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Characteristics of ESD

© Angsana Chuamthaisong /UNESCO Bangkok

If ESD is to be an effective tool for engaging people in negotiating a sustainable future, making decisions and acting on them, it must first address the way we think about sustainable development and about education in general. Essential to ESD are the following skills:

  • Envisioning – being able to imagine a better future. The premise is that if we know where we want to go, we will be better able to work out how to get there.
  • Critical thinking and reflection – learning to question our current belief systems and to recognize the assumptions underlying our knowledge, perspective and opinions. Critical thinking skills help people learn to examine the economic, environmental, social or cultural structures in the context of sustainable development.
  • Systemic thinking – acknowledging complexities and looking for links and synergies when trying to find solutions to problems.
  • Building partnerships – promoting dialogue and negotiation, learning to work together.
  • Participation in decision-making – empowering people.

These skills should be learnt and applied according to the cultural contexts of different groups and stakeholders.

Challenges to ESD

The very concept of ESD challenges the way most people think about the world today. Economic growth and increased consumption patterns tend to characterize the aspirations of a large proportion of the planet’s society. ESD aims to challenge these aspirations by encouraging us to imagine a different future and reflect on how our values, beliefs and current behavior might affect our collective ability to realize such a future. To do this requires that we also change our view of the purpose of education. This transformative aspect of ESD makes the concept difficult for many to grasp. Thus, there is a need for proponents of ESD to establish for themselves an understanding of the concept and decide how they will communicate this to those in a higher position of responsibility. This will take planning, good communication strategies and a willingness to be open to the ideas of those who may not be seen as traditional partners in ESD.

More on challenges of the implementation of ESD