Just minding the GAP

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates

Later this month, UNESCO’s governing bodies will consider a draft of a Global Action Programme [GAP] on ESD with a view to forwarding it to the UN General Assembly in 2014.  The plan is that the GAP will replace the Decade, and will run, initially at any rate, for 5 years.  UNESCO says that its draft takes into account the lessons learnt and experiences of the Decade – from past monitoring and evaluation reports, inputs from the regional consultations and expert groups, and global debates on a post-2015 development agenda.  The plan is that the GAP will provide the framework for post-2014 ESD activity.  I have read it – every last word.

The title takes up 4 lines and sets the tone and style for what follows:


I thought the paper reasonably began well (allowing for the usual numbing UN-speak) – mind you, the first page is just a bit of history, so no challenge there.  The bottom of page 1 takes us to the goal and objectives of the Global Action Programme:

Goal ...

To generate and scale-up action in all levels and areas of education and learning in order to accelerate progress towards sustainable development

Objectives ...

(a) To reorient education and learning so that everyone has the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that empower them to contribute to sustainable development; and

(b) To strengthen education and learning in all agendas, programmes and activities that promote sustainable development.

My first thoughts, in some rough order, were:

1. to think that this is a sensible turn from a UNESCO perspective that builds on the Decade and which might just bring sustainable development and ESD closer together.  That is, might make ESD more about sustainable development than it usually is.

2. to note the emphasis on education (and learning), not ESD, which I took to be a positive sign.

3. to wonder whether the goal was really a goal, as it seems more like an objective – one whose English is awful.  The only goal here seems to be “to accelerate progress”.  Umm.

4. to worry that the twin emphasis on “education and learning” (which occurs throughout) is artificial.  I fear UNESCO sees these as much the same thing whereas the relationship is subtle.  I wondered, for example, what “generate and scale-up … learning” can mean.  I fear that UNESCO thinks that learning can be influenced as readily as teaching can – not that teaching is actually all that amenable to change, otherwise the Decade would have been more successful.

5. to sigh (again) at the certainties of it all.

Page 2 brings us to the Priority Action Areas [PAA].  Had I been concerned that ESD had been abandoned as an idea, I’d be reassured by what follows, as the 5 PAAs are “key leverage points to advance the ESD agenda.”  These are:

  1. Policy support: Integrate ESD into international and national policies in education and sustainable development.
  2. Whole-institution approaches: Promote whole-institution approaches to ESD at all levels and in all settings.
  3. Educators: Strengthen the capacity of educators, trainers and other change agents to become learning facilitators for ESD.
  4. Youth: Support youth in their role as change agents for sustainable development through ESD.
  5. Local communities: Accelerate the search for sustainable development solutions at the local level through ESD.

I should confess that I’ve never understood what the “ESD agenda” is, thinking that ESD was a process, and that the point was to change educational policy / practice – as the goal / objectives suggest.  Not so, it seems; wrong again!  The PAAs reify ESD as something substantive to be integrated and promoted.

And so it goes on for 6 pages though there is considerable repetition.  The GAP is clearly aimed at “the ESD community”, rather than the 90+% who are just getting on with things in education as usual.  The worry has to be that those who know little about ESD, and care less, will carry on regardless.  This seems a lost opportunity.

NB, as a metaphor, 'GAP' doesn't seem all that helpful, as GAPs are things that you "bridge", "narrow", and "mind" (especially on train stations).  They are not things you wholeheartedly embrace or leap into.  Having said all this, I expect the GAP to be widely welcomed within 'the ESD community'.  It is Hobson's Choice, after all.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications, News and Updates


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