Another gloomy UNESCO Report on ESD

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There's a new UNESCO report [*] that sets out to offer reflections on "an aspect of Education for Sustainable Development" by the UNESCO / UNTWIN Chairs.

Although it's sub-titled "a decade of progress", the editors' Foreword gives the game away.  In between pleas for more cash, it's a story of little happening other than by committed enthusiasts:

"The UNESCO Chairs, together with UNITWIN projects, made an active contribution to the worldwide UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development. In particular, in the area of higher education, but also in other educational sectors, the UN Chairs have kick-started a wide variety of interesting activities, as the contributions to this volume demonstrate. Even though a number of UNESCO Chairs focusing on specific issues related to sustainable development, and to education for sustainable development, have been established in several countries over the past few years, it has unfortunately not yet been possible to anchor sustainability in the teaching that occurs in higher education – apart from individual examples, such as Sweden, where higher education institutions are legally required to promote sustainable development. UNESCO Chairs should be given the resources and opportunities to take on even greater responsibility for this area of education, as its graduates play a key role in disseminating ideas about how society should develop, and they make a significant contribution to sustainable development through science and research.

But all's not lost as the SDGs come charging over the hill on a white horse to rescue us all:

The current publication provides a reference point, reflecting the past achievements of the UNESCO Chairs’ diverse areas of thematic focus during the worldwide UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development, their outlook for the Global Action Programme (2015-2019) and beyond in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDGs mark an important turning point in the focus of the UNESCO Chair and UNITWIN Programme work as well as a challenge to build on their acknowledged achievements. As highlighted earlier, the SDGs place an earnest call on higher education institutions to focus their endeavours on addressing the world’s most fundamental developmental issues – not only those related to education but on all areas of human activity – from clean water and healthy living spaces, to peace building, issues of gender disparity and non-discriminatory prosperity. The challenges for the UNESCO Chairs on ESD, and indeed for all the UNITWIN Networks and Chairs across all fields of activity, is to now use their power of collective creative thought to find solutions to meet these challenges.

The Chairs, meanwhile, have a new role:

The Chairs in ESD have now entered a period of consolidation and forward strategizing - a period which requires them to look beyond the theory to the practical and to pertinent problem solving. Turning theoretical knowledge into practice demands them to be at once trans-disciplinary in their implementation design worldwide, to cooperate and collaborate with the wider family of UNESCO Chairs and to urge the full embodiment of ESD into the broader research, teaching and learning higher education agenda towards 2030.

Heaven help us all.  Meanwhile, the UNECO graphic designers need a good talking to, as their idea of an appropriate graphic is to show two heads with cogs inside them.  Is it, do I hear you suggest, a rather clever ironic comment on the thinking that got us into this mess.  Well, maybe, but UNESCO hardly has a reputation for irony.


  • Michelsen G. and Wells P. J. (Editors) A Decade of Progress on Education for Sustainable Development Reflections from the UNESCO Chairs Programme. Paris: UNESCO. Freely downloadable.

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