Education for Sustainable Development should be expanded nationally

November 7th, 2017

NGOs, educational institutions, trade unions, government and civil society groups share existing best practice in education for sustainable development


Alarm bells are blaring. Each week the decibel level rises. Our ears should be ringing as we hurtle headlong into a state of climate emergency.

Take, for example, last week’s report on the likelihood that hundreds of millions around the world will be displaced by elevated sea levels if climate estimates hold true.

Unless we manage quickly to reform institutions at all levels and the cultures that led us to the brink, things will be dire. However, we appear to be sleepwalking over the precipice.

This was the finding of well-known host of RTE’s Eco Eye, Duncan Stewart, in his opening remark at a conference on climate education last Friday’s hosted by Green Foundation Ireland, of whom he is also Chair.

So, what is the role of education in turning the tide on how we both see and deal with climate change? And how is climate education moving forward in Ireland?

Utopian blueprints

Education as “enchantment” was one option offers by Peadar Kirby, Professor Emeritus of International Politics and Public Policy at the University of Limerick at the A New Climate for Education conference.

He asked: “How much is today’s education sowing the seeds of new values, new practices, new energies, new imagination, and a questing spirit?”

Such spirit resonates in the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), offering a utopian call to action designed to achieve massive, rapid change at all levels of society.

Education is one of the core SDGs as well as a vehicle for all the rest, said Breda Naughton, Principal Officer, Department of Education and Skills.

She encouraged citizens to offer their views to a public consultation on Ireland’s National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development. The deadline is mid-December.

In Ireland, educational NGOs have long been doing the kind of work urged by the SDGs and several shared best practice at the event, including ECO-UNESCO National Director, Elaine Nevin, and An Taisce Director of the Environmental Education Unit, Dr Michael John O’Mahony.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) within the curriculum

Teacher Kate Minnock highlighted the forthcoming Junior Cycle short course in Education for Sustainable Development which she co-developed.

Dr Derek Grant, Primary Education Officer at the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, reported that climate change was hardly mentioned by the public in last year’s public consultation on reforming the primary curriculum.

The student voice

The student voice sounded throughout the conference, especially through a report on Trócaire’s Creating Futures – a climate change education resource for senior primary pupils – which was delivered by Dr Benjamin Mallon.

Also speaking at the event, young people from ECO-UNESCO’s leadership programmes said many peers still do not have essential information about key environmental issues.

They proposed a range of clear and thoughtful solutions ranging from stand-alone subjects to more extra-curricular opportunities to help develop knowledge about sustainable develop and enhance their potential to act as responsible “agitators for change”.

Clear enthusiasm, uncertain path

Conversation was animated and overflowed beyond the formal end of the conference. To avoid sleepwalking over the precipice, we urgently need to awaken on a collective and co-ordinated scale.

There is clearly an appetite for change here. We need a collective path forward and we need it fast.

By Megan Kuster

Megan is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Trinity College Dublin focused on equality in education, climate change communications and surviving the Anthropocene. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Biology from the University of Toronto and a PhD in Literature from Trinity College Dublin.

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