Worldly Education: Almost Halfway through the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, the Move towards Green Learning Is Gathering Steam

By Los, Fraser | Alternatives Journal, November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

Worldly Education: Almost Halfway through the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, the Move towards Green Learning Is Gathering Steam


Los, Fraser, Alternatives Journal


IN DECEMBER 2002, the United Nations declared the period from 2005 to 2014 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). As with any global endeavour, eloquent proclamations about the initiative are easy to find. Just take a look at the DESD website, which is constantly updated with glowing pronouncements explaining the UN's mission to infuse sustainability into education curricula worldwide.

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The goals for sustainability education are as exciting as they are bold, calling, to some degree, for a redefinition of education in the 21st century. The lead agency responsible for this monumental effort, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), seeks to integrate sustainability education with related global initiatives, such as the Millennium Development Goals, the Education for All movement and the United Nations Literacy Decade. While these projects all strive for universal access to education, DESD focuses "on the content and purpose of education," aiming to reorient it towards sustainable development.

Four years into the Decade, it is time to look for examples of practical initiatives that put these ideals into concrete action. Although it has not yet caught up to the lofty rhetoric in the DESD's mandate, the move towards sustainability education is gathering steam and making real progress throughout the world.

POST-secondary schools, in particular, possess enormous potential for positive change in the sustainability sphere. Offering targeted courses and original research on environmental and sustainability studies, they represent society's greatest chance to influence sustainable education from a theoretical standpoint.

Higher-learning campuses are microcosms of sustainability planning in action. With the energy of students and expertise of world-class researchers, post-secondary institutions possess the tools to excel at sustainable operations, as well as the economic clout to positively affect surrounding communities. In short, they present extensive opportunities to link the major pillars of sustainable development: environmental issues, social concerns and economic development.

Sweden, for example, a country known for both its free tuition and expertise in sustainability, now showcases several innovative programs featuring systems thinking and transdisciplinary approaches to learning. The Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH), in Karlskrona, incorporates sustainability into all of its operations, even offering students the world's first MSc degree in Sustainable Product Development.

At BTH, students can earn their Master's in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability, an English-taught international program introduced in 2004. The program uses science-based approaches to sustainability planning, applying the Natural Step framework pioneered by Swedish scientist KarlHenrik Robert, one of the program's founders. It features a "leadership training" component in which students develop practical skills for implementing sustainable management procedures and work with "multicultural stakeholders" to practice facilitation and coaching techniques.

Not to be outdone, India has perhaps taken the DESD more seriously than any other nation. The Centre for Environment Education (CEE), with regional offices throughout the vast nation, has been developing original programs for teaching institutions for 24 years. The CEE's environmental and sustainability expertise--over 450 educational resources in more than 20 languages--includes curriculum developers for college and university educators, along with posters, videos and textbooks, providing teachers with all the tools they need to teach sustainability.

As part of the Decade, the CEE is offering training programs in sustainability education, including "Green Teacher," a distance-learning program for educators looking to inject environmental principles into their curricula. …

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