Table of Contents

  • At the 17th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in 2009, the Commonwealth Secretariat was asked ‘to prioritise the work to take account of global trends’, including ‘Education for sustainable development, with particular emphasis on climate change’. Similarly, the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group identified climate change as a key priority for action by the Commonwealth in its recommendations presented to Commonwealth Heads of Government in 2011.

  • Education is critical to sustainable development, and is an essential element of the global response to environmental challenges such as climate change. Sustainable development can be understood as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987). Contemporary perspectives on sustainable development hold that sustainability is not simply a matter of technological innovation, but rather that, in addition to technological innovations, societies themselves must develop, focusing attention on the cultural, psychological and behavioural aspects of societies which lead them to continually push ecological limits (Ayres et al. 1998). This perspective is reflected in touchstone documents of the global education for sustainable development (ESD) movement, including the Earth Charter (Earth Charter Commission 2000) and the Bonn Declaration (UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development 2009). With the United Nations Decade for ESD (UNDESD), 2005–2014, now in its final years, implementation of ESD in many countries has progressed relatively slowly, demonstrating at best mixed results.

  • While approaches to development which recognise natural limits and shared contexts of global development have been increasing in profile since at least the 1980s, it was the call of the United Nations General Assembly for a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD) 2005–2014 which brought ESD onto the global agenda.

  • This study was conceptualised as a best practices review and gap analysis of ESD implementation in ten SIDS. By design, and because of the limitations of the budget and timeline, the study was conducted remotely, with no travel to the focus countries. However, in addition to a review of available documents, information was also collected through correspondence, questionnaires, and interviews with a number of personnel from government offices, public institutions, multilateral organisations and civil society organisations (CSOs) involved with ESD implementation in the focus countries (see Appendix B). The direct contact with these individuals and organisations yielded a great deal of additional information as well as further documentation which was not available online. A list of documents reviewed is included in the Bibliography.

  • Ministries of education in SIDS are faced with a challenging mix of responsibilities, constraints and competing demands. Nonetheless, many countries have found opportunities to infuse sustainability-related content and relevant pedagogical approaches into their systems during ongoing processes of educational reform and modernisation.

  • Literature on ESD stresses the importance of local relevance, and a number of countries have undertaken promising and successful processes to develop an authentic vision of what ESD should mean in the context of local daily life. One of the criticisms of some donor and multilateral initiatives is that they have tended to reflect the agendas of donor countries related to ‘flavour of the day’ issues, thus fragmenting development efforts in recipient countries and hijacking local capacity. In recent years, some of the organisations involved have astutely recognised the need to move away from preconceived notions of ESD and associated jargon, and work with local groups to pursue related ideas on their own terms. Practically speaking, organisations such as the Pacific’s Secretariat of the Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) and the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) have sought to develop or adapt resource materials to the specific contexts of the countries and people they are working with, trying where possible to connect sustainability and environmental values with local cultural values and practices.

  • There is no doubt that the UNDESD, with UNESCO as the lead agency, has elevated the profile of ESD to a level of unprecedented significance. Including work produced by central and cluster offices, UNESCO has produced thousands of pages of documentation and hosted countless hours of workshops to support regions, countries, institutions and even individual teachers in the implementation of the UNDESD. This work has included not only the establishment of fundamental frameworks to support implementation, but also resource materials for those involved directly in the implementation, as well as numerous publications cataloguing and elaborating on best practices in ESD in relation to teacher education (UNESCO 2007; Cambers et al. 2008), the application of the Earth Charter (Earth Charter International 2007) and in the Pacific (ACCU-UNESCO 2007). This work has effectively positioned ESD on the global agenda for education reform, alongside longstanding priorities such as literacy and gender equality, leading other international organisations without explicit environment-related agendas to focus on ESD as a priority as well.