A degree for a sustainable future
As a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), Jamaica is prone to sustainability challenges, especially those related to the environment, such as climate change and its impacts (flooding and droughts), and social challenges such as poverty and violence. Therefore, there is an urgent need for an educational programme that focuses on re-orienting values and attitudes towards sustainable development (SD).
Embedded in the notion of development is the quality education of its citizens, and quality education depends on a single factor: the quality education of teachers. Well-trained teachers can help reorient students’ skills, values and attitudes towards sustainable development. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is one of the possible pathways to achieving this. Therefore, ESD is critical in teacher education, which strongly influences how ESD is promoted in classroom teaching.
ESD empowers learners with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to take informed actions related to environmental integrity, economic viability and social justice. Furthermore, ESD plays an integral part in quality education as it is holistic, transformational and enhances the cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural dimensions.
ESD IN TEACHER EDUCATION
Teachers are agents of change at the forefront of education. Therefore, any attempt to change values and attitudes in society should originate in teacher education. Thus, teachers in training must be exposed to sustainability principles. ESD is relevant in training teachers as it provides a holistic pathway in engendering the requisite skills and competencies. Teachers need to understand the relationship between the social, environmental, economic and political climates. Additionally, ESD learning outcomes focus on developing ESD pedagogical skills among all levels of education, therefore safeguarding a sustainable future.
As SIDS become more vulnerable to economic, social and environmental challenges, there is a dire need for education that transforms how humans address these challenges. ESD provides this opportunity as it is designed to develop mindsets that understand the interdependence between the world and humans. This interdependency cements ESD’s relevance in teacher education since it provides a pathway to impart ESD values to the broader society.
The Master of Education Degree programme in Education for Sustainable Development, Global Citizenship and Peace offered at The University of the West Indies, Mona, plays a critical role in helping to develop quality education as it relates to sustainable development. The programme is designed to strengthen skills and knowledge that will assist in addressing current sustainability challenges. Additionally, its design enables the transformation of the learner as it relates to sustainability by provoking the desire to transform themselves and instigating the need for action towards SD. This action-oriented principle embedded in the programme is vital as it relates to teacher training. Applying this principle would help teachers see themselves as essential stakeholders in achieving SD and engender the desire to develop sustainability skills in students and competencies among students. The programme is also focused on sustainability methodological skills. Research reveals that these skills are significant because education delivery for SD content is done with limited emphasis on proper ESD methodological approaches. The programme provides practical knowledge and skills to understand better and address sustainability challenges using case studies and research in teacher education. It also provides the technical skills to design both formal and non-formal educational programmes for ESD.
ESD IN THE CLASSROOM
Given the sustainability challenges, dynamism and global landscape of the world, classrooms must be adaptable and address the needs of current and future generations. One pathway for achieving this is to ensure that fundamental ESD principles are being observed and practised in schools. Undoubtedly, some of these principles are already evident in classrooms; however, there is a demand for a more deliberate, cohesive and structured approach.
Implementing ESD principles would significantly change the narrative about classrooms. It would impact classrooms’ physical set-up, desired learning outcomes, pedagogies and activities employed. The methodology behind evaluations and the types of assessment utilised too would be impacted. This paradigm shift results in more meaningful learning and fewer exhibitions of disruptive behaviours in the classroom.
Educators completing this programme will significantly shift their teaching-learning approach in whatever capacity. From a supervisory standpoint, programmes must cultivate the appropriate ESD competencies in students and other stakeholders, for example, the best ESD competencies to be applied to areas dealing with conflicts when divergent views exist. Fewer conflicts resolved through violence would be a consequence. Instead, conflicts would be addressed in a more restorative manner. A kinder, more respectful and peaceful school culture would be attainable with less disruptive behaviour in class, fewer fights, and fewer instances of bullying.
The varying subject areas lend themselves to the infusion of different ESD competencies in preparing and executing lessons. ESD demands that educators across several disciplines work collaboratively for its successful integration. This type of integration and collaboration is essential as ESD is cross-disciplinary. Furthermore, sustainability challenges are complex and can span multiple spheres. This collaborative and cross-disciplinary effort would demonstrate to students that sustainability solutions can come from every subject area.
The proper engrafting of critical ESD principles or tenets into our teacher training institutions and schools would go a far way in helping our society achieve a sustainably healthy environment, governance framework, economic sector and socio-cultural fabric of our communities. Schools and teacher training institutions would be more effective in producing respectful citizens. It would aid efforts to achieve a more peaceful, equitable and just society. This programme helps to equip educators to support this transition.
Nicole Perkins is a geography and social studies lecturer at Shortwood Teachers’ College. Kriss-Ann Pinnock is a geography teacher at Titchfield High School. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.