The recent government policy paper ‘Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems’ (April 2022) presents the need for more climate and sustainability education in schools. If these associated action plans are to go beyond knowledge into transformative action (as the strategy advocates), then we argue that they need to be accompanied by a sense of human interconnectedness and shared responsibility - something at the heart of the idea of global citizenship.
Though all related terms can be contested, there is a general understanding amongst educators that sustainability and global citizenship education relates to learning experiences aimed at developing an understanding of key global challenges such as climate change to everything linked to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This type of education also includes opportunities to reflect upon this learning and act where possible.
Sustainability is considered to have three pillars - economic, environmental and social (sometimes reframed as people, planet and profits!). Linked to these are key sustainability areas (e.g. food, energy, water, waste, and ecology) and sustainability principles and behaviours (e.g. resilience or regeneration, see this piece by Daniel C. Wahl). Often the word ‘sustainable' is accompanied by the word ‘development’ when talking about action and progress. An oft-quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 (referred to as the Brundtland report): ‘sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’
Sustainable development is also the term used in the global learning focused target of the UN’s SDGs, where we find an array of interlinked concepts:
By 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.
In the UK, the concept of global citizenship education (often considered in relation to human rights education or environmental education for example) is also regularly used. A useful definition comes from Oxfam who have produced a range of resources and guides on this theme:
Education for global citizenship is a framework to equip learners for critical and active engagement with the challenges and opportunities of life in a fast-changing and interdependent world. It is transformative, developing the knowledge and understanding, skills, values and attitudes that learners need both to participate fully in a globalised society and economy, and to secure a more just, secure and sustainable world than the one they have inherited.