What is an Education for Sustainable Development Supposed to Achieve— A Question of What, How and Why

Education for Sustainable Development involves a comprehensive approach to educational reform. It extends beyond the boundaries of individual school subjects and requires the attention of teachers, educational administrators, planners and curriculum agencies. Integrating the objectives, concepts and learning experiences of Education for Sustainable Development into syllabuses and teaching programmes is an important part of such reform.

In order to achieve sustainability in society, the role of education has been found to be of central importance. Theoretically, ESD can be integrated into all appropriate disciplines. Every single discipline can provide perspective, values and skills that together constitute a holistic ESD.

An article from the Journal of Education for Sustainable Development discusses what an education for sustainable development is supposed to achieve and how teachers can help students to develop skills that might be needed in order to support a sustainable future. Even as international organizations, states and governments advocate a change of the educational system to educate for sustainable development, the change remains at a rhetorical level. If one wants to change the society and education, one of the cornerstones to start with is the education and training of already qualified teachers and teacher educators. This requires a change both in education and in teacher education. If sustainable development is not integrated in teacher education, how will new teachers be able to teach sustainable development?

Paradoxically, in Agenda 21 (United Nation’s (UN) document on Sustainable Development), the greatest attention is placed on education, which is considered as a key for a sustainable future, while it is education as it exists today that to some extent contributes to the untenable situation the society is considered to be in. To educate for sustainable development, we must first bring about radical changes in the education system. Education is an opportunity for change towards sustainability, but the stakes are high and are based on systems thinking and understanding of sustainable development and its different dimensions and aspects. 

A deeper understanding and a focus on education are needed instead of only deploying courses in sustainable development and then consider it integrated. Sustainable education requires a change in our current mindset, the purpose of education should be shifted from preparation for economic life to a broader education for a sustainable society, sustainable ecology and sustainable economy

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