Education is one of the roots of sustainable development. And it is not only for the younger ones.
To conclude on sustainability science, the authors of the report The Future is Now come to education. There is no need to comment much further on their statements. Education must be transformed they write, for students of course, but also for people who are already in the workforce and who should also reevaluate and change some of their practices.
And, of course, universities should be at the core of this new education for sustainable development and sustainability science.
To implement Agenda 2030, society needs to increase its capacity to innovate and steer change through new generations of researchers and practitioners who can foster multi-stakeholder co-production of knowledge on behalf of a sustainable future. One of the most important parts of transformation should be to build the capacity of young people, especially through universities, which can provide space for increased science-society-policy interaction, while synthesizing knowledge on what works and strengthening the foundation and rigour of sustainability. Enhanced education for sustainable development also needs to happen in schools and within the adult population at large to increase the awareness of the challenges and the level of information about how to deal with them.
This implies activity in four crucial areas:
- Core concepts and competencies – Scientists and engineers must further elaborate relevant core concepts and competencies. That includes reflecting on the role of science in society, considering complementarity between scientific knowledge and lay or indigenous knowledge and focusing on the key skills students need to tackle complex challenges.
- Institutional development – This should include sustainability science–related curriculum reform, new theoretical and methodological components and new institutional frameworks.
- Course review – Sustainability-related courses must be critically evaluated and adapted across departments.
- Partnerships – Universities must cultivate new partnerships beyond academia and connect with various institutions across the globe.
A point about which we are much receptive at the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development is the balance between Global North and Global South for science production, as well as for education changes. And in our view, it doesn’t mean that the Global South must only look forward to “develop” with a Global North model (that we know to be unsustainable in many aspects): with real partnerships, the best from every part of the world could be shared for the bigger benefit of all.
Education for sustainable development, as with many areas of science, research and publication, continues to be dominated by Western institutions. There is still a great imbalance between the global North and South. While sustainable development is paramount in the global South, textbook knowledge and university curricula do not always enable students to realize their full potential for innovation. The 2030 Agenda affords everyone an active role and responsibility in sustainable development. But if people are to take advantage of it, they will need quality education on sustainable development in curricula on natural and social sciences, engineering, law and many others, starting as early as possible and expanding on all levels. North-South research partnerships are a highly effective way of building transformative capacities and concrete applications across countries. They can also benefit from transdisciplinary collaboration, for example, working directly with small farmers and other resource users.