» Education for sustainability - 'Sydsvenska Dagblad' (Sweden)
20.06.2012 -

Education for sustainability - 'Sydsvenska Dagblad' (Sweden)

Article by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, Lena Ek, Minister for the Environment, Sweden, and Hirofumi Hirano, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan on the occasion of UNESCO’s side event on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) for Rio + 20.

Published in Sydsvenska Dagblad (Sweden) on 20 June 2012.

When the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami struck on 11 March 2011, almost all the elementary and junior high school children in the small coastal town of Kamaishi survived. Knowing how to react, the children hurried to higher ground. They survived, because they had been taught to react. The defence against such disasters lies in the minds of children and adults. It lies in skills. These hold the keys to the sustainable development of societies at a time of global change. Building these skills must start as early as possible – it must start on school benches.

A thousand miles from there, Lorna Down is a literature teacher in Jamaica. When she attended her first Education for Sustainable Development meeting, she did not understand how her discipline was related to sustainable development. Eventually, she realized she could weave this issue into her literature courses using the theme of violence, an important social sustainability issue for Jamaica. Today, her programme has been taken up by most teachers in colleges in Jamaica.

Those two very different stories have something in common – they show the importance of education for sustainable development.

As global leaders come together in Rio to lay the foundations for a more sustainable future, we must remind them that green growth cannot be achieved by economic and political agreements or technological solutions alone. There can be no sustainable development when risks erode progress, when inequalities and violence weaken societies, when quality education is not available to all girls and boys. Green growth will be sustainable if it is rooted in green societies, underpinned by the right knowledge, skills and values.

This is the purpose of education for sustainable development (ESD). Our ambitions are high, and this is only right. Education for sustainable development calls for the comprehensive revision of curricula, job qualifications and the learning objectives of educational programmes at all levels. It requires the development of relevant training and capacity-building for a wide variety of professionals. This is not easy, but it is worth every effort.

Imagine a group of students from a secondary school discussing climate change. After learning about the causes and effects of greenhouse gases on the earth’s atmosphere, students work in small groups on what they can do to reduce their individual carbon footprint. They develop a check-list on how to save energy at home and in class. They start planting native trees with their teacher on the school property. Learning about ecological contexts, they acquire social skills needed for green jobs. They are stimulated to think outside the box and experiment to test their new knowledge. Taking ownership of the project, these students then go on to inform the local community about their project and provide information to the school magazine and local newspaper. All of this will craft new skills for innovation that are essential for sustainable development.

This vision is a reality in schools across the planet. Sweden has made mandatory by law and national curriculum the teaching and learning of sustainable development at various levels within the education system. More than 800 professionals from 42 countries in Asia and Africa have taken part in training programmes funded by Sweden. Japan has integrated ESD into national curriculum guidelines (the Courses of Study) and the Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education. This country made the proposal to launch a United Nations Decade for Education for Sustainable Development at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002. The Decade came into being in 2005, with UNESCO as the lead United Nations agency. In connection with the launch of the decade, Sweden together with Russia, initiated a process on Education for Sustainable Development within the UNECE, resulting in a strategy that needs to be implemented. China has designated 1,000 schools as experimental schools for ESD and included ESD into the National Outline for Education Reform.

Education for sustainable development has come of age. Rio+20 is a chance to recognize this and build on it. To succeed, Rio+20 must harness the power of education to change lives and shape the future we need. The Millenium Development Goals (MDG) have played an important role in mobilizing the international community. Considerable progress has been made to achieve universal primary education. When the MDG’s expire in 2015, a new framework with global “Sustainable Development Goals” must renew and supplement the existing development agenda. We call for the inclusion of education for sustainable development within the post-2015 framework to be outlined in Rio.  

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