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Education for Sustainable Development

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela.  

Education is essential to sustainable development. Citizens of the world need to learn their way to sustainability. Our current knowledge base does not contain the solutions to contemporary global environmental, societal and economic problems. Today’s education is crucial to the ability of present and future leaders and citizens to create solutions and find new paths to a better future.  

Education for sustainable development (ESD) is not a particular programme or project, but is rather an umbrella for many forms of education that already exist, and new ones that remain to be created. ESD promotes efforts to rethink educational programmes and systems (both methods and contents) that currently support unsustainable societies. ESD affects all components of education: legislation, policy, finance, curriculum, instruction, learning, assessment, etc. ESD calls for lifelong learning and recognizes the fact that the educational needs of people change over their lifetime. Many individuals and organizations around the world already implement ESD (e.g. a teacher weaving sustainability themes into primary education using participatory methods; a community development worker raising people’s awareness on rights which are denied to them; or a public health worker training people to draw water from clean sources). There are many programmes using an ESD approach to learning which is critical for achieving sustainability. 


ESD has essential characteristics that can be implemented in many culturally appropriate forms.

Education for sustainable development:

  • is based on the principles and values that underlie sustainable development;
  • deals with the well-being of all four dimensions of sustainability – environment, society, culture and economy;
  • uses a variety of pedagogical techniques that promote participatory learning and higher-order thinking skills;
  • promotes lifelong learning;
  • is locally relevant and culturally appropriate;
  • is based on local needs, perceptions and conditions, but acknowledges that fulfilling local needs often has international effects and consequences;
  • engages formal, non-formal and informal education;
  • accommodates the evolving nature of the concept of sustainability;
  • addresses content, taking into account context, global issues and local priorities;
  • builds civil capacity for community-based decision-making, social tolerance, environmental stewardship, an adaptable workforce, and a good quality of life;
  • is interdisciplinary. No single discipline can claim ESD for itself; all disciplines can contribute to ESD.

These essential characteristics of ESD can be implemented in myriad ways, so that ESD programmes reflect the unique environmental, social, cultural and economic conditions of each locality. Furthermore, ESD increases civil capacity by enhancing and improving society, through a combination of formal, non-formal and informal education.


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Learning for Sustainability

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