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Change is need in education for sustainable redevelopment
Change is need in education for sustainable redevelopment
Dr Stephen Sterling
Dr Stephen Sterling

Press Release - 18 February 2005

Education needs a “fundamental re-think” to assist sustainable development, says researcher

Most education policymakers are unaware of the scale of change needed if education is to help Britain become a more sustainable society, according to a leading researcher this week.

This warning comes as the United Nations prepares to launch the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development which aims to give an enhanced profile to the central role of education and learning in the common pursuit of sustainable development.

This important role for education was established at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, but relatively little has changed in education in Britain since then.

Sustainability – development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs - continues to move up the political agenda, but there is a danger that not enough time will be spent helping children and students become ‘sustainable citizens’ in an already packed curriculum.

Most schools, colleges and universities currently have little scope for becoming more sustainable themselves, let alone helping students and pupils develop the understanding and skills necessary for sustainable living.

To address this, Dr Stephen Sterling from the University of Bath, suggests that a fundamental re-orientation across education policy, purpose and practice as a whole is needed if education is to make a real impact on the sustainability of our society.

“The key shift required is from a limited emphasis on ‘education for jobs’ towards the broader goal of building an ecologically sustainable economy and society,” said Dr Sterling.

“The idea of ‘education for sustainable development’ is clearly moving up the Government’s policy agenda but most education policymakers and practitioners remain unaware of the scale of change needed if education is to help Britain become a more sustainable society.

“The daunting challenge of achieving a sustainable society in the coming decades demands a wholesale and urgent reorientation of educational vision and practice.

“There is a danger that ‘education for sustainable development’ becomes little more than another curriculum box to be ticked, rather than a key to transformation touching all aspects of educational provision.

“The key issue is how far institutions and education as a whole are able to respond sufficiently and coherently to the wider context of the crisis of un-sustainability and the opportunities of ecologically sustainable development.”

Dr Sterling’s thesis on the problems and possibilities of sea-change in education is published on the University’s Centre for Research in Education and the Environment website this week.

He has previously written a book on the subject, Sustainable Education (Green Books 2001), which has been influential with policymakers and practitioners internationally, including in the Baltic States Agenda 21 initiative, the Netherlands, New Zealand and South Australia.

”Society’s movement towards sustainability is a profound learning process involving everybody engaged in education, and one we are collectively still only in the early stages of,” said Dr Sterling.

”There is a real opportunity now to develop a new holistic vision in education, affirming its vital contribution towards a more liveable, fairer and ecologically sustainable future.

”If we don’t grasp this opportunity, education is likely to remain more a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution - and time is short.”


The thesis

Current developments in this area

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