What is Education for Sustainable Development?

Sustainability Education is often referred to as Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which has been defined as:

UNESCO, 2014

"Education for Sustainable Development allows every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.

Education for Sustainable Development means including key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning; for example, climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction, and sustainable consumption.

It also requires participatory teaching and learning methods that motivate and empower learners to change their behaviour and take action for sustainable development. Education for Sustainable Development consequently promotes competencies like critical thinking, imagining future scenarios and making decisions in a collaborative way.

Education for Sustainable Development requires far-reaching changes in the way education is often practised today."

Council of the European Union, 2010

"ESD is essential for the achievement of a sustainable society and is therefore desirable at all levels of formal education and training, as well as in non-formal and informal learning."  

Sustainable Development Education Panel Report, 1998

"ESD is about the learning needed to maintain and improve our quality of life and the quality of life of generations to come ... ESD enables people to develop the knowledge, values and skills to participate in decisions about the way we do things individually and collectively, both locally and globally, that will improve the quality of life now without damaging the planet for the future."

Sustainability in the curriculum

At Plymouth, we take the approach that there is no definitive knowledge content that should be included in a curriculum addressing sustainability or sustainable development. Rather, following Tilbury & Wortman (2004), we point to indicative curricular themes that may be more or less relevant to each disciplinary area and which might be used and adapted as ‘entry points’ to develop sustainability education further. 

Environmental sustainability Economic sustainability Social sustainability
Natural resources management Alternative futures Sustainable communities
Food and farming Leadership and change Cultural diversity
Ecological systems Learning organisations Intercultural understanding
Waste / water / energy Corporate Social Responsibility Sustainability in the built environment
Biodiversity Consumerism and trade Travel, transport and mobility
Climate change Globalisation of economy Health and wellbeing
Accountability and ethics Peace, security and conflict
International development Citizenship, government, democracy
Sustainable and ethical tourism Human rights and needs
Population

Pedagogical approaches in ESD

There is no ‘correct’ pedagogy for sustainability education, but there is a broad consensus that it requires a shift towards active, participative, and experiential learning methods that engage the learner and make a real difference to their understanding, thinking and ability to act.

We've identified five pedagogic elements that cover a host of pedagogical approaches or methods that staff at Plymouth might use to bring these elements into the learning environment. 

1. Critical reflection – including the more traditional lecture, but also newer approaches such as reflexive accounts, learning journals, and discussion groups.

2. Systemic thinking and analysis – the use of real-world case studies and critical incidents, project-based learning, stimulus activities, and the use of the campus as a learning resource.

3. Participatory learning – with emphasis on group or peer learning, developing dialogue, experiential learning, action research/learning to act, and developing case studies with local community groups and business

4. Thinking creatively for future scenarios – by using role play, real-world inquiry, futures visioning, problem-based learning, and providing space for emergence.

5. Collaborative learning – including contributions from guest speakers, work-based learning, interdisciplinary/ multidisciplinary working, and collaborative learning and co-inquiry.