Skip main navigation

Hurry, only 4 days left to get one year of Unlimited learning for £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

International initiatives on ESD

What are the key intenational policy frameworks for education for sustainable development? Read this short article for an introduction.
UN Sustainable Development Goals

Click to expand UN Sustainable Development Goals image

Now that we have explored the diverse ways in which the global and the local interact, it’s helpful to also look at the range of international educational initiatives that seek to engage educators and students with these.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an important set of contemporary global targets for the international community to achieve by 2030. These include 17 wide-reaching goals relating to education, hunger, poverty, inequality, gender, sustainability and peace.

Of particular interest for this course is Goal 4.7 which states: By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.

The target is to be assessed against the following indicator: Extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed at all levels in: (a) national education policies, (b) curricula, (c) teacher education and (d) student assessment.

UNESCO’s recent Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development (2021) similarly sees education as playing a key role in achieving the SDGs:

We are confident that Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), anchored in SDG 4.7 and as an enabler for all 17 SDGs, is the foundation for the required transformation, providing everyone with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to become change agents for sustainable development. ESD enables learners to develop their cognitive and non-cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and competences for collaboration, problem solving, coping with complexity and risk, building resilience, thinking systemically and creatively, and empowering them to take responsible action as citizens, fulfilling their right to quality education as defined in SDG 4. We believe that ESD must be based on and promote respect for nature, as well as human rights, democracy, the rule of law, non-discrimination, equity and gender equality. In addition, it should promote intercultural understanding, cultural diversity, a culture of peace and non-violence, inclusion and the notion of responsible and active global citizenship.

The Declaration also calls for the integration of ESD ‘into all levels of education and training from early childhood to tertiary and adult education, including technical and vocational education and training (TVET), and into non-formal education and informal learning, so that all individuals are provided with lifelong and life-wide learning opportunities for sustainable development’.

This integration will require educational institutions and educators at all levels – from early years through primary, secondary and higher education – to embed ESD within teaching and learning. However, we know from research that training for educators on how to do this is often limited or non -existent. As a result, educators can be either unaware of education for sustainable development or feel insufficiently prepared or confident to include it in their practice. International organisations such as UNESCO, however, provide resources to support educators with these concerns, some of which you might find it helpful to explore:

UNESCO Education for the Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives [For educators at all levels.]

UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development: A Roadmap [For educators at all levels.)

UNESCO Schools in action, global citizens for sustainable development: A guide for teachers

UNESCO Schools in action, global citizens for sustainable development: A guide for students

This article is from the free online

Educating for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Schools and Universities

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now