SEEd Director Ann Finlayson takes a look at progress on education for sustainability.

It is the year of COP 26, and less than 2 months before COP 27 in Egypt.

It is therefore 10 months since COP 26 occurred in Glasgow where Education had its first ever platform (and was not a side event).

It is just over a year since UNESCO’s global conference of member states was held and the Berlin Declaration was signed to embed Education for Sustainability (ESD) and climate change education in all countries education policies.

It is 7 years since the SDG’s were signed off by the world’s leaders – including SDG 4.7.

It is 30 years since the Rio Earth Summit, where for the first time ESD was written into Chapter 36 and signed up to by all parties.

It is 35 years since the term ‘sustainable development’ was coined (I think?).

It is 45 years since Tblisi (1977) the UNESCO Environmental Education (EE) Conference where a definition and purpose of EE was agreed by countries.

Its nearly 60 years since Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ exposed the ecological disasters in food webs of the use of pesticides.

Yet here we are in 2022, with young people demanding better and still talking about Transforming Education.

This September was the month where there was a UN Conference on this.

So what have we learnt?
Change takes a long time?
Has much changed?

The pushback and unscientific educational ideologies have been hard to shift. Actually, the playbooks that those resisters to change have used, to be honest, have been very successful. Again it is tempting to ask why? One answer may be that critical thinking about knowledge (i.e. who is in control of it and how they can accentuate their views whilst other viewpoints seem to disappear – used to be called media studies) has disappeared out of the English education system. That critical knowledge should now include the fundamental question: “How did we get here in 2022 with such existential crises being faced by the whole world and not just bald eagles in America?”

This is socially critical thinking and I suspect that many young are doing this already. I met some recently. I was invited as an ‘elder’ to share a platform with Jonathon Porritt at an Intergenerational Dialogue with Peace Child International. The young people were testing some questions and ideas out for their UN Day State of the Planet Programme. I did find the initial question “ Is it as bad as they say?” very difficult to answer for many reasons – mostly emotional!

These were some of their later questions:
ONE: It’s very easy for an Intergenerational Dialogue to turn into a blame game – and that doesn’t help any one. But your generation did coin the term: ‘Sustainable Development’ to describe a means of achieving human progress that “meets the needs of today’s generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Do you feel that the ability of the future generation to meet its needs has been compromised?

ONE “A”: If yes, what steps does our generation have to take to ensure we don’t
further compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs?
FOUR “A”: And do you think we really need a Revolution?

What would you answer?

What was impressive was the work they had put into investigating ideas and solutions. It gives me hope, but we need to challenge ‘business as usual’ – hence the ‘revolution’ idea. We do need to transform education from backwards looking, knowledge intensive approaches to one helping build the skills and capacities to address the challenges ahead. That feels more like a revolution rather than a transformation.

I hope we have time.

Ann Finlayson