The UN ESD Decade – half way there

Posted in: Comment

For three days at the end of March, 900+ people assembled in Bonn for the mid-Decade review.  This brief comment is partial in at least two senses.

1. EFA and ESD

If you log onto the UNESCO Education homepage you will see that UNESCO's top priority is Education for All (EFA) by 2015”, and that there’s no mention of ESD.  This mantra was repeated in Bonn, with EFA seen as a precondition for sustainable development.  This is puzzling, assuming that climate scientists’ data interpretation is correct, unless UNESCO doesn’t really think that ESD can make a difference.  With 75 million children not getting a primary education and with 800 million illiterate adults, EFA is crucial, but why can’t ESD be an equal priority?  Stressing both EFA and ESD, and linking them as twin priorities, makes sense (to me at least), but I’m not caught up in UNESCO education turf wars. 

2. The conference organizers went on about their need for feedback on reports and documents, but then provided very small amounts of discussion time.  I was left with a sense of unfulfilled possibility, and a feeling that so little had been achieved by so many.  Given all the work being done across the world in the name of ESD, it is a great pity that delegates were not helped to come to more of a critical understanding of what was being achieved.

3. Two issues were stressed that seem worth reiterating:

If it is to be useful, ESD has to be contextually sensitive and contingent, with any tendency to universalise it being resisted – and whilst ESD will have different drivers and emphases depending on socio-economic and environmental priorities, it seems inescapable that this must apply within countries as well as between them.  For me, this also means that the question ‘what has the ESD that we’re doing, here and now, contributing to sustainable development?’ needs to be asked continually.

Whilst movements and activities such as development education and environmental education can have a key and continuing part to play within that matrix of activity we call ESD, this is no good reason to invent new ones: climate change education springs to mind.

Posted in: Comment


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