Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a rather new field of education. We can see it as an innovative kind of future education for schools linking the child's development with the future challenges of society.
I don't think that education for sustainable development is just another buzzword forgotten in a few years. From a global perspective as well as a local perspective we have to direct education toward what will be truly useful for each child and for each society in the future.
To have a fulfilling life should be within reach for all children wherever they are born. In too many parts of society and of the world children grow up in hazardous environments with very poor conditions for basic requirements and bleak prospects for their future.
Education for Sustainable Development is derived from the Brundtland report's focus on Sustainable Development (SD). The Brundtland report requires fundamental changes in the society and its institutions, in politics and in our individual family life styles. Economic development cannot be separated from social development and a concern for the environment.
ESD for child development Educational research can tell us a lot of how to make use of education for sustainable development for child development.
The most important fact might be that ESD is an excellent frame for the empowerment of children. When we respect each individual child for its ideas and opinion, and at the same time bring the child into challenging learning situations we facilitate empowerment of the child.
Developing self esteem and empowerment goes hand in hand in education for sustainable development. A proper self esteem is such an important part of successful child development.
Another important fact is that ESD is a productive frame for meaningful learning. Opposite to rote learning and the acquisition of facts without much understanding meaningful learning situations help the child to engage fully in the teaching. By working with real problems the child can develop much better understanding of concepts and skills from the schools core curriculum in a meaningful context. The key to that is the opportunity to use and reflect on these 'traditional' ingredients of classic schooling in the meaningful contexts derived from the focus on sustainable development.
Education for sustainable development and schools Some schools have focused on the beautification of their school environment. This might help the school's prestige in the local society but it isn't helpful for education for sustainable development unless it happens as the students' project.
Similarly some schools have put a lot of emphasis in making the school buildings more 'green' with solar power panels, recycling systems, water conservation measures and tree planting around the school. Again, such initiatives are only valuable for the learning of the students if they are planned as student projects. You cannot evaluate the quality of a school's work with education for sustainable development from a picture of the school.
Concerning a better approach to ESD, headmaster and teachers should ask questions like: - How can we challenge students' thinking on the future and how to make use of parts of the core curriculum in a meaningful way in combination? - How can we teachers cooperate to create stimulating activities and plan the teaching in such a way that the self-esteem of the students will benefit from it? - How can we help students to investigate local people's concern for the future and how to make sense of such results? - How can we help students to try to make a difference according to their wishes and visions?
Education for sustainable development will gain increasing publicity as the picture of environmental degradation, energy shortage, climate change, increasing poverty mixed with increasing wealth and the overall picture of globalization becomes more evident.
We cannot blame our children for these issues but it is our duty to educate them to be able to cope with such complex and controversial issues and to live a decent life with a belief that it is possible for everybody to make a difference to the better.