(Based on UNESCO Global Schools advocacy materials)
According to UNESCO, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is defined as education that empowers learners to make informed decisions and take responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society for present and future generations.
ESD is a key driver and facilitator contributing to the achievement of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Education 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (Education 2030) as a whole and includes integrating a wide range of sustainable development issues such as climate change and biodiversity, socioeconomic inequality, peaceful societies and more into teaching and learning.
UNESCO highlights several key competencies and learning objectives associated with teaching ESD. The learning goals are broken into cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioral domains, and are elaborated for each SDG goal. The movement for sustainable development begins in the classroom, and local grassroots work is equally as important as national policies.
The challenge for educators is realising these ESD connections and to understand how to incorporate innovative pedagogies on the SDGs and encourage student actions, while maintaining time for assessment and other system requirements.
Without national policy for teachers, limited awareness and experience prevents ESD topics from being integrated effectively in the classroom.
Active learning pedagogy, such as group work, debates, classroom discussions and inquiry-based learning is essential for student success in ESD learning.
A study by Round Square Schools identified learning activities that had the highest number of statistically significant correlations with global competence learning outcomes as:
There is compelling evidence linking Environmental Education, ESD and Climate Change Education (CCE) to increased student academic performance. The impacts of Education 2030 have been demonstrated across a variety of countries and schools. A literature review of over 14 comprehensive studies in multiple contexts found that there is a substantial amount of evidence that links Education 2030 with positive academic achievements (Aikens). A Stanford University review of approximately 120 peer-reviewed studies found that environmental education improves academic performance, enhances critical thinking skills and develops life skills. Ninety per cent of the studies reviewed saw increased skills for students and 86 per cent saw positive changes in students.
The learning environment in which children study produces significant results in children's capacity to learn and absorb new information. Being exposed to an outdoor, green space is believed to increase cognitive development and memory retention.
According to the Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, students from 14 countries showed stronger critical thinking skills, deeper understanding of the topics under study and better research skills by learning through ESD. In addition, one country (Latvia) reports that students are better prepared for the job market. Students also demonstrated excellent communication, writing and mathematical skills, problem-solving skills and abilities in forming and defending their opinions. University professors also state that ESD school graduates enter university over-prepared for post-secondary studies, that ESD students contribute to creativity and character education and that student attendance rates increase in ESD schools.
ESD better prepares students to have the knowledge and skills necessary to care for and better address sustainable development issues that will arise in the future. This pertains to educating today’s students for an uncertain future to learn how to face the complexity of future challenges to global sustainability. ESD provides students with opportunities to observe the complex connections between local and global issues, analyse systems and find appropriate solutions through engaged and focused inquiry. The more practice students have in facing today’s real-world issues, the more likely they will be able to address the problems they face in the future.
ESD helps students, schools and stakeholders connect to their respective communities while increasing student engagement, collaboration and awareness about community issues and the surrounding network. When students engage in local issues, they learn about their community and become more engaged directly with community members. This can also help community members become more involved in the school and strengthen ties between local businesses, organisations, communities, universities, local governments and more.
Mental health in students is an ever-important issue. The COVID-19 pandemic and anxiety over world events can have an impact on students' mental health. A study published by Science Direct showed that green schoolyards can reduce stress and promote protective factors for resilience in students. The study found that the natural environment helped students escape stress, focus, and more. Using nature as a learning environment is one of the elements of ESD.
ESD helps promote peaceful communities by increasing knowledge, sensitivity and conflict resolution skills. According to UNESCO, “Integrated schools have been found to positively influence minority group identity, improve attitudes towards inclusion, and drive a sense of forgiveness”. Education and textbooks tend to be filled with propaganda or misinformation, but when we change the narrative for discussing conflict, making it a more sensitive approach, it can make a positive impact on students’ understanding of conflicts and resolution.
ESD curriculum encourages students to be better citizens through lessons on leadership education, enhancing socio-emotional skills and helping students become the leaders of tomorrow as informed global citizens. These soft skills include self-esteem, autonomy, character development, maturity, empowerment, verbal communication, leadership, poise and the ability to collaborate with others. When developing these skills in students, ESD ensures students can apply these concepts to solving global challenges beyond the classroom.
These two articles (below) explain the benefits of environmental education. Although an interdisciplinary approach to ESD spanning the economic, social and environmental domains, these resources provide more background on the tangible academic and life-long benefits for students when teaching ESD and the SDGs.
UNESCO has highlighted a number of key competencies and learning objectives associated with teaching ESD. Key competencies include systems thinking, critical thinking, self-awareness and integrated problem-solving. The learning goals are broken into socio-emotional, behavioral, and cognitive domains, and are elaborated for each goal.
Eight competencies that are important when teaching ESD:
UNESCO has identified 10 key aspects that support quality education related to the individual learner and to systems of education. Five of these aspects are at the level of the learner, including:
Pedagogies associated with ESD stimulate students to ask questions, analyse, think critically and make decisions. Such pedagogies move from teacher-centred to student centred lessons and from rote memorisation to participatory learning.
A central plank of ESD is to encourage Global Citizenship Education at all levels.
Pedagogies associated with ESD stimulate students to ask questions, analyse, think critically and make decisions. Such pedagogies move from teacher-centred to student centred lessons and from rote memorisation to participatory learning. The different key pedagogies that encompass ESD can be summarised into:
Place-based learning is one of the main pedagogical frameworks that educators reference when teaching ESD and the SDGs. Place-based learning connects students to the space in which they are learning. The purpose is to help students engage with their school community and their local communities. This includes engaging with their local culture, history or their physical environment.
Educators can make learning more place-based by:
Place-based learning can also be linked to curriculum standards:
Experiential learning is based on the theory synthesised by Kolb, and encompasses a four-step learning cycle. The learning process follows four steps:
If this theory could be summarised, it is best summarised as learning by doing. It involves having an experience in order to be able to reflect and reshape views. Experiential learning could be community volunteering, internships, Model UN, role-playing games and simulations, field trips and more. This is greatly connected to ESD because learning by doing allows students to connect to their local communities, apply critical thinking and problem solving to specific situations and practice anticipatory competencies where they reflect and think about the future.
It is also important to have an open classroom environment for discussion and reflection. Here are some suggested activities for structured reflection and strategies to help students "keep talking" continuously in the classroom.
Now, let's think about how we could write this learning objective in multiple bullets in order to embrace the ESD competencies (systems thinking, strategic thinking, normative competency, anticipatory competency, critical thinking competency and more). See the revised learning objectives below:
One of the essential parts of integrating ESD and the SDGs in your school is to evaluate the outcomes and outputs of your incredible and important work in your school community! Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) will help you gather data on what you have accomplished and then you can use this data to re-evaluate your activities.
Monitor the CHANGE
The key part that we want to stress about M&E is that you want to monitor the change in behaviour, knowledge or attitudes. This means that you need to understand your school community before and after the activity. Conducting a survey or an evaluation after the activity makes it more difficult to understand your impact, so that’s why you need to plan ahead. If you only give teachers an evaluation after doing a workshop on sustainability, it is possible that these teachers had already taken a training course elsewhere. Therefore, they were relying on their prior knowledge. The same applies to students. If you only survey students or ask them a question after doing a lesson, you won’t know if you have increased their knowledge or had a significant change in their values or actions.
Choose specific INDICATORS
Quantitative data can be obtained through indicators. These indicators will inform how successful you were at integrating ESD through an activity. Additionally, these indicators should also contain very specific goals. For example:
Number of classrooms.
Example: By next year, 80 per cent of classrooms will have recycling bins.
Make a PLAN
It is crucial to make sure that your goals are time-bound. You need to know when you are completing your activity and when you want to assess your school community or your students. Create due dates for tasks and goal completion and make sure you know how you will be carrying out your evaluation. Will you be giving your students a pre- and post-exam? Will you be having teachers fill out a survey giving their feedback to you about practices in the school related to clean energy? Will you go around and count how many recycling bins are in the classrooms before and after your recycling campaign?
Monitoring and Evaluation is not straightforward and takes many trials and errors to create the perfect M&E plan. Yet, it is also one of the most important steps. You want to ensure you can learn from each experience to perfect it. However, if you didn’t do a survey before an activity - don’t worry! If you don’t know how to evaluate a program perfectly - don’t worry! And if you forgot to add one specific question to a form - don’t worry! This is meant as a learning process for you and your school community. The [Global Schools Advocacy] team will also be able to help you in this process.
During your Advocacy term, encourage school leadership to prioritise SDG by:
Creating a shared vision
Leading by example
Removing barriers to change
Supporting Teachers and Staff
If you are a school leader, one of the most important aspects for schools is to create a school vision that encompasses the relevant education for sustainable development topics that are prominent in the local community. This can be as simple as creating a new mission statement, or bringing everyone together for a meeting to discuss the three pillars that are the most important within the ESD framework for their particular school.
While ESD might not be explicitly stated in your lesson plans, school activities or curriculum, UNESCO gives the following ideas to use as the most common starting points for understanding what is already in your school community:
Once you understand what exists and your school's priorities, it will become easier to create relevant lesson plans and activities that are applicable to the vision of your school.
Some Advocates in training might have questions on how to involve the rest of their school in the program. Firstly, we encourage you to:
·Secondly, your school and fellow teachers can also:
We wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work. We wish to pay respect to their Elders - past, present and future - and acknowledge the important role all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to play within Australia. We stand in solidarity.
Authorised by Mary Franklyn, General Secretary, The State School Teachers' Union of W.A.
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