What is Education for Sustainability (EfS)?
As society makes the necessary transition to a sustainable future, education must be proactive in asking what knowledge, values, and competencies are needed for students of today be successful in the emerging world. What will people, businesses and communities need to 'know' and 'do' in order to sustain a high quality of life? How will they do this not only for today but in the future? How will they protect our “natural capital”, i.e., limited natural resources, and create a more just and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities?
“Ecological disorder reflects a prior disordering of thought, perceptions and values. The ecological crisis is a crisis of mind, which makes it a challenge for those institutions which purport to improve minds. It is, in other words, an educational crisis.” -David Orr, Earth in Mind (1994)
The global sustainability challenges facing our world are multi-dimensional and daunting. To address these complex global challenges, education systems are incorporating Education for Sustainability (EfS) into all the grade levels and disciplines. It is important not to lock the definition, content, scope and methods into a static frame but they must continually be adapted to changing systems and our evolving understandings.
Education for Sustainability is most often viewed not as a separate field of study but as a multi-disciplinary framework or approach to understanding. It goes beyond core content; "habits of mind", i.e., values and attitudes; and competencies, and “habits of mind”. Pedagogies for learning emphasize being learner-centered, inquiry-based, community-based, problem-based, and experiential. Teacher and student become “co-creators” of new knowledge, ways of thinking, and behaviors that lead to effective action. Students analyze and synthesize knowledge from various fields, and work with others to learn from their perspectives. EfS is being included in environmental, economic, societal, technological, and ethical teaching and becoming a basis for analysis, decision-making, planning, and action.
“Sustainable development can be seen as a transformative social learning process in which the role of academia regarding sustainable development ‘is one of innovation and systemic change within our institutions that will allow for more transformative learning to take place.’” ‐Arjen Wals and Peter Corcoran (2006)i
Higher education has an important role in EFS that is moral, practical, and political. Schools and universities educate and train our citizens and future educators, policy-makers, community and business leaders. They have a large responsibility to impart the knowledge, skills, and vision needed to protect our future and ensure the long-term survival and vitality of people, other species, and society. Practically, universities are best equipped to undertake the knowledge generation, research, and action needed to create this change.
In higher education, Sustainable Development is being integrated into:
In K-12, Education for Sustainability is beginning to impact the current trend toward standards-based education. Currently only a few states have adopted the explicit goal of an understanding of sustainability among students many incorporate content-area and performance standards that relate to sustainability education constructs. Internationally, greater strides have been taken to integrate EfS in education.
In 2003, the United Nations declared 2005-2015 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Eight key action areas were defined for the DESD Gender Equality, Health Promotion, Environment, Rural Development, Cultural Diversity, Peace & Human Security, Sustainable Urbanization, Sustainable Consumption. Click on the links for a description of how each applies to sustainable development.
Along with the 3-tiered economic-societal-environmental construct, public policy and technology are added dimensions often incorporated into Education for Sustainability.
Education for Sustainability at WKU
WKU’s mission is to prepare students to be productive, engaged, and socially responsible citizen-leaders in a global society. As a signatory of the Talloires Declaration, WKU recognizes the importance of the role higher education must play in helping society transition to a sustainable and just future. In January 2010, the WKU Board of Regents adopted sustainability and education for sustainability as core values for the University.
WKU realizes that sustainability can only be achieved through a synergy between education, the public and private sectors, and communities and so an interdisciplinary and experiential model for sustainability education that engages with communities in solving real-life problems, as part of the curriculum, is emphasized. Sustainability education has rapidly become a unifying theme across the curriculum and is being incorporated into classes, research, civic engagement, service learning, and campus operations – the “hidden curriculum”. The knowledge, attitudes, skills, and competencies that result will prepare WKU students to meet the global challenges of this century and to succeed as leaders in the 21st century.
EfS Resources: Getting Started
Roca, Antoni Giro. University’s role in society for sustainable development , Technical University of Catalonia. UNU/UNESCO International Conference, Pathways towards a Shared Future: Changing Roles in Higher Education in a Globalized World, 29-30 August 2007.
US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, National Education for Sustainability K-12 Student Learning Standards, Version 3, October 2009.
Wals, Arjen E.J. The end of ESD… the beginning of transformative learning – emphasizing the E in ESD, Wageningen University, The Netherlands. Seminar on Education for Sustainable Development, Mikko Cantell (ed.) Translation: Laura Murto, Publication Series of the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO, No 83 Helsinki 2006