Now, more broadly, it’s about education and learning that can help secure a more sustainable future than ‘the one in prospect’ – as the renowned educator David Orr puts it.
Click to download Stephen Sterling, Plymouth University, UK What do you think when you see those ‘L’ plates on the car in front? Because we are facing testing times like never before ‒ not just once as in the driving licence test, but over lifetimes.
It’s a metaphor of course, but current conditions – economic, social, ecological, political, technological – are requiring us all to be ‘learner drivers’: more cautious, going slower, reading our broader environment, aware of dangers and signals of change.
Prior to and following the Rio 20 Summit of 2012, which brought the world community together to look at issues of global sustainable development, there have been numerous high level reports and documents outlining the need for change towards more resilient, just, and environmentally sustainable societies.
For example, the international Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) (SDSN 2013) details ‘ten priority challenges of sustainable development’: ending poverty, development within planetary boundaries, effective learning for children and youth, gender equality and human rights, health and wellbeing, improving agricultural systems, curbing climate change, resilient cities, securing ecosystem services and biodiversity, and transforming governance.
There is no prior period of change that remotely resembles what humanity is about to experience. There are almost daily headlines around such issues as energy,food security, biodiversity and species loss, poverty and inequity, climate change and shifting and extreme weather patterns, employment issues, social justice, economic volatility and a rising population.
These fuel a renewed urgency and debate about the possibility of sustainable development (Assadourian and Prugh 2013) – how to live well, into the future, without eroding the Earth’s ability to sustain present and future generations.These are proposed as the basis of ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs), which are currently being discussed prior to their elaboration and adoption internationally in 2015 to replace the Millennium Development Goals.So there is a growing consensus on the broad directions that need to be taken.If we are to secure a safer and enduring future for generations to come, the sustainability revolution ‘requires each person to act as a learning leader at some level, from family to community, from nation to world’ (Meadows “We must take the first determined steps toward a sustainable future with dignity for all. We must transform our economies, our environment and our societies.We must change old mindsets, behaviours and destructive patterns.Education however, can build lasting change - that is, ‒when it is owned by the learner.Whilst policy instruments tend to treat symptoms of unsustainable activities and behaviours, education and learning can reach hearts and minds, and therefore address root causes.Continuing the metaphor, we can ‘drive on’ blindly of course, hoping for the best.Or we can anticipate, think ahead, take avoiding action, take alternative routes. When I started in environmental education some 40 years ago, it was about education that would help people understand and act on environmental issues.ESD touches every aspect of education including planning, policy development, programme implementation, finance, curricula, teaching, learning, assessment, administration.ESD aims to provide a coherent interaction between education, public awareness, and training with a view to creating a more sustainable future (UNESCO, 20).