Education for Sustainable Development


Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a relatively new, evolving concept. At its core, ESD promotes the idea of sustainable development by integrating environmental, social and economic imperatives into education for a better quality life in the present as well as the future.

Despite much progress, the world is faced with great challenges, including rapid population growth, poverty, urbanisation, natural resource depletion, unplanned development, violence and terrorism. This scenario, coupled with natural calamities such as earthquakes and tsunamis, is wreaking ecological havoc. The gravity of the situation becomes all the more alarming when we realize that our economic well-being is directly dependent on environmental goods and services.

What is required to salvage the situation is a paradigmatic shift in our thinking, values and actions. Given that education is the most effective vehicle for attitudinal change, it can be invaluable when pressed into service for promoting values for sustainable living. However, as the conventional system of education did not address sustainable development issues adequately enough, a need was felt to introduce a broader, more inclusive concept of education that eventually paved the way for ESD.

Unlike conventional education that is time-bound, ESD is a life-long learning process which embraces all three pillars of sustainable development: society, environment and economy and seeks to integrate them at all levels of education. Through this holistic, integrated approach, ESD enables all individuals to fully develop knowledge, values and skills necessary to take part in the decision-making process for improving the quality of life both locally and globally. As Frits Hesselink, former chair of IUCN’s Commission on Education and Communication, puts it, ESD is “a process of learning to make decisions that consider the long-term future of the economy, ecology and equity for all communities.”


History of ESD
The trend of using education as a conduit for furthering environmental consciousness and responsibility can be traced back to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in 1972 in Stockholm. The Stockholm Conference, as it was popularly called, together with its follow-ups in Belgrade and Tbilisi in 1975 and 1977, respectively, mapped out the contours of Environmental Education (EE). Owing to its potential and applicability as an awareness raising and learning tool for the environmental movement, EE was eagerly adopted by development organizations and educational institutions through integration into formal and informal education or as a standalone subject.

The journey from EE to ESD began when the concept of ‘sustainable development’ entered the development lexicon. Coined by Lester Brown, the term was first used in 1980 by the World Conservation Union (IUCN)

in its seminal The World Conservation Strategy. The concept gained currency in 1987 with the publication of the Brundtland Commission’s report Our Common Future that defined sustainable development as the ethic of “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”

The next watershed came five years later in 1992 when the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, popularly known as the Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conference endorsed the Rio Declaration, setting out 27 principles for promoting sustainable development. Agreement was also reached on Agenda 21that provided a framework for action on sustainable development. It was in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 that the idea of furthering the sustainable development agenda through education was articulated.


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