Why Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)?

Welcome to the Anthropocene

A Brief Introduction to Sustainable Development

Take a few minutes to watch this video – it provides us with some starting points to think about the concept of sustainable development.

ESD: Thinking About the Causes of Unsustainable Development (Group Activities 1 & 2)

This next video provides more specific details about the causes of Unsustainable Development. Take a few minutes to watch the video, and then complete Group Activity 1.

Group Activity 1: What is Unsustainability About?

Think about our context here in South Africa.

  • How are we experiencing the impacts of these four causes of unsustainability?
  • Are any of these causes more urgent or important for us to address than others?
  • Are any of these root causes engaged with in our National Curriculum?

Group Activity 2: Thinking About Social Sustainability In More Detail

Of particular interest and concern in South Africa are the issues of social justice, dignity and well-being. This video opens up one set of ideas to think about this aspect of sustainability in more detail. Think about the the framework for describing and thinking about human needs.

  • Do you think it is a useful framework for thinking about human needs?
  • Are there any human needs you feel are not accounted for in the framework?
  • How are we currently accounting for these needs within our national curriculum (CAPS)?

ESD: Defining Sustainable Development

“Sustainable Development is development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their own needs.”
​(United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987).

​The definition above is the most widely used and cited definition of sustainable development. However, more than 300 different definitions of ‘sustainable development’ have been published showing that this is not an uncontested concept. This open-endedness frustrates some educators, who feel they need to know the boundaries of things, how one thing is different from another, if they are to teach it well. But sustainable development is an open-ended process, a vision that society must work towards, which may manifest in different ways in different contexts.

The term sustainability is therefore often used, rather than sustainable development, in order to reflect a sense of process or movement. Scott and Gough (2003) proposed that sustainability is:

a process through which we shall need to learn to live more in tune with the environment …. Sustainable development is a learning process through which we can, (if we choose) learn to build our capacity to live more sustainably.”
(ibid, our emphasis).

In fact, Scott and Gough (2003) argue that the process of sustainable development is unlikely to take place without substantial learning that is multi-sectoral, multi-leveled, multi-disciplinary and diverse.

It is for this reason that there is need for sustainable development to obtain its meaning in local context, while also referring to the international definition of sustainable development quoted above.

(extract from Sustainability Starts with Teachers (Lotz-Sisitka et al, 2017)