Sustainability in education

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by all United Nations members in 2015, provide a blueprint to addressing global challenges that require urgent action. Developed against a backdrop of poverty, environmental degradation, mass migration, food insecurity, rising inequality, and conflict, the 17 goals set an agenda for social and economic progress that not only corrects course, but is also sustainable in terms of scope and adoption.

A key factor in the successful delivery of these goals is education, however, the SDGs focus almost exclusively on schools – on developing well-rounded and socially aware decision makers of tomorrow. This is, of course, important – future leaders need to be equipped to face the challenges and opportunities of the new world, and posses the skills to take action, but what about the present-day decision makers? Where does adult education (or re-education as the case may be) fit in to the delivery of these goals? For future generations this is also important as ‘globally competent learners need globally competent educators’.

Recognising the impact of globalisation on these objectives, the Global Learning and Skills Partnership is conducting a research project into the ways in which education can be devised for both young people and adults, to promote learning for global citizenship. Researchers at the Partnership and the International Institute for Sustainable Development agree that ‘sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ and are subsequently pushing for greater attention to be paid to addressing those currently at the helm of the public and private sectors.

Developing this research has placed globalisation at the heart of the dialogue, as it poses questions about what and how we learn. It recognises that societies are complex, and we need to move beyond narrowing solutions to a one-size-fits all model and recognise the validity of multiplicity of perspective, and responses, when addressing these challenges. It has, in essence, posed the need for evolved pedagogies that understand the impact of social and economic mobility, and that ultimately challenges learners to act.

To this end, the Partnership is redefining skills. It is moving beyond the skills required to get a job, skills that it argues are being developed in a technocratic way, to develop skills for life. It is also pushing against the trend of globally homogenous skills which is, at its core, contextually flawed. This educational approach also places cultural awareness at the centre and encourages learners to identify connections in their community, but also with those further afield. With this in mind, researchers at the Global Learning and Skills Partnership are placing an emphasis on developing skills that nurture: the ability to work with others who have conflicting viewpoints, openness to a continued process of self-reflection, and the ability to understand the impact of global forces. It’s learning that is founded on the recognition of what it means to live and work in a global society.

Admittedly, researchers are still gaining an understanding of what this means in a practical sense – how the delivery of sustainable education will manifest. However, until concrete pathways are established, there are some key questions and outcomes that we as educators and learners can integrate into our knowledge frameworks right now.

Questions to ask:

  1. What skills are needed to live, and be an active and sustainable global citizen?
  2. What skills are needed to be a global and sustainable graduate?
  3. What skills are needed to work in a global and sustainable economy?

Target Skills:

  • The ability to communicate effectively
  • The ability to think about systems
  • The ability to think in time – to forecast, to think and plan ahead
  • The ability to think critically about value issues
  • The ability to separate number, quantity, quality and value
  • The capacity to move from awareness to knowledge to action
  • The ability to work cooperatively with other people