More than only mere facts…

Colourful pencils arranged in a circle.

How education can help us in the development of sustainability

It is the end of the school year. It is the time when report cards are distributed and degrees are issued. Results are compared; both between the students and between countries. Those with better educational achievements and test scores are considered better educated or have better educational systems than those with worse results. But are we maybe measuring the wrong thing? Is successful education maybe not only the simple ability to vomit out facts, concepts and formulas onto test sheets but rather the ability to think, create, consult, collaborate and question critically? Isn’t it rather the ability to apply knowledge and understandings to important tasks and problems?

Especially in a world where we are faced with an increasing number of crisis and problems like climate change and the ecological crisis, the economic crisis, an increasing divide between the worlds richest and poorest, an increase in internal armed conflicts etc. we have to rethink education. Simply reciting facts will not help us in the mastering of those problems and will not enable us to fulfil all of our needs without impairing the needs of future generations. We have to promote concepts and competencies so that we can master these problems. Education has to become sustainable and has to promote sustainability. Sustainability should not only be an addition in the curriculum but rather a solid anchored component of all educational sectors.

According to the UNESCO "Education for Sustainable Development allows every human being to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values necessary to shape a sustainable future.“Sustainability should however not only be thought of as meeting material needs, surviving or preventing a degenerated planet from further worsening. A sustainable community is vital, dynamic, diverse and involved and recognizes and values the needs for justice as well as emotional, cultural and spiritual health and prosperity.

So how can this be accomplished? And what role does education play? Sustainable Education is one that would:

• Include key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning

• Shows the interconnectedness of the human and natural system

• Provides learners with methods to empower and motivate them to change their behaviour and take action

• Promotes competencies like critical and interdisciplinary thinking, collaborative and provident decision making, imagination, self-confidence, tolerance and respect (for nature and other creatures), reflexion and analysis of ideas and projects

• Analyses problems on both a local and global scale and bases on Differentiated knowledge and provides action possibilities

• Fosters the four competencies: self-competence, social-competence, professional expertise and learning competence

At this point, it is important to acknowledge that students do not only learn from classrooms but also from the whole school environment. Their attitudes are unconsciously affected by many other aspects of the school day; the choices offered and atmosphere in the cafeteria, the schools waste management, who is included in decision making and how the school relates and interacts with the outside community. In addition to that sustainable education should not only be limited to schools. Already in kindergarten, the foundations for sustainable thinking can be laid. Equally higher level education in universities and professional development can be planned and conveyed sustainably and interdisciplinary.