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Conceptual framework

Sustainable development seeks to meet present needs without compromising those of future generations. We must find a way to solve the social and environmental problems of today and learn to live sustainably.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) aims to help people develop attitudes and skills, as well as gain knowledge to enable them to make informed decisions for themselves and others, now and in the future, and to implement those decisions.

The United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD 2005-2014), which UNESCO coordinates, integrates the principles, values and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning, with a view to address the social, economic, cultural and environmental problems of the 21st century.

The concept of ESD has been defined on several occasions. The International Implementation Plan (2006) for the DESD defines ESD as a dynamic concept which must be contextualized according to the characteristics of each locality, country, subregion or region (p.32). Notwithstanding the foregoing, education for sustainable development has been defined as:

"Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a learning process (or approach to teaching) based on the ideals and principles that underlie sustainability and concerned with all levels of and types of education. ESD supports five fundamental types of learning to provide quality education and foster sustainable human development – learning to know, learning to be, learning to live together, learning to do and learning to transform oneself and society.

Education for Sustainable Development must be seen as a comprehensive package for quality education and learning within which key issues such as poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods, climate change, gender equality, corporate social responsibility and protection of indigenous cultures, to name a few, are found. The holistic nature of ESD allows it to be a possible tool for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Education for All goals. Both of these initiatives have a set of objectives to be achieved by a certain time limit. ESD could be perceived as the vehicle for achieving those objectives” (UNESCO, 2008).

The ESD is based on the ideals and principles of sustainability, as well as intergenerational equity, gender equality, non discrimination, poverty elimination, environmental recovery, conservation of natural resources, and just and peaceful societies (UNESCO, 2006). In this sense, the Declaration of Ahmedabad (2007) notes that ESD invites us to see education as a continuous, holistic and inclusive lifelong process.

The fifth pillar of education “learning to transform oneself and society” which ESD has added to the four pillars of education stipulated in the Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century ”Learning: the Treasure Within” (1996 pp.87 to 102) refers to the need to educate future active citizens who are able to think “into the future”, live responsible lifestyles, and have the necessary skills to adapt to changes in society and the environment (UNESCO, 2009).

Among the core values that ESD promotes are:

  • Respect for human rights and dignity of all people in the world and commitment to social and economic justice for all;
  • Respect for human rights of future generations and a commitment to intergenerational responsibility;
  • Respect and care for the greater community of life in all its diversity, which
    includes protection and restoration of the ecosystems on Earth;
    respect for cultural diversity and the commitment to create at local and global scale, a culture of tolerance, nonviolence and peace (UNESCO, 2005).
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