Education for Sustainable Development
Authored by: Rupam Roy & Siddiqur Rehman
Education for Sustainable Development
Educated parents send their children to school; elementary education leads to
perpetuation of benefits from one generation to another. Education for Sustainable
Development (ESD) is simultaneously a sub-field of education and a conceptual tool to aid
policy makers in authoring educational policies that take into account the present
environmental, societal and economic challenges.
According to the UNESCO, it is based on all levels and types of learning - learning
to know, learning to be, learning to live together, learning to do and learning to transform
oneself and society.”
ESD can be seen as the total sum of diverse ways to arrive at a ‘learning society’
in which people learn from and with one another and collectively become more capable of
withstanding setbacks and dealing with sustainability-induced insecurity, complexity and
ESD is about - through education and learning - engaging people in sustainable
development issues, developing their capacities to give meaning to SD and to contribute to
its development and utilizing the diversity represented by all people - including those who
have been or feel marginalized - in generating innovative solutions to SD challenges and
Emergence of Education for Sustainable Development
Roots of ESD can be traced back to the early 1970s
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED),
also known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992
From 1987 to 1992, the concept of sustainable development matured as
committees discussed, negotiated, and wrote the 40 chapters of Agenda 21.
The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was created in December
1992 to ensure effective follow-up of UNCED and to monitor and report on
implementation of the agreements at international, regional, national and local
The decade 2005-2014 has been designated the United Nations Decade of
Education for Sustainable Development.
ESD in India
Traditionally India has been a sustainable society. A large part of the Indian population still
has a lifestyle that is based on the principle of reuse, reduce and recycle. In some cases it is
a matter of personal choice but for a large majority, it is necessitated by economic
The Government of India (GOI) has integrated the principle of ‘sustainability’ in its various
policies and developmental programmes. India’s developmental strategic framework is
based on a five year planning system.
The GOI recommended Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to integrate
environmental concerns into all aspects and levels of education.
India is the only country to have passed one of the landmark judgments passed by the
Supreme Court of the country directing all education boards to include environmental
education (EE) as part of the formal education system at all levels.
Centre for Environment Education (CEE) which is the nodal agency for implementing
UNDESD in India; The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI); Bharati Vidya Peeth (BVP);
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE); World Wide fund (WWF); National Council for
Science Museums (NSCM) and National Council of Education, Research and Training
(NCERT) are notable bodies promoting ESD.
According to the 2010 State of the World Report (published by The Worldwatch
Institute), the Ecological Footprint Indicator, which compares impact of human actions
on the ecology with natural resources available to supply key ecosystem services,
shows that humanity now uses the resources and services of 1.3 Earths.
It is estimated that by 2050, the human population will be 9.07 billion of which 62 per
cent of the people will live in Africa, Southern and Eastern Asia.
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) therefore is an important pedagogical
tool as it is based on the fundamental principle of making an individual see and
recognize the interdependence between human beings and each and every unit of
It is only right that development in this new century be even more conscious of its long-
term impact. The problems are complex and the choices difficult. Our common future
can only be achieved with a better understanding of our common concerns and shared
Thresholds of Education and Sustainability
The relationship between education and sustainable development is complex.
Generally, research shows that basic education is key to a nation's ability to
develop and achieve sustainability targets. Research has shown that education
can improve agricultural productivity, enhance the status of women, reduce
population growth rates, enhance environmental protection, and generally raise
the standard of living.
Another educational threshold is primary education for women. At least a
primary education is required before birth rate drops and infant health and
children's education improve.
Subtle combination of higher education, research, and life-long learning is
necessary for a nation to shift to an information or knowledge-based economy,
which is fuelled less by imported technology and more by local innovation and
Challenges for ESD
To train local communities in non- formal sector and teachers in formal sectors requires
more time as the term “sustainable development” is not common and well-understood by
the communities. Some aspects of environment are provided in the national curriculum, but
the approach is not coherent and does not cover the wider range of sustainable
To develop local capacities and demonstrate sustainable development principles in action
through an integrated approach, incorporating gender sensitive social, economic and
To develop partnerships amongst the major stakeholder organizations (central
governments, local governments, NGOs and CBOs) and to reinvent their roles so that
CBOs (Community-based Organizations) function as planners and implementers of their
own sustainable development program.
To demonstrate viable options for sustenance and adaptation of sustainable development
To document and disseminate knowledge from successful experiences and to link the use
of local knowledge to support district and national level sustainable development policies.
Promote research and development of ESD
There is a need for research and development activities in different areas of
ESD, such as effective learning methods, evaluation tools, formation of attitudes
and values, school/institutional development and implementation of ICT
(Information and communication Technology) .
Results of research and development efforts should be shared with actors
locally, regionally and globally, and incorporated into different parts of the
The content of ESD and teaching and learning methods; the economic effects of
and incentives for ESD; ways of including aspects of SD and their local context in
different subjects, giving priority to research that brings together the different
dimensions of SD; indicators and evaluation instruments for ESD; and share the
results of research and examples of good practices.
High quality information is essential for promoting ESD. Formal and non-formal
ESD along with civic education is fundamental in developing respect for nature
and an understanding of cultural values.
Formal, Non-formal, and Informal Education
For a community or a nation, implementing ESD is a huge task. Fortunately, formal
education does not carry this educational responsibility alone. The non formal
educational sector (e.g., nature centers, nongovernmental organizations, public
health educators, and agricultural extension agents) and the informal educational
sector (e.g., local television, newspaper, and radio) of the educational community
must work cooperatively with the formal educational sector for the education of
people in all generations and walks of life.
Because ESD is a lifelong process, the formal, non formal, and informal
educational sectors should work together to accomplish local sustainability goals. In
an ideal world, the three sectors would divide the enormous task of ESD for the
entire population by identifying target audiences from the general public as well as
themes of sustainability. They would then work within their mutually agreed upon
realms. This division of effort would reach a broader spectrum of people and
prevent redundant efforts.
ESD is more than a knowledge base related to environment, economy, and
society. It also addresses learning skills, perspectives, and values that guide and
motivate people to seek sustainable livelihoods, participate in a democratic
society, and live in a sustainable manner.
Knowledge, skills, perspectives, values, and issues must all be addressed in a
formal curriculum that has been reoriented to address sustainability.
Conclusion and way ahead