Learning to accept responsibility: the true meaning of Education for Sustainable Development?

Image: Pxfuel.com

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, Alan Reid (Monash University, Australia) argues that we should refocus education on our responsibility for the present and future, and explains why this is critical to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

A fundamental task of “everyday ESD” is learning to weigh up and let go of habits that “sustain unsustainability”.

Yet in times of crisis, a more radical interpretation of ESD is desirable, given that everyone’s education is linked to everyone else’s sustainable development.

ESD helps us analyse and address the values, qualities and direction of contemporary society. We have to be mindful that to date, these have done little to curb the unsustainability of modern life, and the longer-term stakes have been brought into sharp relief by a culture of delay, as exhibited in responses to COVID-19 and the climate emergency.

Meanwhile, ESD has been positioned in the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030 as presenting an ongoing but simple challenge to society: to get on with learning and doing obvious things for planetary health and community resilience.

We educate others and are educated by working together to restore natural habitats, improve air quality (to the levels now experienced with drops in non-essential travel), and prioritise what’s of real importance – not just in times of disruption but also when that subsides.

As the evidence shows, ESD can foster sustainable societies, lifestyles and outcomes. But at its heart, ESD compels us to revisit the relationship between educational priorities and social change.

In other words, which futures do we anticipate, and will we accept responsibility for ensuring how we live and learn benefits both the planet and all our tomorrows?

Alan Reid

Alan Reid supports the Global Environmental Education Partnership and edits #eerjournal.