Tedious Learning Objectives from UNESCO

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

I've been trying to take seriously UNESCO's latest output on the Sustainable Development Goals, but it's hard going.

UNESCO says that its new publication, "Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives, targets policy-makers, curriculum developers and educators, and that it contains learning objectives and suggestions for classroom activities to address each of the SDGs as well as guidance on how to integrate ESD into policies and teaching. You can download it here if you really want to.

In a Foreword, UNESCO's Deputy Director writes:

"... This publication is designed as a guide for education professionals on the use of ESD in learning for the SDGs, and consequently to contribute to achieving the SDGs.  The guide identifies indicative learning objectives and suggests topics and learning activities for each SDG. It also presents implementation methods at different levels, from course design to national strategies.  The guide does not aim to be prescriptive in any way, but to provide guidance and suggestions that educators can select and adapt to fit concrete learning contexts.  ..."

This ends:

"I am confident that this guide will help to develop sustainability competencies for all learners and empower everyone to contribute to achieving our ambitious and crucial global agenda."

Well, I suppose someone has to be.  I'm not, as I doubt that many not on the UNESCO payroll will read it; indeed, those millions who take UNESCO's shilling but who know that ESD is a dead-end, won't be reading it either.  All this might well have a greater impact had it focused on 'education' rather than 'ESD', as it then would have had an appropriate audience in mind – that is, all those involved in education across the world – as opposed to the pitiful few who know anything about ESD.

But even so, it's doubtful that they'd take much notice as what's set out here is clearly written by insiders for insiders, and done so with an astonishingly uncritical eye.  Here's one example.  It's in Table 1.2.2. and sets out the cognitive learning objectives for Goal 2 “Zero Hunger”:

The Learner:

  1. knows about hunger and malnutrition and their main physical and psychological effects on human life, and about specific vulnerable groups.
  2. knows about the amount and distribution of hunger and malnutrition locally, nationally and globally, currently as well as historically.
  3. knows the main drivers and root causes for hunger at the individual, local, national and global level.
  4. knows principles of sustainable agriculture and understands the need for legal rights to have land and property as necessary conditions to promote it.
  5. understands the need for sustainable agriculture to combat hunger and malnutrition worldwide and knows about other strategies to combat hunger, malnutrition and poor diets.

There are also 5 socio-emotional learning objectives and 5 behavioural learning objectives about this Goal as well.

You really do have to ask: which learner is this?  Is it a 16 month old toddler in a Koln nursery school?  A 7 year old in a New York elementary school?  A benighted teenager in a Lahore madrassa?  A masters student in politics at Sciences Po?  A trainee teacher in Durban?  A student in a Sydney grammar school?  An undergraduate in Milan on an Italian Fine Art degree?  A vocational education track student in a Stockholm high school? ...

It is of course Everylearner, and therefore none.  My favourite among all the 255 [17 x 3 x 5] learning objectives is this:

"The learner is able to understand that with changing resource availability (e. g. peak oil, peak everything) and other external shocks and stresses (e. g. natural hazards, conflicts) their own perspective and demands on infrastructure may need to shift radically regarding availability of renewable energy for ICT, transport options, sanitation options, etc."

But it was a hard choice ...


Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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