited, need to learn to live together sustainably. We need to learn to act responsibly towards the environment which we are part of, because what we do today will have a negative or positive impact on the future generations and on the planet. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) enables people to change their behavior and the way they think towards a sustainable future.1 “Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is commonly understood as education that encourages changes in knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to enable a more sustainable and just society for all. ESD 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.” “ESD’s target is to enable children, young people, students and adults to be active in the development of an environmentally acceptable, socially equitable, economically efficient environment.” The main goal is to provide young people with the required education and knowledge to take sustainable decisions for global development. Through ESD, children will be aware of how to face and deal with global challenges to make the world a better place. . Furthermore, ESD encompasses the teaching of skills such as future-oriented thinking, interdisciplinary knowledge and interconnected thinking, autonomous acting and participation in decision-making processes within society. Therefore, UNESCO aims to transform society by reforming education which will help individuals develop knowledge, skills and behaviors needed for sustainable development. Also, their aim is to improve access to quality education on sustainable development in all social contexts. In order to achieve that, sustainable development issues such as climate change and biodiversity should be included in the subjects taught at schools. Consequently, individuals are encouraged to be responsible actors who resolve challenges, respect cultural diversity and contribute to creating a more sustainable world.

Objectives This scientific paper will focus on two main objectives:

1- Communicate the importance of promoting Education for Sustainable Development in schools through a review of literature.

2- Illustrates ways in which Education for Sustainable Development can be integrated into and across areas of the curriculum.

Problem Definition The global issues facing the world today related to environment, poverty, human rights, peace, and development are becoming increasingly complex. If we continue to provide our children with the conventional style of education focused on knowledge and understanding, the children born into this complex world will not be fully equipped and prepared to face such global-scale challenges, which are rapidly increasing each year. Through ESD’s activities, individuals learn how to approach these issues of modern society by “thinking globally and acting locally”, thus creating new behaviors and values that contribute to solving these problems leading to a sustainable society. Therefore, ESD is education that adopts the leadership needed to build a sustainable society.

Literature Review

This section will discuss and summarize a review of the preceding literature related to Education for Sustainable Development and the importance of promoting ESD in schools based on a guideline developed by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT). Furthermore, this part will also describe how education is related to the other sustainable development goals to obtain an overview of ESD’s value.

Reasons for Promoting ESD in Schools a) ESD aims to solve global issues The issues facing the world today are becoming increasingly complex and their solutions rely not only on local cooperation but on cross-national collaboration. That is the reason why we have to change the way we are educating our children because if we keep on delivering the same traditional style of learning, they will not be ready and aware of these issues. Hence, a major part of ESD is educational reform which involves thinking about, and sharing through practice, the skills and qualities children need and the kind of learning environment that would facilitate their development. In order to achieve that, it is required to integrate an environmental approach with social and economic approaches in the subjects taught at schools and cooperate at an international level. b) ESD: Education that fosters the leadership to a sustainable society ESD requires an integrated approach which takes in to consideration how the environment, society, economy, and culture are connected, because if we just focus on the environmental aspect, our environmental local issues will not be solved. Through ESD, children will learn how important it is to build a sustainable society through activities and exercises done in the schools’ classrooms.

For example, at elementary level, children may connect changes seen in their local environment to global issues, while junior high school onwards, students could consider how they relate things they have seen on the news to issues in their communities. This teaching/learning approach involves strategies such as getting pupils to carry out group and other cooperative activities, or using experience-based activities. 5 c) ESD in the global spotlight In September 2015 UN summit in New York, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Sustainable Development Goals) were adopted. Providing quality education is Goal 4 which ESD is part of. ESD contributes to improving quality of education and is concept that offer a direction for education going forward. The promotion of ESD is a promise for the future the countries of the world made. As ESD is promoted in Japanese schools, this will make Japan a global leader in education. d) ESD in the national curriculum standards Due to the fact that ESD is the perspective to create a sustainable society, ESD is currently integrated in the national curriculum for elementary, junior high, and high schools. Consequently, through different subjects like moral education and special activities, ESD is delivered at primary and secondary level across the nation. Putting this into practice effectively, the school as whole is required to take a planned approach towards that. Meanwhile the concept of ESD is integrated in the curriculum, a transformation in the children’s awareness and mindset can be achieved to build a sustainable society.

How Education is related to other SDG targets “The role of education for the success of the SDGs led to the creation of a single goal, SDG4, dedicated to education and the integration of education into other development goals to support their implementation.” In order to achieve all other development goals, including gender equality, health, nutrition and environmental sustainability, quality education is required. Therefore, all sustainable development goals come down to education. 2To date, ESD has been integrated into many global frameworks and conventions on key sustainable development topics.

Methodology This section clarifies and explains ways of integrating Education for Sustainable Development across different subjects and areas of the curriculum. This section also reveals how ESD is related to all educational objectives and how it can integrated into the celebrations in the school calendar.

Model of Curriculum “If the curriculum is defined as the sum of all formal and informal teaching and learning experiences provided by a school”, then Education for Sustainable Development is a subject to be affirmed in every aspect of the school life, rather than adding it to the curriculum as a new subject. The figure below (fig.01) is the model of the school’s curriculum. All the elements included in this curriculum affect the academic experiences of young people in schools.

Interdisciplinary teaching and learning “Meaningful learning requires students to integrate ideas from many different perspectives rather than compartmentalize what they learn into discrete ‘boxes’ of knowledge”. In order to do that effectively, teachers have to be skilled and trained to integrate knowledge from various sources and disciplines. Finding solutions for the issues our society is facing rely mainly on the input gathered from many specializations. Consequently, to solve problems in the world it is required to have a variety of specialists working together. The same concept can be reflected inside classrooms where disciplines should be more combined rather than separated. Through the topics and examples teachers choose, they can emphasize interdisciplinary teaching and learning in their classes. However, coordination and cooperation between teachers is really important for the students to be given a chance to integrate knowledge across different subjects throughout their educational stages. The case study below provides an example how this can be done. Case study: Class investigation of local traffic problems. “Traffic had been very bad outside a school for a long time. So, a teacher and her class of 12-year old students carried out an investigation into the need for a pedestrian crossing to make it safer for people to cross the road. The students first decided to carry out a survey to count the numbers of vehicles travelling in both directions. They calculated the average speed of the vehicles, the percentage of those exceeding the speed limit and the percentage of drivers that would have been unable to stop within a reasonable distance. The students also counted the number of pedestrians crossing and identified peak times. The results of the traffic survey were displayed in the form of bar charts and graphs. The findings were compared with the local authority’s guidelines for the provision of pedestrian crossings. The students then wrote a report on the degree of risk involved in crossing the road to reach the school and the best location for the pedestrian crossing. They included data, figures, photographs and plans in their reports. The response of the local authority to date has not been encouraging. So, the students are now working with the local neighborhood association to press their case for action.”

Integration through educational objectives Many teachers are concerned about an over-loaded curriculum, because they always feel that the amount of material being put into this curriculum needs more time than given to be covered. As a result, many teachers prioritize covering the contents of key major subjects, such as language, mathematics, and sciences over cross-curriculum themes as Education for Sustainable Development. Despite that, many educational objectives like attitudes and skills are already common across most subjects in the curriculum. Students’ problem solving, critical thinking, communication, leadership and analysis skills will be improved when taught about sustainability. Therefore, teachers should look at this problem in a different way, as they are achieving educational objectives without overloading the curriculum. Examples of across-the-curriculum objectives that can be served by Education for Sustainable Development include:

a) Attitudes and Values

  • Care for the community.
  • Respect for the beliefs and opinions of others. § Respect for evidence and rational argument.
  • Tolerance and open-mindedness.

b) Skills

  • Communication skills: Expressing views through different media and arguing clearly and concisely
  • Numeracy skills: Collecting, classifying and analyzing data; and interpreting statistics.
  • Study skills: Retrieving, analyzing, interpreting and evaluating information from a variety of sources; and Organizing and planning a project.
  • Problem solving skills: Identifying causes and consequences of problems; and forming reasoned opinions and developing balanced judgements.
  • Personal and social skills: Working co-operatively with others; and taking individual and group responsibility.
  • Information technology skills: Collecting information and entering it into a database; and simulating an investigation using information technology.

Infusion into learning experiences in all subjects “Ideally, Education for Sustainable Development should permeate the entire school curriculum, with every subject area, at every year level, dealing with aspects of sustainability in some way.” As all subjects have an important role to play, some subjects have greater chances in such infusion than the others. The examples below illustrates ways on how the objectives and themes of ESD, the perspective which promotes learning for a sustainable future, can be infused into a various range of school subjects.

  • Mathematics The resolution of sustainability issues is frequently subjected to the gathering and examination of information, and the correspondence of results. Hence, Mathematics is a critical tool for this. Many numerical concepts can be illustrated by experiences and cases from the natural, social, economic and political environments.
  • Health and Physical Education “Health education is one of the most important subject areas in which to deal with various aspects of sustainability. Both physical and mental health are dependent upon high quality natural and built environments.” When planning a health education curriculum it is important to take into account certain topics like water and air pollution, the relationship between noise and health, as well as the need for healthy indoor and outdoor leisure activities. As physical education evolved over the years, the development of recreational skills has become its important part. For example, camping, fishing, canoeing and other outdoor activities. Through physical education some important topics have been discussed such as consumptive versus non-consumptive outdoor activities, the advantages and disadvantages of hunting, and the relationship of a quality environment to physical and mental health.
  • The Arts Through visual and performing arts, an aesthetic awareness to both natural and build environments can be developed. Therefore, artistic programs offered to students should include elements of the natural and built environment. ”The arts are a powerful medium through which ideas and feelings about sustainability can be expressed and can be the medium through which bonds among people and with the Earth can be strengthened.”

Celebrations in the school calendar One of the powerful ways to promote interest in a sustainable future is a regular program of celebrations in the school calendar, the reason why governments around the world agreed to specify certain days and weeks as times of remembrance and celebration for particular issues in which their crucial purpose is Education. Consequently, those celebrated days provide opportunities to educate for a sustainable future. For example:

  • February 2 – World Wetlands Day
  • May 1 – Workers’ Day
  • June 5 – World Environment Day
  • July 11 – World Population Day
  • September 16 – International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer


We as individuals living in a world where the population is growing and the natural resources are limited need to learn to live sustainably. The global issues the world is facing today related to the environment, poverty, human rights, peace, and development are becoming increasingly complex. Therefore, Education for Sustainable Development is one of the essential strategies to be implemented in schools in order to guide our children to resolve these global issues towards a better sustainable society. Even though many nations have adopted the importance for education to attain sustainability, only limited progress had been made on any level. There are many sources in which corporates with the lack of progress. It might either be due to lack of awareness, or due to lack of policy or funding. Therefore, governments need to address all the challenges and barriers to ESD in the planning stage in order to reduce or prevent the delay of implementing it in schools.

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