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The role of education for sustainable development (ESD) is to help people develop the attitudes, skills, and knowledge to make informed decisions for the benefit of themselves and others, now and for the future, and to act upon those decisions.
ESD is an approach to teaching and learning based on the ideals and principles that underlie sustainability - human rights, poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods, peace, environmental protection, democracy, health, biological and landscape diversity, climate change, gender equality, and protection of indigenous cultures. In these and many other dimensions, education for sustainable development is analogous with the vision and goals of UNESCO.
In December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 57/254 to put in place a United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), spanning the years 2005 to 2014. UNESCO was designated as the lead agency for the Decade.
The overall goal of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development is the integration of the principles, values, and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning. The Decade's four key objectives are:
facilitating networking and collaboration among stakeholders in ESD
fostering greater quality of teaching and learning in ESD
supporting countries in achieving their millennium development goals through ESD efforts
providing countries with new opportunities and tools to incorporate ESD in education reform efforts.
Sustainable development was defined in the 1987 UN Bruntland Commission report, Our Common Future, as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations.
This simple definition encompasses a complex dynamic that implicates values and value systems as well as interdisciplinary knowledge and experience, and stresses the interdependence of the environment, society and the economy.
UNESCO's major areas of activity in the Decade reflect its core responsibilities.
Education is a human right and the primary agent of transformation towards sustainable development by increasing people's capacities to transform their visions for society into reality. To implement education for sustainable development, UNESCO seeks to promote and improve basic education, reorient existing education programs at all levels to address sustainable development, develop public awareness and understanding of sustainability, and provide training.
Natural and social sciences promote multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to the wise use of natural resources and to the improved understanding of human-environment relationships, as well as promoting principles, policies, and ethical norms to guide scientific and technological development that is sustainable.
Culture is concerned with the identities and values that shape the way people live, their responsiveness to educational programs, and the degree to which they feel involved in preserving for the future. UNESCO encourages an approach to sustainable development in which people are addressed with a discourse linked to their immediate concerns.
Communication is virtually instantaneous, serving as a powerful driver of social transformation. In this context, UNESCO acts as a broker for effective sustainable development by encouraging the sharing of knowledge, information, expertise and best practices, producing and disseminating scientific knowledge, and sensitizing the media to sustainable development issues.
Implementation of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development
As a result of a broad consultancy, UNESCO developed an International Implementation Scheme focused on how DESD goals can be reached, using seven building blocks:
All Member States of UNESCO are encouraged to involve as many stakeholders as possible in activities to develop and implement policies, strategies, and activities throughout the Decade. A number of key action themes have been developed to highlight possible areas of focus and project implementation:
The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development - Moving into the Second Half of the UN Decade is scheduled for Bonn, Germany from March 31 to April 2, 2009. The Conference is to
A Call to Action
Implementing education for sustainable development is a long-term process that calls upon all stakeholders, including governments, educational institutions, business and industry, communities, civil society, and individuals to play a role and to embrace the ideas of sustainable development.
The Canadian Commission for UNESCO and the Canadian Response
The Canadian Commission for UNESCO is responsible for coordinating and implementing UNESCO programme activities in Canada. Using a transdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approach, the Commission has heightened awareness of and commitment to the issues of sustainability and education for sustainable development in numerous venues and projects.
Some Canadian activities have included:
Connecting to the Decade
Canadian organizations can use the DESD Logo on materials related to the Decade by following the guidelines:
This information and copies of materials on which the logo is used should be sent to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO at firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as email@example.com.
Resources, tools, and good practices related to education for sustainable development can also be submitted to UNESCO for inclusion in their DESD web site, with copies to the Canadian Commission.
ESD Canada is a network that brings together stakeholders from across the country to support systemic change toward Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Made up of the ESD Canada National Council, Provincial/Territorial Working Groups and sustainability educators, among others, the network operates at mulitple scales, collaborating to move ESD forward in Canada.
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