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Education for Sustainable Development: Learning to Live Together

In November, UNESCO hosted the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan. In light of the approaching conclusion of the UN Decade of ESD (2005-2014), the conference sought to create a roadmap for new sustainable development objectives and action areas going forward. One clear need, among many, is to continue increasing awareness of ESD for educators—to many it remains an unfamiliar concept. Today, Faye Snodgress, Executive Director of Kappa Delta Pi, shares the inspiring results of work being done in Manitoba.

By guest blogger Faye Snodgress

Increased Engagement and Motivation
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a way of teaching that aspires to educate students so that they can create a better world for all. It employs approaches that are learner-centered, problem-based, and focused on real-world contexts. This vision for educational systems encourages equity and inclusion, quality learning, flexibility, interdisciplinary teaching, and innovation. It also resonates with one of UNESCO's four pillars of learning: learning to live together. 

In 2004, the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Manitoba, Canada declared ESD to be one of the province's top education priorities and as of 2014, ESD has been adopted in a majority of school districts in Manitoba. The understanding of ESD in Manitoba schools is that it "helps prepare our students for a sustainable future by ensuring that they are environmentally responsible, globally aware, economically astute, socially responsible, and technologically proficient citizens who are capable of coping with the emerging challenges and opportunities we are facing now and will continue to face in the future." Manitoba's survey results (soon to be published), suggest that the integration of ESD contributes to increased engagement of school administrators, the development of necessary student life skills and social competencies, higher levels of student motivation, and a stronger connection between schools and their communities.

Global Themes
To fulfill Manitoba's mission of ensuring that "every learner experiences success through relevant, engaging, and high-quality education that prepares them for lifelong learning and citizenship in a democratic, socially just, and sustainable society," all 12th-grade students take a course titled "Global Issues: Citizenship and Sustainability." In this course, students explore what is meant by the term global citizenship. Citizenship is typically thought of within the context of a nation or culture. Considering democratic citizenship through the lens of sustainability leads naturally to the idea of global citizenship, which acknowledges the fundamental, universal, and equal rights of all human beings.

There are many other examples of how Manitoba schools have integrated ESD successfully at all grade levels. In Winnipeg, the adoption of Dr. Catherine O'Brien's book Sustainable Happiness, which discusses the connection between sustainability and happiness, has had a profound impact on the culture of Crestview School. Mrs. Sandra Simonson, then principal of the K-5 school, observed, "Sustainability is not something that is 'done' at school. It is a belief and has become a way of living for our students, staff, and their families." At Crestview, teachers engage their students in cross-curricular discussions of current events and issues, such as water stewardship and the consequences of one's actions on others, whether locally or globally. Students have been involved in the greening of their schoolyard, and they gain valuable hands-on experience through interacting with the environment during regular outdoor classroom time.

Ongoing Challenges and Opportunities for Professional Development
Although the Manitoba report speaks to the positive effects of ESD on student learning, it also notes areas that would benefit from additional attention, including providing ongoing professional development for teachers and administrators, assisting curriculum developers in their understanding of how to apply ESD strategies, and developing new forms of assessment.

There is much that can be learned from the successful implementation of ESD in Manitoba schools and its positive impact on the delivery of quality education. Now is the time to push for the integration of ESD in U.S. schools and teacher preparation programs. As the primary entity responsible for the preparation of new teachers and for providing ongoing professional development for teachers already in the field, teacher education institutions play a vital role in the development of sustainability-literate citizens. In pockets of innovation around the country, teacher educators have begun to address education for sustainability in the preservice and advanced professional development of teachers. Today, viable strategies and models for integrating education for sustainability into the professional development of teachers exist and provide clear evidence of a transformed teacher-education system that successfully addresses sustainability. However, education for sustainability is not yet a prominent feature of teacher education in the United States. It must be embedded into the process of learning to become a teacher, and individuals at all levels of the teacher education enterprise must become engaged with it.

The promise of ESD goes well beyond mastering specific content areas and disciplinary approaches. Rather, it employs an essential lens of social, economic, and environmental interconnectedness for understanding and acting upon global challenges and opportunities. ESD encompasses the passionate dedication to nurturing lifelong learning and serving the common good as citizens of a community, country, and world.  

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