Education for Sustainable Development: Key Challenges

education-for-sustainable-developmentThe basic aim of 'Education for Sustainable Development' is to nurture an individual who is capable to solve environmental challenges facing the world and to promote the formation of a sustainable society. The first challenge is to have an ethos in schools that openly and enthusiastically supports the development of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development). This is partly down to the curriculum the school follows, but is mainly as a result of the interest and effort shown by senior management in promoting integration and whole school engagement; a critical element being teacher training. It is also down to the expectations that are put upon schools by education authorities when it comes to ESD.

With trained and motivated teachers, it is far easier to inspire and motivate students. Teachers can often use the environment as a vehicle for teaching certain concepts in their own specific subject. Once teachers have decided that this is something they feel is worthwhile, they will increasingly find ways to do so.

Using environmental issues in student learning shows students the bigger picture, which can significantly improve motivation. By letting pupils know why the work they are completing is important, and showing them where it fits in on a local and global scale, you’re enabling them to see its value.

Another challenge is being able to bridge the gap between what happens at home and what is taught in schools. For example, if a child is learning about recycling at school, but parents are not open to supporting their learning by adopting recycling practices at home, then the child, especially at a young age, receives very conflicting messages.

Schools are busy places and there are increasing pressures on teachers within the workplace. These can create additional challenges such as gaps between awareness and understanding; motivation to and knowledge of how to become more sustainable; individual to collective empowerment; finding time; budget restraints; linking infrastructure change to mind set change and whole community engagement.

However, with a more directed focus and commitment towards ESD in schools, children generally need very little motivation to care for their environment. You just have to give them a voice and they are away! The problem often comes from adults not understanding the bigger picture about caring for the long term future of the planet.

Strategy for GCC Countries

When it comes to educating locals and expats in the GCC, it can be categorized into three parts:

The physical change: looking at how schools, households and businesses can reduce their waste, water and energy and focus on more sustainable resources in general.

The mind set change: this is all about raising environmental understanding, awareness and action programmes throughout the school and business communities through workshops, cross-curricular activities and presentations, so that everybody is on the 'same page', as well as giving students and employees a voice. This leads to a fundamental change in attitudes and the choices people make.

Learning to respect others and appreciate the environment, as well as giving back to society: this is focused around the opportunities to learn beyond the workplace and home, and connect back to nature, as well as help communities in need. In a nutshell, it about being more caring.

Partnerships and action orientated behaviour within all 3 parts are crucially important to their success. Environmental awareness in itself is not enough, simply because awareness without leading to meaningful action and behaviour change goes nowhere.

Using environmental issues in student learning shows children the bigger picture

Using environmental issues in student learning shows children the bigger picture

This approach can be illustrated in the Beyond COP21 Symposium series that I am currently running globally with the support of Eco-Schools. The event consists of themed high impact presentations from, and discussions with, guest speakers on the SDGs Agenda 2030 and climate negotiations in and beyond Paris; individual & community action; pledge- making and practical activities/workshops.

Local sustainable companies and organisations are invited to showcase their initiatives and engage with students from a variety of schools, both local and expat, in each city or region. Successfully run in Dubai twice and with an upcoming event in Jordan, the Middle East region has certainly embraced the partnership approach when it comes to supporting environmental education initiatives that benefit all those involved.

Role of Technology and Social Media

The greatest role it can play is through the spread of information and ideas, as well as the sharing of good practice within the GCC. Sometimes the hardest thing is to know where to start and how to become motivated, and certainly both can help. Also technology can help to source important resources for teachers. Bee’ah’s School of Environment, which I have been recently developing new online resources for, is a very good example of how well this can work.

Please visit my website for more information about my organization and its activities.

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About Peter Milne

Peter Milne is the Founder/Director of Target4Green Educational Consultancy and Training. He has more than 25 years of experience as a teacher, working mainly in science, environmental and outdoor education in the UK, Malaysia and Dubai. He is currently running a global series of Beyond COP 21 Symposia that was launched in Dubai in January and has a number of school initiatives based on COP 21 as well as the Sustainable Development Goals, supported by Eco- Schools Global and Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Programmes.

8 Responses to Education for Sustainable Development: Key Challenges

  1. michaelrada says:

    Dear Peter, thank you for great article. I full agree with your point of view. In my time of business owner and founder of INDUSTRIAL UPCYCLING I spent last year many hours to discuss the waste prevention and sustainability issues with over 700 students. I would be happy when you integrate systematic waste prevention into the lessons for your students. More about on (free English ebook download can be found there as well)

    • PETER MILNE says:

      We should work towards a Beyond COP21 Symposium being hosted in an Eco-School in Czech Republic. I am in touch with the National Operator there and, with funding and direct involvement/engagement from a company such as yours, this would an excellent opportunity to spread further awareness on waste prevention. Please contact me on and we can continue the conversation.

  2. Kendu Ethan says:

    An excellent article peter, very articulate, there is a new group I recently joined they are focusing on education too on climate change. Wish ypu could give more education outside you your country. Like in Africa please find the link.
    Feel free to check out their Facebook page “54 CLIMATE CHANGE GLOBAL QUEST FOR AFRICA.”
    Check out the link

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