A new global framework on ESD This new international framework aims to promote ESD as a key element of quality education and a key enabler of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Robert J. Didham
The 40th session of UNESCO General Conference (November 2019) adopted a new global framework on ESD, called ‘Education for Sustainable Development: Towards achieving the SDGs’ or ESD for 2030. This new international framework aims to promote ESD as a key element of quality education and a key enabler of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
ESD for 2030 focuses on five priority action areas: Advancing Policy, Transforming learning and training environments, Building capacities of educators and trainers, Empowering and mobilizing youth, and Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level. It also positions the future of ESD in relation to 3 points of critical reflection on how ESD is implemented and its desired outcomes.
The first is on Transformative action and encouraging learners to undertake transformative actions for sustainability in their daily lives. The second is on Structural changes. While the previous point focusses on what is happening at the individual level, it is also necessary that ESD explores and deals with the deeper structural and systemic challenges for sustainable development if individual’s transformative decisions and experience are to lead to wider social change.
The third point is on the technological future and acknowledges that major technological shifts will change not only our lives and environments, but also our discourse on sustainability. Some “old” problems will be resolved, but new challenges and risks will also arise. The way that education works with these shifts needs to remain relevant and timely.
Quality education for sustainable development is about what people learn, its relevance to today’s world and global challenges, and how learners develop the skills and attitudes to respond to such challenges and prosper, now and for future generations. (UNESCO, 2014)
ESD for 2030 also places stronger emphasis on the role of national governments in contextualising ESD within their own curriculum context, engaging diverse stakeholders for its implementation, and to establish initiatives to strengthen learning and engagement with the SDGs.
In fact, countries are called upon to pilot and develop their own multi-stakeholder learning initiatives and to emphasise the noted role of local communities as a “nodal platform” where synergies between all priority action areas can be achieved. Countries are also encouraged to further bridge between formal, non-formal and informal education levels, as well as to strengthen the links between school-based and community-based learning activities.
ESD at the core of Quality Education
The UNESCO World Conference on ESD – Learn for our Planet. Act for Sustainability was held digitally on 17-19 May 2021, hosted by the German government. During this conference, there was a notable change in the discussions around how ESD is position within wider education systems and curriculums.
The previous discussions about ESD as a thematic add-on were nearly absent, and in its place was an important discussion about ESD at the core of quality education and a foundation of modern education systems. During the ministerial roundtable, many of the 80 national delegations that spoke about their countries’ commitments to ESD emphasised its role in promoting quality educations, as well as a key means of implementation for the SDGs.
Further highlighting ESD’s role in creating transformative learning, during the conference summary Prof. Arjen Wals also noted this change in recognition of ESD from the periphery to the centre of education conversation, and he stated that now “ESD is a catalyst to reorganize the entire way the school operates”.
Norwegian Minister of Education and Integration, Guri Melby, provided several remarks on how Norway is strongly committed to promoting both ESD and the SDGs. She highlighted Fagfornyelsen and LK20 as an important point for integrating sustainable development throughout the national curriculum.
She also commented though that the country needs to look further than schools when addressing learning for sustainable development and that ESD initiatives need to engage a wider number of stakeholders in this process. Guri Melby also pointed to work on sustainable development that is happening in higher education, including the work of the Committee on Agenda 2030 in Higher Education and the SDG Conference Bergen.
In addition, she highlighted the fact that the Higher Education Act in Norway is being revised to more explicitly state the need for institutions to actively incorporate and address the SDGs. Finally, she commented on the forthcoming SDG White Paper that would further elaborate Norway’s strategy on SDGs and reinforce its commitments to supporting international development, with education being of particular importance.