Capturing key developments – a response to UNESCO

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

As I noted the other day, a request came from UNESCO to capture key developments and responses to ESD ahead of a meeting in Bonn later this month to discuss the "adoption of the UN Decade" and "vision building for ESD beyond 2014".  Here is my response:

In general terms ...

Not everything that takes place in educational settings (viewed broadly) that focuses on sustainability / sustainable development is referenced as ESD

Not all developments that are classed as ESD are either congruent with UNESCO's vision or coherent amongst themselves

There is no consensus as to what is to count as an education focusing on sustainability, and divergent views as to whether this is a problem

In policy terms ...

It is difficult to say anything coherent at the UK level because of the confused (ie, only partly-devolved) constitutional position.  That said, we might say that whilst the rhetoric remains reasonably strong, there are a number of indicators that suggest a diminution of enthusiasm – or conviction, perhaps

In England, the government has retreated from its previous positive encouragement of educational institutions to have a sustainability focus to a position where that is seen as something for institutions themselves to decide

In Wales, whilst the ESDGC brand is retained, it seems marginal to resolving the well-publicised problems facing Welsh education

Scotland remains the most consistent in its espousal of ESD-like initiatives and is that part of the UK which does best in PISA-type evaluations.  Whether these are linked, however, is anyone's guess

What happens in Northern Ireland is a mystery

The UK National Commission for UNESCO seem to be hibernating

In sector terms ...

HE seems the sector with the keenest developments 'on the ground'.  There seems a lot of informed enthusiasm from individuals, encouraged and supported by institutions such as NUS, EAUC and the HEA.  Funding councils have provided research and development funding (though not much in comparative terms).  Whilst there is evidence of institutional leadership in terms of ESD, there are no convincing examples of a university taking a successful whole-institution approach (let alone a transformative one).  There is no shared view as to how ESD in universities should / does contribute to graduate attributes

Despite some effort prominent practice, FE remains the cinderella with poor leadership and unconvincing sector-wide initiatives.

Schools seem far too reliant on outside help from organisations (Eco-schools, mostly, but other NGOs as well) that have an unconvincing take on sustainability / ESD (and all of which are pursuing their own agendas and interests).  There are horourable exceptions to this rule; for example, SEEd, TIDE~, NAEE, ... .  There is no shared view as to how ESD can contribute progressively across key stages / stages.   It's hard to see how secondary schools will ever take ESD to heart whilst examinations at 16 capture attention, constrict curriculum and stifle imagination.

In comparative terms ...

Looking back across 20 years or so, I'd say that the number of individuals and groups that are interested and active has grown considerably both in numbers and scope.  Despite their efforts, however, and the increasingly favourable national and international context (that is to say the greater prominence of the problems we all face), their effect on institutions, and on the students within them, remains marginal.

All the more reason, of course, to keep going.  I remain agnostic on the question of whether ESD and the Decade has made much difference where it actually matters.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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