The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are viewed in the context of Johan Rockström’s work on planetary boundaries at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. This work sets a double challenge to educational policy and practice: to embrace and help achieve the Goals, but also to work towards a deeper change in consciousness which can reconcile people and planet. The role of education is more profound and comprehensive than is recognized in the text of the SDGs as regards its potential to address their implementation. Education requires a re-invention, and re-purposing so that it can assume the responsibility these challenges require, and develop the agency that is needed for transformative progress to be made.
In many ways it's familiar stuff, but because it's written in the context of the SDGs, it's a new take on an old theme. It complains about the goals, especially the education one saying, rightly, that this has little to do with sustainability in the sustainable development sense. This is unsurprising as that goal and the myriad targets it embodies were written by those in UNESCO who are focused on education for all (EFA). That is, by the 99% of the education staff within UNESCO. The 1% who think about ESD hardly got a sniff. That's because the 99% know that what they're doing is what really matters, both to UNESCO and the future. The leaders of the 99% (NB, I concede that this number might be too high: more like 97%) don't believe that "Education requires a re-invention, and re-purposing so that it can assume the responsibility these challenges require, and develop the agency that is needed for transformative progress to be made". They never have, which is why EFA has always had the lion's share of the cash. They have never been swayed by transformation rhetoric, or seduced by talk of paradigm shifts. Their's is the slow incremental grind of making progress at the margins in difficult places and trying to consolidate it. My Tuesday blog about indicators show what their priorities are. You only have to read these, and then compare it to the struggle they have when it comes to ESD. I'll have more to say on their attempts to address this gap next week.
Sterling's article ends:
"... There are only 15 short years to make a significant difference. We are faced with an unprecedented and huge learning challenge at every level, in which educational policy and practice need to play a pivotal role. How do we ‘reorient our systems of knowledge creation and education’?. ... How do we ensure that education for these extraordinary times can manifest a culture of critical commitment — engaged enough to make a real difference to social-ecological resilience and sustainability but reflexively critical enough to learn from experience and to keep options open into the future? ..."
Indeed. Well, almost. But how? Given that society changes education and its emphases faster than society is changed by education, all this will not be achieved from within slow-shifting, bureaucratic education systems, but, if at all, in the political sphere. And the more we delude ourselves with talk of a "burgeoning consciousness oriented towards local and planetary well-being and the public good" – a phrase Sterling quotes – the less likely we are to understand this.