Worlds of Education

Thematic Series:

Teach for the Planet

Photo: Tom Egil Jensen
Photo: Tom Egil Jensen

“Education for Sustainable Development on the agenda”

published 7 July 2021 updated 11 January 2023
written by:

I am a member of the Executive Board of Union of Education Norway, and I was so lucky to be part of Norway's delegation to the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, organized by UNESCO, from 17 to 19 May 2021. During three whole days, delegates from all over the world gathered to discuss an important topic: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)! It was an historical and unique meeting, but at the same time something we had expected high time!

A posteriori, it may be appropriate to ask what came out of it all? Yes, of course we have adopted the Berlin Declaration [1], which I hope will mean an increased attention to ESD. I am very happy that so many countries have committed themselves to follow the UNESCO Roadmap for ESD in their national contexts! It gives hope to hear government officials from many countries talking warmly about how important ESD is. Let's hope it's more than words. I do hope the conference will have consequences for this work in the future and contribute to a greater effort to include ESD in national curricula all over the world.

I have some thoughts as to what will be important going forward.

Social dialogue is key to implement ESD

If the high ambitions are to be realised, it is important to involve the teaching profession.

Social dialogue or tripartite cooperation with education unions is a prerequisite to include teachers’ perspective when developing ESD policy, curricula, and relevant teacher training to implement ESD. Involvement of and support from the teaching profession is crucial for ESD 2030 to be successful.

To reach the SDG 4.7 target in general, teacher unions must be involved and represented at all levels. Unfortunately, there is not much emphasis on this aspect in the Berlin declaration.

Students’ involvement is also an imperative

Another aspect I would like to emphasise in our effort to reach our objectives, is about further strengthening student involvement, influence and participation in realising and promoting ESD in schools.

Teachers should involve and engage their students in the classroom, in their subject – as part of their pedagogical and professional practice. Providing students an opportunity to take part and live a “sustainable and democratic life” in schools is important. They do not only need to learn about these topics in the classroom. They also need to experience and participate in sustainable and democratic practice and processes in the school.

How do we go about assessing ESD?

A key aspect that we know both students and teachers are concerned about is assessment. In our experience, traditional assessment systems can be a barrier for teacher readiness to deliver ESD, as ESD requires working transversally, across subjects. We must develop an assessment system that supports Education for Sustainable Development and gives the profession autonomy over assessment practices and methods.

In Norway, the assessment system has not been adapted to the new curriculum of which ESD is a core element. Union of Education Norway advocated for a process be put in place to change the assessment system in parallel to changing the curriculum. but so far, national educational authorities have not followed-up.  So, this is still a challenge for us to address. How can we develop assessment systems that work as enablers for interdisciplinary topics?

An important element when it comes to achieving SDG 4.7 is to capture the «action skills» that are part of ESD. It will not only be important to teach students about sustainable development or global citizenship. Students also need to learn how to be social actors, and to participate in developing their education and societies, within the school context and in their local communities.

In a survey that Union of Education Norway conducted among our members, less than half of teachers in kindergartens and schools stated that children or pupils have sufficient experience with climate-friendly and sustainable actions.

Let’s support teachers to change education

Teachers need training and support to teach according to ESD principles. ESD must be included in all teachers’ initial and in-service training. In our survey, many teachers said that they wanted to develop their competences to teach Education for Sustainable Development. Between 30 and 50 per cent of teachers in kindergarten and schools would like to attend continuous or further education on this topic, but only very few, about 5 %, say they have been given such opportunity. This is a huge challenge. 

Change starts with education. It starts with supporting teachers in teaching their students how to live sustainable lives for the future of our planet.

I hear babies cry

I watch them grow

They'll learn much more

Than I'll ever know

And I think to myself

What a wonderful world.

-- Song “What a wonderful World”, by Bob Thiele and Georg David Weiss


1. ^

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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.