ESD Global

Education for Sustainable Development

Although the past 20 years a series of major international programs have tried to realise ESD,
notably the DESD 2005-2014, GAP 2015-2019 and ESD-for-2030,
effects are still limited to single pockets of minor progress.
Earth, Well-being and Welfare can no longer be left to self-congratulatory networks and institutions
lacking vision, mission, strategy, program, professionalism and a true sense of urgency.

Action can no longer be left to failing institutions

Although years before the start of UNESCO's 'Decade of Education for Sustainable Development' (DESD) 2005-2014 efforts to effectuate the transformative potential of ESD were underway, in the course of almost 20 years little progress has been made. As also the programs' successor, the 'Global Action Program on ESD' (GAP 2015-2019), did not deliver on its promise and most recent efforts coming together in 'ESD for 2030' still lack vision and strategy, a more pro-active route is called for. A pathway open for practitioners and experts beyond closed-circles that kept far from a critical-constructive evaluation of contents and process, remaining self-congratulatory and inside-looking.

Although 'ESD-for-2030' seemingly shows progress by underlining the key-role of Youth, now also speaks of ongoing learning pathways and indicates a role for industry, it misses out on vision, mission, strategy, program and a true sense of urgency. The reasoning remains top-down and although awareness seems to surface that ESD is much more than 'greening the campus', structures still preside over students while ESD is degraded to the promotion of the SDG's and the capital failure the integrate ESD in Teacher Education is hardly addressed.

Berlin Declaration 'ESD for 2030' scratches the surface of the OPEDUCA-concept

ESD enables learners to develop their cognitive and non-cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and competences for collaboration, problem solving, coping with complexity and risk, building resilience, thinking systemically and creatively, and empowering them to take responsible action as citizens.

The 'Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development', adopted May 2021, is in line with the OPEDUCA-concept as it underlines ESD of the foundation for transformation, speaks of well-being of all within planetary boundaries, capacity development of educators, youth empowerment, local level action and lifelong life-wide learning. Furthermore the declaration mentions open educational resources, open science and affordable e-Learning facilities. And indeed justly formulates that: 'Transformative learning for people and the planet is a necessity for our survival and that of future generations. The time to learn and act for our planet is now'.

Yet, it is doubtful how well-wrought and thought-through, how realizable the declaration is.

Following our vision, the declaration acknowledges the creation of multi-disciplinary partnerships, though sees to focus on inter-governmental cooperation (a 'whole-of-government' approach) alike the programs established in amongst others the Netherlands as of 2005, then adding to constitute partnerships also of 'all other relevant stakeholder groups, such as non-governmental organizations, the academic community, the business sector, youth, and others'. Coming across as an open-door statement re-affirmed countless times, there appears no guidance or recollection of experiences.
Mentioning Youth mentioned as change agents and co-creators appears a remarkable step forward, yet is remains questionable if youngsters are not merely seen as means to an end. Alike, although the key-importance of the individual is mentioned, such seems restricted to 'individual behavioural change for sustainable development'. 
Where the declaration mentions sustainable and transformative economies centered on respect for the well- being of people as well as for the planet, such doesn't take a clear distance from the impossible 'People, Planet, Profit'-mantra which dominates the discourse for so long, the ideas remaining anthropocentric.  
It seems a sign on the wall the declaration speaks of 'transforming learning environments' in stead of 'transformative learning environments'  
Where the declaration mentions sustainable and transformative economies centered on respect for the well- being of people as well as for the planet, such doesn't take a clear distance from the 'People, Planet, Profit'-mantra which dominates the discourse for so long.
Although the role of teachers is mentioned, it appears restricted to the promotion of ESD. Any critical analyses of this so often repeated statement is missing, regarding the entire lack of progress in this regard.
Although the declaration seems to take a distance from a bureaucracy induced 'Whole School Approach' and now speaks of ' .. a whole-institution approach, recognizing that learners and the school community become meaningfully engaged in sustainable development ..', it does not provide any guidance as to the 'how'. The declaration-text further includes much of the OPEDUCA-concept but it comes across as a inventory of wordings that should be regarded and no more than that (.. through democratic participation when their institutions become living laboratories for participation and active citizenship, equity and gender equality, health, connections with nature and respect for the environment, energy efficiency and sustainable consumption, and where learning is experiential, action-oriented, localized and culturally specific, allowing learners to learn what they live and live what they learn).

It remains doubtful if 'ESD for 2030' can be regarded a framework or a road-map. 

A detailed analyses will be available in the publication: 'Fulfilling the Transformative Promise of Education for Sustainable Development through ESD-based Education' (Eussen, Martens, vd Bosch, May 2021, Maastricht University).  

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