Re-igniting our passion for education - A perspective from the ESD Guidance Expert Group

Dr Rehema White, an academic from the University of St Andrews, Chair of the Learning for Sustainability Scotland Steering Group, and one of our Education for Sustainable Development Topic Support Network Convenors, was a member of the QAA expert group tasked with revising and updating the ESD Guidance. Here she shares her reflections on being part of that process, and her hopes for the future of education.

Wider perspectives on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) recognises the creativity of young people, the benefits of outdoor learning, the grounding of connecting with local community and the joy of learning for the future. Learning for Sustainability Scotland (Scotland’s United Nations University Regional Centre for Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development) promotes these perspectives in learning for sustainability across all sectors, including Higher Education and Further Education, but also in continuing professional development, schools, communities and other contexts.

As a member of the QAA expert group tasked with revising and updating guidance on ESD for UK universities, I was delighted to see that other members of the group shared these views. We all wanted to see students engaged, enthused and equipped to become change agents through ESD. The expert group had vigorous debates about why ESD was needed. The consultation highlighted that those with an interest in ESD felt strongly that we needed a clarion call to address the environmental and social crises of the world.

Certainly, we hope the Guidance shows how ESD supports students to be problem solvers. However, ESD is also a route to deliver excellent education, fulfilling the potential of students, enabling transformative learning and personal as well as professional growth. We emphasised the need to teach for sustainable development rather than about sustainability. Hence, we explained how ESD should support generic as well as specific sustainability competencies; critical, systems and future thinking, inter-and intra-personal competencies, strategic, normative and interdisciplinary competencies.

We wanted the Guidance to be enabling and not restrictive; to inspire academic staff in the humanities as well as in science. During Covid-19, universities have tried hard to respond to changing needs; we have had to rapidly explore new forms of teaching and learning. The discussion, examples and resources in the Guidance are designed to help university management, staff and students not only further adapt practices to the needs of people and planet today, but perhaps also to re-evaluate the purpose of education.
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