17.06.2012 - Education Sector

Education for sustainability: governments get the message

© UNESCO/Camacho Urtiaga, A.

Governments are getting the message when it comes to education for sustainable development (ESD). In the week of RIO+20, and with two years left in the UNESCO-led UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014), countries all over the world are showing an upsurge of activities and an increased commitment to integrating ESD into education curricula.

China includes ESD in its medium and long-term education planning; Swedish universities are legally obliged to teach sustainable development; the Canadian province of Manitoba is reorienting its schools towards ESD; Germany has officially designated over 2,500 official ESD projects. Japan now includes ESD in its national curriculum guidelines. All in all, around 70 countries have explicitly supported ESD and 71 have established a national ESD coordination body. Many believe that education for green economies must increasingly be part of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes. 

On the regional and international levels, 80 universities in 40 African countries have worked together to integrate ESD into their teaching, and teacher education institutions from 60 countries are cooperating to reorient teacher education to address sustainable development.

Other UN agencies are increasingly taking up the cause of ESD as a means to face challenges to sustainable development, such as climate change.  

Despite these success stories, ESD is far from being universally adopted. Individual projects, as excellent as many of them are, frequently remain to be scaled up.

“UNESCO will not tire in making the case for education, in particular education for a sustainable future”, declared Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who is making the case for education at two ESD side-events in Rio.

A forthcoming report, which UNESCO will launch at the conference, details qualitative developments in DESD and proposes future directions. Entitled Shaping the Education of Tomorrow: The 2012 Report on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, it is rich in examples of good practice and success stories such as the UNESCO-UNEP YouthXchange initiative on sustainable consumption, in over 45 countries, or the Sandwatch project in the Caribbean whereby schoolchildren monitor the quality of their beaches and which has been replicated in several coastal regions of the world.  

“RIO+20 must succeed, and this success must include a strong focus on education,” says Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. “UNESCO is committed to placing education at the heart of RIO+20, with an importance that is appropriately reflected in the Outcome Document”.

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