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Author's note

What is E S D?
Reorienting Education
Localizing the Global Initiative
Challenges and Barriers to E S D
Community Sustainability Goals
Case Study: Toronto, Canada Board of Education
Managing Change
Public Participation
Concluding remarks
Tools to Introduce the Concept of Sustainable Development
Tools to Create Community Goals
Tools to Reorient Education to Address Sustainability
Tools for Managing Change
Web resources

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While many nations around the world have embraced the need for education to achieve sustainability, only limited progress has been made on any level. This lack of progress stems from many sources. In some cases, a lack of vision or awareness has impeded progress. In others, it is a lack of policy or funding. According to Charles Hopkins, who has spoken with people at many levels of involvement in education (i.e., ministers of education, university professors, K - 12 teachers, and students), twelve major issues stymied the advance of ESD during the 1990s and new millennium. By addressing these critical impediments in the planning stage, governments can prevent or reduce delays or derailment of ESD efforts and, ultimately, the attainment of sustainability. In addition to these generic issues, governments at all levels will need to address issues that are specific to local conditions (e.g., the quality of the relationship between the school governors and the teacher union).

Issue 1 - Increasing Awareness: ESD is Essential

The initial step in launching an ESD program is to develop awareness within the educational community and the public that reorienting education to achieve sustainability is essential. If government officials or school district administrators are unaware of the critical linkages between education and sustainable development, reorienting education to address sustainable development will not occur. When people realize that education can improve the likelihood of implementing national policies, regional land and resource management programs, and local programs, then education is in a position to be reoriented to help achieve sustainability. This awareness forms the essential first step in the reorienting process.

Fortunately, at the international level, ESD is recognized as important and central to the success of sustainable development around the world. At the sixth meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, delegations from countries worldwide repeatedly mentioned the importance of ESD in achieving goals of sustainability. It was apparent that they were ready to move forward with the next steps; however, the importance of ESD must reach beyond the delegations and permeate the educational community and the general public.

Inherent in building awareness are efforts to outline important linkages between education and more sustainable societies (e.g., increases in female literacy reduces birthrates and improves family quality of life).

In large part, perceiving a need brings about a corresponding change in educational systems. Unfortunately, the need to achieve sustainable development is not perceived today as sufficiently important to spark a large response in the educational community. If leaders at all levels of governance are to make progress, the recognition and active involvement of the education sector is imperative.

Response to an Educational Crisis

The "space race" brought about massive reform in science and mathematics education in the late 1950s and 1960s in the United States. The federal government was determined to create the scientific and engineering work force necessary to create a successful space exploration program. The National Science Foundation, professional organizations, and textbook publishers invested millions of dollars into rewriting curriculums, developing and publishing new textbooks, training teachers, and equipping school laboratories. The reform accomplished its goal in improving science and mathematics instruction and producing scientists and engineers to support the space program and a technical society.

Issue 2 - Structuring and Placing ESD in the Curriculum

Each country faces a fundamental decision in addressing an ESD strategy. Each country must decide on a method of implementation—whether to create another "add on" subject, (e.g., Sustainable Development, Environmental Education, or Population Education) or to reorient entire education programs and practices to address sustainable development. Nations also need to clarify whether their educators are being asked to teach about sustainable development or to change the goals and methods of education to achieve sustainable development. The answer to this question will profoundly affect each nation's course of action.

In reality, education related to sustainable development will be implemented in a wide range, in both depth and breadth. In some communities, ESD will be ignored; in others it will be barely addressed. In some, a new class dedicated to ESD will be created, and in others the entire curriculum will be reoriented to address sustainability. Communities must be aware of the limitations of educating about sustainable development. Teaching about sustainable development is like teaching the theory behind an abstract concept or teaching the principles of sustainability by rote memorization. ESD in its real and effective forms gives students the skills, perspectives, values, and knowledge to live sustainably in their communities. At the same time, true education is not indoctrination or inculcation.

Experimentation will determine what level of ESD will be appropriate and successful for communities to meet their sustainability goals. For example, a community may weave a few themes of sustainability into the curriculum, only to find the additions will not achieve sustainability for their community. In cases where schools carry total responsibility for ESD, complete curricular reorientation of education at all levels will probably be necessary. In communities where informal, nonformal, and formal education unite to create an integrated ESD program for citizens of all ages, a less intense approach in the formal education system might be effective. As programs are developed and implemented, problems will occur. Flaws and questionable practices will need to be addressed as ESD continues to develop and mature.

Issue 3 - Linking to Existing Issues: Educational Reform and Economic Viability

The effectiveness of the world's educational systems is already critically debated in light of the changing needs of society. The current widespread acknowledgment of the need for educational reform may help advance ESD. If it can be linked to one or more priorities of educational reform, ESD could have a good chance for success. However, if promoters try to add another issue to an already over-burdened system, the chances of success are slim.

One current global concern that has the potential to drive educational reform in many countries is economic security. Around the world, ministries of education and commerce are asking: What changes will prepare a workforce that will make my country economically viable in the changing economy of the new millennium?

One educational effort that can boost the economic potential of entire nations is educating females. During the last decade, some national leaders have recognized that educating the entire workforce, both males and females, is important for economic viability. In addition, Lawrence Summer of the World Bank says,"Once all the benefits are recognized, investments in the education of girls may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world" (King and Hill, 1993, p vii). Accordingly, some nations are removing barriers to girls attending school and have campaigns to actively enroll girls in school.

Further, aligning education with future economic conditions is difficult, because economic and technological forecasting is an art based on imprecise science. Answers are elusive.

To be successful, ESD will need to catch the wave of educational reform. ESD proponents need to identify and illustrate the linkages between the principles of sustainability and the long-term economic well-being of each nation. If ESD can be linked to the current global educational reform movement, educating for sustainability will be swept along with the energy of the reform effort. If, however, the wave is missed, proponents of ESD will be looking for a foothold in the curriculum and trying to convince teachers to wedge sustainability principles, knowledge, issues, skills, values, and perspectives wherever possible. Linking to the reform movement can guarantee ESD to every child in school, while inserting ESD into the curriculum will be left to the whim of individual teachers. In the case of the latter, ESD will be characterized by huge gaps or possible redundancies.

The International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century, which was chaired by Jacques Delors, released its report, LEARNING: The Treasure Within, to UNESCO. The report strongly recommends that all reform be conducted in the spirit and essence of sustainable development and calls for the full-fledged pursuit of reorienting education to attain sustainability. Accordingly, ESD and goals for sustainability have a legitimate place in whatever changes emerge from national or regional educational reform efforts.

Issue 4 - Facing the Complexity of Sustainable Development Concept

Sustainable development is a complex and evolving concept. Many scholars and practitioners have invested years in trying to define sustainable development and envisioning how to achieve it on national and local levels. Because sustainable development is hard to define and implement, it is also difficult to teach. Even more challenging is the task of totally reorienting an entire education system to achieve sustainability.

When we examine successful national education campaigns, we find they often have simple messages. For example, messages that encourage us to vaccinate our children and boil our water, or discourage us from driving drunkand taking drugs, are simple concepts compared to the complex range of environmental, economic, and social issues that sustainable development encompasses. Success in ESD will take much longer and be more costly than single-message public-education campaigns.

National Education Campaigns

When we examine successful national education campaigns, we find they often have simple messages. For example, AIDS education focuses on prevention. The message is, "people can prevent the spread of the HIV virus by taking certain precautions." To convey this message, national governments, nonprofit organizations, and schools spend millions of dollars. The AIDS prevention message is extremely simple. Nevertheless, AIDS is on the rise in many countries, not because the education programs are ineffective, but because the problem is complex.

Rather than being clear, simple, and unambiguous, the concepts involved in ESD are complex. Their complexity stems from the intricate and complicated interactions of natural and human systems. The challenge to educators is to derive messages that illustrate such complexity, without overwhelming or confusing the learner.

Issue 5 - Developing an ESD Program with Community Participation

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to reorienting the world's educational systems is the lack of clarity regarding goals. In simple terms, those who will be called upon to educate differently (e.g., the world's 59,000,000 teachers or agricultural instructors or water-treatment trainers) eventually will ask, "What am I to do differently?" "What should I do or say now that I didn't say before?" These simple questions leave most "experts" in a quandary and the questioner without an adequate response.

Education for sustainable development remains an enigma to many governments and schools. Governments, ministries of education, school districts, and educators have expressed a willingness to adopt ESD programs; however, no successful working models currently exist. Without models to adapt and adopt, governments and schools must create a process to define what education for sustainability is with respect to the local context. Such a process is challenging. It calls for a public participation process in which all of the stakeholders in a community carefully examine what they want their children to know, do, and value when they leave the formal education system. This means that the community must try to predict the environmental, economic, and social conditions of the near and distant future.

Public participation processes whereby stakeholders examine the needs and desires of a community and identify essential elements of basic and secondary education can be adapted and implemented in many types of communities. Seeking the opinions of parents and workers to shape the education of their children will be a totally new idea in some cultures. Although community consultation and other forms of public participation can be effective tools, they should be introduced slowly and in accordance with local traditions and cultures where they have not been used previously. However valuable, the community consultation process is not without pitfalls. For example, an organized, educated, and articulate few might dominate the process; people who have received little formal education may not feel they have the expertise to take part in or contribute to the process; and the worldviews and life experiences of some people might prevent them from perceiving or accommodating the changes that will come to all regions of the planet in the coming decades. In these cases, how the outcome of the process is used becomes important. A continuum of implementation exists, ranging from ruthlessly implementing the results of a skewed process to totally ignoring the outcomes of the process. The interpretative, political, and interpersonal skills of the implementation team are key in this effort.

ESD carries with it the inherent idea of implementing programs that are locally relevant and culturally appropriate. Just as any sustainable development program must take into consideration the local environmental, economic, and societal conditions, so too must ESD programs consider these same conditions. As a result, each region must create its own ESD program. It is impossible to create an international, or even in many cases a national, curriculum that would be relevant to all communities.

It should be apparent to ministries of education and school districts that developing locally relevant ESD curriculums will be facilitated by creating public participation processes that allow communities to shape the major ideas underpinning their own curriculums. Rather than spending time searching for curricular models to adapt, it would be better to invest time and resources in developing processes by which communities of different sizes and traditions can define their own ESD programs.

Issue 6 - Engaging Traditional Disciplines in a Transdisciplinary Framework

ESD by nature is holistic and interdisciplinary and depends on concepts and analytical tools from a variety of disciplines. As a result, ESD is difficult to teach in traditional school settings where studies are divided and taught in a disciplinary framework. In countries where national curriculums describe in detail the content and sequence of study in each discipline, ESD will be challenging to implement. In other countries where content is described generally, ESD will be more easily implemented, although doing so will require creative teachers who are comfortable and skilled at teaching across disciplines.

Issue 7 - Sharing the Responsibility

Popular thinking promotes the myth that an informed society is solely the responsibility of the ministry of education. In reality, however, the ministries of environment, commerce, state, and health also have a stake in ESD, just as they have a stake in sustainable development. By combining expertise, resources, and funding from many ministries, the possibility of building a high-quality, successful education program increases.

Every sector of the government that is touched by sustainable development (i.e., every ministry and department) can play a role in ESD and the reorienting process. At the UN meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development, ministries of the environment have taken the lead in stating that education, awareness, and training are essential tools in bringing about sustainable development. Ministries of the environment need to work with both formal and nonformal sectors of the education community to implement ESD. In addition, it is absolutely essential for teachers to be involved in the process of building consensus concerning ESD.

Issue 8 - Building Human Capacity

The successful implementation of a new educational trend will require responsible, accountable leadership and expertise in both systemic educational change and sustainable development. We must develop realistic strategies to quickly create knowledgeable and capable leadership. It is unrealistic to expect nations to retrain 59,000,000 teachers and thousands of administrators in either - or both - ESD and educational change. We must find ways, such as employing the strengths model, to use existing skills.

Two models of human resource development currently exist - inservice training and pre-service training. In the first, experienced professionals are provided with additional training. Then, they reshape existing programs by drawing on their new knowledge, previous expertise, understanding of national and local systems, and network of contacts. In pre-service training, concepts, principles, and methodologies are provided during initial training. The new professionals then step into their jobs with ESD as part of their expertise. Pre-service training is more cost effective than retraining educators and administrators later in their careers. For initial success in ESD, both inservice and pre-service training are necessary. Many resources currently exist in the educational and administrative labor pools. Talented educators, especially in the fields of environment, population, and development, already teach strands of ESD and could easily expand their focus to include other concepts of sustainable development. Fortunately, every educator in every discipline has some existing strength to contribute to ESD via the strengths model. In this approach, the synergistic strengths of combined educational disciplines can convey the knowledge, issues, skills, perceptions, and values associated with ESD. However, use of this strengths model requires that someone be sufficiently well-versed in ESD to pull together the pieces and to form a complete picture of the role that individuals, communities, and nations must play in a sustainable world.

The following quote from Gro Harlem Brundtland emphasizes the importance of teachers in the ESD reorientation process.

But first and foremost our message [sustainable development] is directed towards people, whose well-being is the ultimate goal of all environment and development policies. In particular, the Commission is addressing the young. The world's teachers will have a central role to play in bringing this to them.

Foreword, Our Common Future, 1987.

While the effort can begin with the current teaching professionals around the globe, it is clear that teacher education institutions need to reorient pre-service teacher education to include ESD. Teacher education programs need to produce professionals who not only teach sustainability themes but also can "pull together" the various disciplinary strands that will give their students a holistic understanding of a sustainable future and the role of individuals, communities, and nations in a sustainable world. The development of this cadre of expertise will profoundly affect how rapidly nations will begin the move toward sustainability.

Institutions of teacher education are ideally situated to play central roles in educational reform, and teacher educators are the key change agents. Teacher educators train new teachers, provide professional development for practicing teachers, consult with local schools, and provide expert opinion to regional and national ministries of education. Teacher educators write not only pre-service teacher-education curriculum, but also contribute to committees that create teacher-education standards and officially mandated curriculum for primary and secondary education. Because of this broad influence in curriculum design, implementation, and policy setting, faculty members of teacher-education institutions can bring about far-reaching educational reform - even beyond training the teachers in the world. The question is, who will work with the teacher educators to develop their expertise?

To support global implementation of ESD, we need international cooperative programs for administrators, curriculum developers, teacher educators, and lead teachers. These programs should maximize and leverage the knowledge base and strengths already existing in the labor pool.

Model Inservice Program

Fortunately, excellent models of international cooperation exist for training professionals in new areas of expertise. One excellent program in Southeast Asia trains teacher educators to address ESD. It is called the Learning for a Sustainable Environment: Innovations in Teacher Education (LSE:ITE) project. Teacher educators from 29 countries are working with the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Centre of Educational Innovation for Development in Bangkok, Thailand, and Griffith University of Brisbane, Australia. The LSE:ITE project has two goals: First, it seeks to develop a model for providing effective professional development in the knowledge, skills, and values of environmental/sustainable development education for teacher educators throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Second, it seeks to provide carefully pilot-tested and culturally sensitive workshop materials that could be used as the basis for professional and curriculum development activities by teacher educators in Southeast Asia and in other parts of the world.

The LSE:ITE project created and supported an international network of volunteer teacher educators from throughout the region. Through the project, participants developed 10 workshop modules for teacher education. The volunteer participants engaged in an international process of creating materials, experimenting with innovative methodologies, sharing with colleagues, adapting materials for different cultural settings, evaluating, pilot testing, and refining the materials. For example, a teacher educator who wrote a module in her area of expertise was able to have it reviewed by members of a network of 70 colleagues in 20 countries. These colleagues reviewed the module and suggested adaptations and comments from their own societal perspectives. Next, the module was refined and sent to a larger network audience in nine additional countries, where it was reviewed, adapted for additional cultural settings, and field tested in this wider international context. Comments and results from the field testing were used to further refine the module and to assure its utility in many countries. The modules and accompanying case studies were published and disseminated through a central clearing house and will soon appear on the Internet. The modules are currently used in both pre-service and inservice teacher education programs throughout the Asia-Pacific region and have served as the framework for national training workshops for teacher educators in several countries.

Issue 9 - Developing Financial and Material Resources

Perhaps one of the greatest expenses of implementing ESD will come with providing appropriate basic education. Basic goals, which were established at Jontiem and reaffirmed at Dakar, include educating more children and increasing the universal average minimum of schooling to six years. Meeting these goals will require hiring many more teachers. These new teachers must be trained, and current teachers must be retrained, to reorient their curriculums to address sustainability.

The good news is that many countries are spending a larger percentage of their gross national product (GNP) on education. Two-thirds of the 123 countries listed in the UNESCO World Education Report 2000 that reported public expenditures on education as a percentage of GNP in both 1990 and 1996, reported spending more in 1996 than in 1990. Although governments are prioritizing education in terms of funding, how much of this funding is going to reorient education to address sustainability? As we pointed out in the "Education: Promise and Paradox" section, simply providing more education does not reduce the threat high resource consumption poses to sustainability.

One of the reasons why many experts perceive that little progress has been made regarding ESD since the Earth Summit in 1992 is that few financial resources have been dedicated to reorienting education to address sustainability. In fact, national and local governments have spent little on ESD beyond improving basic education. Yet, effective ESD will depend on funding at both national and local levels. At the national level, financial resources must fund curriculum, administration, and teacher education. At the local level, resources must finance curriculum development and accompanying materials, as well as teacher training.

Reorienting education to address sustainability will require new financial resources. One of the major problems with ESD is that current education must continue while the new curriculum is being designed and developed. The reality is that educators are so busy with the task at hand - planning, daily teaching, evaluating progress, writing reports - that they have little time or energy to research and create new curriculum. Teachers cannot be expected to do two jobs - design curriculum and teach - during the transition phase. Of course, current teachers should play an advisory role, but core design tasks should not fall exclusively on their already burdened shoulders. New funding and resources need to be provided during the start-up phase; governments cannot expect local administrations and educators to donate in-kind services to accomplish this important task.

Locally relevant and culturally appropriate curriculums and other educational materials often vary intra-nationally. For example, Chile extends several thousand kilometers from north to south. In the Atacama Desert of the north, environmental concerns involve the ocean and marine life; in the humid-temperate south, concerns involve the forests. As a result of these great distances and geographic diversity, a series of regional curriculums based around a common model would be more appropriate than one national curriculum. This same intra-national diversity (i.e., ecological, economic, and societal diversity) exists in many nations. Accordingly, regional and local curriculum could benefit many nations with internal diversity.

In addition, many countries are evaluating new educational technologies (e.g., distance learning, computers, Internet, TV) and strategies to implement them. ESD is already woven into many of these technologies. For example, many free sources of environmental data are available on the World Wide Web as are other teaching resources such as lesson plans. Governments and school districts investing in these technologies will offset expenditures with access to free ESD information and materials.

Funding for new educational programs

ESD is a cross-curricular effort. Historically, other cross-curricular efforts (e.g., educational technology) have been expensive. Bringing computers and the Internet into classrooms has required substantial investments by national, state, and local governments. For example, in the 1980s, Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander decided that every classroom in the state should have a computer. He knew that in many rural areas communities would resist spending large amounts of money on educational technology; in some areas of poverty, the schools could afford neither the hardware nor the software. Rather than waiting for individual districts to prioritize and fund technology, the state government paid for a computer for each classroom. In the 1990s, Tennessee also paid for an Internet connection for each school, because the state realized the importance of all students learning to access, manage, and use information from the World Wide Web.

Issue 10 - Developing Policy

To succeed, ESD must have an authoritative impetus from national or regional governments that will drive policy development. The omission of such an impetus proved to be the downfall of the 1970s global effort to infuse environmental education into the elementary and secondary curriculums. This same fate could befall the ESD effort. The reality of any educational reform is that success depends on both "top down" and "bottom up" efforts. Administrators at the top echelons of ministries are in a position to create the policies that will make reform occur. Together, administrators, teachers, and community leaders at the local level must interpret what the policy should "look like" locally.

Issue 11 - Developing a Creative, Innovative, and Risk-Taking Climate

In order to bring about the major changes required by ESD, we need to nurture a climate of safety. Policymakers, administrators, and teachers will need to make changes, experiment, and take risks to accomplish new educational and sustainability goals. They need to have the authority and support of the educational community to change the status quo. Teachers must feel that the administration will support their efforts if parents or vested interest groups in the community question or criticize their initiatives. We need to develop and implement policy to ensure administrators and educators at all levels have the right to introduce new or controversial topics and pedagogical methods. Of course, an over-zealous few could abuse these rights; therefore, a system of checks and balances within professional guidelines and cultural context should also be in place.

Issue 12 - Promoting Sustainability in Popular Culture

Perhaps the most difficult obstacle to address in implementing ESD is that of popularity. While many countries agreed that ESD is important, the themes of sustainability are not prevalent in popular cultures or governmental policies. For example, one principle of sustainable development is that the rates of use of renewable resources should not exceed their rates of regeneration. Yet, many societies have developed or are developing a "disposable culture." Disposable beverage containers, food wrappers, plates, and eating utensils pass through our lives daily. We use them once and then discard them to be buried, burned, or dumped in the water. This disposable culture is using such resources as trees and fossil fuels more rapidly than they can be replaced.

Because principles of sustainable development are not currently woven into daily life and governmental policy, the emergence of ESD could become an important "bottom-up" driver of community-based sustainable development. ESD could shape and encourage behaviors and ethics that support an informed, knowledgeable citizenry that has the political will to achieve a sustainable future.

Summary Remark about the 12 Issues

In summary, to successfully implement ESD, governments and school districts must plan ahead and develop strategies to address the 12 issues mentioned above. These issues should be addressed at every level, especially the national level, to ensure consistent implementation of ESD across the country. Purposeful deliberation and planning around these issues as well as issues particular to each region will increase the likelihood of successfully implementing ESD programs and reorienting curriculum to achieve sustainability.

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