UNESCO are one of the major enablers of ESD globally. They define ESD as
“[empowering] learners to take informed decisions and responsible actions for environmental integrity, economic viability and a just society, for present and future generations, while respecting cultural diversity. It is about lifelong learning, and is an integral part of quality education.”
The skills gap in relation to sustainability was identified over a decade ago, and has been discussed by various groups and stakeholders since.
There’s a difference between education about sustainable development and education for sustainable development. Both are important – the former helps develop specialists in sustainability, but we also need the latter, ensuring that all learners have the knowledge, skills, values and attributes to create a more just and sustainable world. This is not to say that all learners should have an expert knowledge of all the areas of sustainable development, but instead that learners have sustainable development knowledge, skills, values and attributes as a core competency and they understand how their subject area interrelates with sustainable development and can contribute to its realisation and have the values and agency required to act upon that knowledge.
ESD equips students with new knowledge but also new ways of thinking – the onus being on the need to promote learning skills that are resilient to change and are future-proofed.
There’s a lot of debate about the precise set of learner outcomes required but broadly we’re talking about critical thinking skills, interdisciplinarity, the ability to bring about change, a connection to nature, systems thinking, global citizenship perspectives and collaborative problem solving.
The World Economic Forum suggests that the highest-demand skills in emerging and growing sectors span both technical and cross-functional skills. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has recently published a conceptual framework for learner outcomes, the learning compass, aiming to create a common language around broad educational goals that is globally relevant and informed, while providing space to adapt the framework to local contexts.
Back in November 2020, the UK government published an ambitious Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which will create and support up to 250,000 high-skilled jobs. The £12bn plan is the most overt national sustainability commitment since the 2008 Climate Change Act and focuses on building back better: to invest in making the UK a global leader in green technologies, supporting green jobs, and accelerating the UK’s path to net zero emissions.
The Green Jobs Taskforce was established last year to set the direction for the job market to enable the transition to a high-skill, low carbon economy. It published its recommendations to the education and skills sector as well as industry and Government last month. It believes all jobs can be green jobs and amongst its recommendations said that education providers should promote the effective teaching of climate change and the knowledge and skills (in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and other key subjects) required for green jobs.