Education for sustainable development is about the learning needed to maintain and improve our quality of life and the quality of life of generations to come. It is about equipping individuals, communities, groups, businesses and government to live and act sustainably; as well as giving them an understanding of the environmental, social and economic issues involved. It is about preparing for the world in which we will live in the next century.
Education for sustainability is a lifelong learning process that leads to an informed and involved citizenary having the creative problem-solving skills, scientific and social literacy and committment to engage in responsible individual and cooperative action.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
Sustainable development education aims to introduce a holistic approach, as opposed to the reductionist approach common in most education systems nowadays. It also stresses that besides cognitive aspects, experiential aspects are of importance as well. Pupils need to be taught concrete abilities, which can be put into practice in every day life. To accomplish this goal, out-of-the-classroom-activities are of vital importance. One hour outside the classroom is often more effective than 8 hours inside.
Too often, environmental education is based on doom-scenarios and as a effect experienced as burdensome. Sustainable development education needs to be based on a hopeful vision of the future.
UNESCO is promoting an evolution of the educational systems of the planet towards a curriculum based on sustainable growth and right relations between the varius disciplines. Following UNCED, UNESCO created a trans-disicplinary project [Educating for a Sustainable Future], which aims to strengthen Member states' capacities to reorient education at all levels towards sustainability. Among its long-term objectives are the presentation of a positive vision of environmentally sound sustainable development with the use of informal as well as formal education to support and sustain such development.
Research has been carried out aiming to identify quality criteria for environmental education and to develop a system of standardisation and certification. Six domains in schools are relevant: (a) the policy; (b) the organisation; (c) the activities; (d) the place of environmental education in teaching; (e) external relations; and (f) environmental care. Embedding environmental aspects in the policy and organisation is essential. If this is not realised, schools might react defensively towards environmental education. Another potential bottleneck when integration in policies does not occur, is that environmental education will only be tolerated, but not actively worked on. A possible side effect of integration is assimilation: environmental education is completely integrated in education renewal, but the environmental perspective is forgotten at the end.
Governments should strive to update or prepare strategies aimed at integrating environment and development as a cross-cutting issue into education at all levels within the next three years. This should be done in cooperation with all sectors of society. The strategies should set out policies and activities, and identify needs, cost, means and schedules for their implementation, evaluation and review. A thorough review of curricula should be undertaken to ensure a multidisciplinary approach, with environment and development issues and their socio-cultural and demographic aspects and linkages. Due respect should be given to community-defined needs and diverse knowledge systems, including science, cultural and social sensitivities.