Education for Sustainability (EfS)
What: Students who are educated for sustainability, relate to the living and natural systems on Earth in a new way. They are equipped with knowledge, skills, perspectives and values that enable them to be active and responsible global citizens in a connected, ever-changing world. They are inspired to assert their influence as global stewards now and throughout life.
Education about sustainability is just one aspect of EfS, which all too often is taught by focusing on big current problems and UN-sustainability.
Why: Schools serve their communities. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of education; to maintain the status quo, or to prepare our young people to care for human health and happiness and the natural systems on which our life depends? With this comes economic prosperity. Students find this type of education to be more relevant and engaging, which motivates them and increases learning.
How: Education for Sustainability is rooted in systems thinking concepts and tools, and long-term thinking. It uses a 3E (Environment, Economy, social Equity) approach, the context of real-world issues and best teaching methods that engage students and connect them to their communities. Some topics needed to educate for sustainability tend to be partially or wholly left out of traditional education; the gaps need to be identified and addressed. Education for sustainability includes a quality education in the traditional core subjects.
There is no one “right” way to begin. Some strategies for individual teachers to get started in their classrooms include:
- Add a sustainability context to some portion of what you teach
- Encourage students to choose sustainability themes or contexts for their research projects
- Provide units or whole classes focused specifically on sustainability itself, and related topics
- Work with your students to implement sustainable practices and track sustainability performance in the classroom and school.
The ULTIMATE GOAL is that the elements of education for sustainability are systematically integrated into teaching and learning efforts with a systematic district-wide approach that includes the participation of all grade levels and all subjects, and delivered via all the strategies included above. The classroom effort is supported by the school and district facility, operations and systems as a model and learning laboratory, as well as the community itself. Each level of the education system can support EfS within the scope of its activities.
Ideally this is supported at the state and national levels.
Enabling Education for Sustainability
- See the learning opportunities listed on the Take Action-Stage 1 page.
- Learn about sustainability with and from your students.
School and District
- Provide professional development for educators and other school staff.
- Provide educators with resources and curriculum to teach for sustainability, and integrate them into the foundation of the school and district Teaching and Learning program.
- Develop the school facility as a learning tool and sustainability model.
- Integrate Education for Sustainability into pre-service education through colleges of education.
State Departments of Education
- Ensure that state standards incorporate the needed elements to educate for sustainability.
In 2009 the US Partnership’s K-12 sector team created the 1st Annual National Sustainability Education Week, to take place each year during the 2nd week of November. Each year they draft a resolution and call on Governors to sign it and proclaim this to be Sustainability Education Week within their state.
Agenda 21, the plan developed at the Rio Earth Summit, included an implementation section which delves into education for sustainability: Chapter 36, “Promoting Education, Public Awareness and Training”. Education was considered to be so important that it was the only means singled out in 2002 for a United Nations Decade. The U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is serving as the lead agency of this Decade for Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014), and nations are being encouraged to establish their own Decade-oriented initiatives.
The Decade encompasses the four major thrusts of education for sustainability first articulated in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21:
- Improve access to quality education
- Reorient existing education programs
- Develop public understanding and awareness of sustainability; and
- Provide practical training.
The international implementation plan for the Decade asserts that Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) should not be equated with environmental education, but rather encompass it and go beyond it, or that ESD cannot be taught as an independent subject, but should be infused throughout the curriculum and the disciplines. They define Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as being about learning to:
- Respect, value and preserve the achievements of the past;
- Appreciate the wonders and the peoples of the Earth;
- Live in a world where all people have sufficient food for a healthy and productive life;
- Assess, care for and restore the state of our Planet;
- Create and enjoy a better, safer, more just world;
- Be caring citizens who exercise their rights and responsibilities locally, nationally and globally.
The US initiative for the Decade, was founded in 2003. It is a grass roots movement working outside of federal government policy and priorities. It is managed by an executive team, and built on the work of action teams and sector teams (including higher education, K-12, faith community, youth, and living institutions).
Currently the most educated societies are leaving the deepest ecological-footprints. If all societies were to develop in the same way it would require FOUR EARTHs, which would seem to indicate that education needs to be re-oriented.