Sustainability and climate change represent one of the greatest challenges of our time and higher education has an important role to play in ensuring the sustainable future of our planet through education, research and innovation. In particular, this includes through the preparation of graduates who will be able to critically engage with and address global challenges in their professional and personal lives. Educators in every discipline and profession therefore need to consider how best to prepare their students to address these challenges both now and in the future.
Research in education for sustainable development, and related areas such as climate change education, highlights that learners need not only key areas of knowledge, but also to develop relevant skills and competencies, and to critically reflect on values related to sustainability. Knowing how to do this within teaching practice can be daunting, however, especially for busy educators with many demands on their time. We know from our research in the Development Education Research Centre and through supporting students (most of whom are educators) on the MA Global Learning,
that there is an on-going and critical need for support and continuing professional development for educators on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).
This support isn’t just about providing relevant knowledge, but also about increasing educators’ confidence, to help them include ESD within their teaching practice. This need is particularly pressing in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and their focus on education for sustainable development and global citizenship. It was for these reasons that we created the new Educating for Sustainable Development in Schools and Universities short course for educators.
Educating for Sustainable Development in Schools and Universities
The course ran for the first time in November 2022 and received very positive feedback from participants located around the world. It is offered free online via FutureLearn and aims to provide educators with an introduction to key ideas and practices related to education, learning and sustainability, including issues such as climate change. Through online discussions and activities, participants engage with diverse perspectives and practices from around the world and also explore current international policy.
The course is intended for both educators in higher education as well as teachers in schools, so that participants can talk to one another about their practice and share ideas with peers about how education for sustainable development might link across various levels of education. Participants also have the opportunity to reflect on how their learning from the course can be applied to their practice.
Rather than treating ESD as an entirely new area of practice or curriculum, the emphasis is on thinking through how teaching within a discipline or area of professional practice might be taught through a sustainability ‘lens’. For instance, by engaging students in research on sustainability topics or in projects related to sustainability on the campus or in the community. This allows students to develop relevant disciplinary knowledge and skills while also engaging with ‘real world’ sustainability topics. We explore the importance of teaching and learning approaches which can support the development of key knowledge, skills and values, as well as how learning environments themselves – including the classroom, the campus and the community – can be leveraged to support active learning and engagement.
The new course runs parallel with Advance HE’s (2021) Guidance on Education for Sustainable Development
by giving participants an opportunity to explore the ways in which they can foster their students’ knowledge, understanding and skills for sustainability. More broadly, it also aims to support educators and higher education institutions in their efforts to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (and especially Goal 4.7), as well as recent UK Government initiatives such as the recent Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (2020) which sets out the approach government will take to support green jobs, and to accelerate the UK’s path to net zero.
So what can you do next?
The course is now available on-demand, so interested educators can enrol and take part at any time. It is also run as a cohort version (3 weeks) with facilitation from us once each year. We hope that it will reach those who are both new to ESD and also those that are looking for inspiration and to further develop their existing teaching practice. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on teaching practice and also to virtually engage with peers around the world!
Nicole Blum is a Senior Lecturer in the Development Education Research Centre at IOE and has been conducting research and teaching related to education for sustainable development and global learning for over 20 years. You can find out more about her current activities here.
Frances Hunt is a Senior Research Officer in the Development Research Centre at IOE. She teaches on the MA in Global Learning and carries out research on global learning and global citizenship education. Her profile can be found here.