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Home > Education and Sustainable Development: UNESCO’s Contribution to Agenda 21 - Updated: 26-08-2002 3:25 pm
Chapter 36 of Agenda 21, on Education, Awareness and Training states:

Education is critical for achieving environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behaviour consistent with sustainable development and for effective public participation in decision-making. Both formal and non-formal education are indispensable to . . . sustainable development.  
To achieve this vision, Chapter 36 called on governments, international agencies, businesses and civil society groups to:

• ensure that basic education for all is achieved
• make environmental and development education available to people of all ages
• integrate environmental and development concepts into all educational programmes
• involve schoolchildren in studies on environmental health, including safe drinking water, sanitation, food and the various impacts of resource use.

Following the Earth Summit, the Commission on Sustainable Development appointed UNESCO to be its Task Manager for Chapter 36. UNESCO’s roles were to accelerate reforms of education and coordinate the activities of all stakeholders in education through a wide-ranging Work Programme whose objectives included:

• clarifying the concept and key messages of education for sustainable development
• incorporating education into national strategic and action plans for sustainable development
• educating to promote sustainable consumption and production patterns
• identifying and sharing innovative practices.

Several activities were listed for each objective and those who might be responsible for each, e.g. governments, relevant United Nations bodies and/or NGOs, nominated.

UNESCO has had both internal and external roles to play in its responsibility as ‘task manager’.

A transdicsiplinary project on Environment, Population and Development: Reorienting Education for a Sustainable Future was established. In addition, the organization as a whole was mobilized to address education from the perspective of sustainability and, with the endorsement of the UNESCO's General Conference, has aligned its work according to the priorities laid down in the CSD work programme.

Indeed, along with poverty eradication and the promotion and fair use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), sustainable development is now central to all UNESCO’s work.

UNESCO has provided professional and technical support for governments of member states and has helped to disseminate the innovative policies, programmes and practices of education for sustainable development developed by all stakeholders.

UNESCO has also been a catalyst for clarifying key ideas and guiding principles, and sharing experiences across countries, for example by:

• convening international conferences and regional and sub-regional workshops
• sponsoring demonstration projects to encourage innovation in education and the development of sample curriculum and training materials for use by teachers and students
• creating an international network of schools (the UNESCO Associated Schools Project – ASPNet)

committed to the principles of peace, human rights, equity and conservation.
UNESCO is also facilitating the international Education for All (EFA) programme that aims to develop and implement national education action plans, enable capacity development in early-childhood, primary and science education, and catalyse new approaches to family education as well as citizenship, peace, multicultural and environmental education.

The challenge of sustainable development is a difficult and complex one, requiring new partnerships — among governments, academic and scientific communities, teachers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), local communities and the media. All are essential to the birth of a culture of sustainability.
Thus, UNESCO has developed partnerships with many UN agencies, including UNFPA, WHO and ILO to promote population education, WHO to develop new approaches to health education, FAO to advance education in rural areas and promote food security, WHO and UNAIDS to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic, UNEP to promote sustainable consumption, as well as UNICEF, UNHCR and major NGOs to assist in the reconstruction of education in crisis and post-conflict situations.

Partnerships have also been formed with NGOs such as the UNESCO NGO Liaison Committee comprising over 350 educational organizations worldwide, the Committee of NGOs in the Commission on Sustainable Development, and the International Association of Universities. Partnerships with universities have resulted in an international network of teacher education institutions and faculties dedicated to reorienting their courses towards sustainability as well as a Global Higher Education for Sustainability Partnership dedicated to reforming the curriculum and operating processes of universities. Partnerships with private organizations have led to the development of innovative teaching materials and training courses for educators.

Two Key Contributions

Two of UNESCO’s key contributions to education for sustainable development over the decade since the Rio Earth Summit are highlighted in the next column to illustrate the impact of these many activities:

• the clarification of the concept and key messages of education for sustainable development, and
• the use of multimedia approaches to advance teacher education for sustainable development.
Both were among the tasks assigned to UNESCO in the CSD Work Programme on education for sustainable development.

Clarifying the concept and key messages of education for sustainable development
As a result of UNESCO’s many partnerships activities, there is now wide agreement that education for sustainable development is a catalytic vision for social change rather than a neatly defined, technical concept
As a result, UNESCO, and the international community in general, believes that we need to foster – through education – the values, behaviour and lifestyles required for a sustainable future. Indeed, sustainable development is not so much a destination as a process of learning how to think in terms of ‘forever’. Sustainable development involves learning how to make decisions that consider the long term future of the economy, ecology and well-being of all communities. Building the capacity for such futures-oriented thinking is a key task of education.

Education for sustainable development demands a new vision of education, a vision that seeks to help people better understand the world in which they live, and to face the future with hope and confidence, knowing that they can play a role in addressing the complex and interdependent problems that threaten our future such as poverty, wasteful consumption, environmental degradation, urban decay, population growth, gender inequality, health, conflict and the violation of human rights.

This vision requires all involved in education - teachers, teacher educators, curriculum developers, education policy makers and authors of educational materials - to promote a system of ethics and values that is sensitive to cultural identity, multicultural dialogue, democratic decision-making and the appropriate use of natural resources.

A multimedia approach to teacher education

There are over 60 million teachers in the world – and every one is a key agent for bringing about the changes in lifestyles and systems we need. For this reason, innovative teacher education is an important part of educating for a sustainable future. Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future is one of UNESCO’s responses to that challenge.
Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future is a multimedia teacher education programme. Its 25 modules provide around 100 hours of highly interactive activities designed to enhance the teacher’s understanding of sustainable development and related themes. It also develops practical skills for integrating sustainable development themes into the school curriculum, and for using the teaching methods best suited to the knowledge, values and citizenship objectives of educating for a sustainable future.
Available as a CD-Rom and on the internet at URL:>, and is easily translated and adapted to national contexts for use in both pre-service and in-service teacher education.


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