UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development
Links between the Global Initiatives in Education

Extracts from UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development: Links between the Global Initiatives in Education, Technical Paper No.1, September 2005, Section for Education for Sustainable Development (ED/PEQ/ESD), Division for the Promotion of Quality Education, UNESCO.Full text available online at http://unesdoc.unesco.org/ulis/

Over 100 million children in the world have no chance to go to school, and at least 800 million adults have not had the opportunity to learn to read and write. Education is a fundamental human right. Education is essential for development. Everyone in the world would like a better life for themselves and their children, and education makes a difference — it can help people to work together to find new solutions to their problems and can lead to new opportunities. Just learning to read and write can give a chance to change things for the better.

From the year 2000, governments and international agencies decided to adopt four new initiatives to work together for development and for education:
1. The Millennium Development Goals
2. Education for All
3. The United Nations Literacy Decade 2003–2012
4. The United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005–2014

Why are there four different ideas? Are they all necessary? Are they the same? If not, how are they different? What impact will they have? And who is involved anyway?

The Millennium Development Goals
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Millennium Declaration in 2000 as a way of expressing common worldwide priorities in development which governments and international agencies would work towards. These priorities were then characterized as eight ‘MDGs’ and eighteen targets, with a target date of 2015.
Goal 1 – Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Goal 2 – Achieve universal primary education
Goal 3 – Promote gender equality and empower women
Goal 4 – Reduce child mortality
Goal 5 – Improve maternal health
Goal 6 – Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Goal 7 – Ensure environmental sustainability
Goal 8 – Develop a global partnership for development

Goal 2 is about education, but only about primary schooling; it does not refer to adult literacy or non-formal education. Goal 3 is about equal opportunities for women and men, boys and girls – this also applies to education. When girls and boys have an equal opportunity to go to school and obtain a good quality education, then we will be well on the road to giving everyone the same rights. Good education contributes to attainment of goals 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, and is a basis for collaboration in pursuing goal 8.

Education for All (EFA)

The globally shared concern that everyone should get a good education — Education for All — goes back to 1990, when there was a world conference in Jomtien, Thailand. In 2000 there was a follow-up conference in Dakar, Senegal, where the countries of the world once again committed themselves to a set of education goals. EFA focuses on basic education — for everyone from young children to adults. There are six goals in the Dakar Framework for Action:
1. Giving more pre–school children the chance of good care and early learning
2. Making sure that all children complete a good primary education, free of charge, by 2015
3. Giving young people and adults the chance to learn the skills they need
4. Making sure that 50% more people are literate before 2015
5. Making sure that boys and girls are enrolled in school in equal numbers by 2005, and that they all enrolled and have equal opportunities in school by 2015
6. Improving the quality of education

Three of these goals have a deadline of 2015, the same as for the MDGs. The other three are not timed, partly because they are more difficult to define. However, the aim is to produce results, using clear strategies, including:
• Promoting commitment on the part of governments and international agencies
• Involving civil society and non–governmental organizations
• Linking education policies with development
• Regularly monitoring progress

Raising more money for education was at the heart of EFA concerns, and the Dakar Framework for Action said that lack of funds should not prevent countries from pursuing EFA, if they had good plans to do so. Countries were encouraged to develop national EFA plans. In response, the World Bank launched the Fast–Track Initiative to raise funds for primary schooling in a number of countries. There has not yet been any similar initiative in relation to the other initiatives.

United Nations Literacy Decade 2003–2012
Over 800 million adults in the world today have not had the opportunity to learn to read and write. Over the last 10 years, the literacy rate improvement has not kept pace with population growth. The United Nations General Assembly launched a Decade of Action to improve the situation. The vision is ‘literacy for all’ — people of every age everywhere, both women and men, gaining access to reading and writing, because literacy is a tool for learning and a means to take part in society. In the age of computers, many jobs require a good level of literacy. The Decade aims to achieve these goals:
• Making sure that 50% more people can use reading and writing by 2015, giving special attention to women
• Making a considerable contribution to the other EFA goals for 2015
• Helping all learners to read, write and calculate well, to think critically, to have positive values as citizens and to acquire other skills they need
• Helping to see that people use their literacy in creative ways, in school and in the community
• Making life better through less poverty, more income, better health, taking more part in political life, knowing what your rights and duties are in your country, and taking account of the equal rights of men and women

UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005–2014
Education for sustainable development means learning the values, behaviours and knowledge which will enable us to develop now without robbing our children and grand-children of that possibility too. The Decade will promote these ideas by:
• Making people aware that education is a good basis for a sustainable way of life;
• Making sure that ideas about sustainable development are part of schools, colleges, universities and other ways of learning;
• Making sure that organisations and governments worldwide work together, so that they can learn from new experiences and from activities in different parts of the world.

The DESD tackles more than education — it addresses the way we live, our values and our behaviour. Because of that, education for sustainable development is not a subject to teach, but rather cuts across many subjects. It also means that education must be of a high quality, not merely passing on knowledge but changing the way people think.

The principles of sustainable development must find their place in children’s schooling, higher education, non–formal education and community–based learning activities. This means education will have to change so that it addresses the social, economic, cultural and environmental problems that we face in the 21st century.

How are these initiatives different?
If the four initiatives were the same there would be no need for all of them. Thus, there are some significant differences:
• The eight goals and eighteen targets of the Millennium Development Goals provide a framework for international development cooperation. Both developing and industrialized countries have committed themselves to the MDGs, and the focus is on tackling poverty in its many aspects. Provision of primary education, and gender equality in education are the two areas where the MDGs overlap with the EFA agenda. Other aspects–literacy, quality, or non–formal education–are not an explicit part of the MDGs.

• The six EFA goals are concerned with extending basic education to every child and adult — it should be available to both females and males, to learners of all ages, offering relevant learning and life skills and striving to increase quality. Basic education should have a positive impact on the quality of life and on poverty, but the goals do not specify the underlying purposes of education.
• The UNLD situates itself within the EFA movement, where literacy is a thread running through all the six goals and a condition for their attainment. Literacy is a key instrument of learning and must be part of all forms and stages of education. In some respects, the UNLD goes beyond education, by demonstrating strategic links to other aspects of life–learning and using literacy has an impact on mother and child health, on fertility rates, on income levels, as well as increasing self confidence, initiative, participatory citizenship and cultural self–esteem.

What is the place of the DESD in relation to these significant international initiatives? Education for sustainable development is a vision of education that seeks to balance human and economic well–being with cultural traditions and respect for the Earth’s natural resources.

ESD emphasizes aspects of learning that enhance the transition towards sustainability including future education; citizenship education; education for a culture of peace; gender equality and respect for human rights; health education; population education; education for protecting and managing natural resources; and education for sustainable consumption.

Pursuing sustainable development through education requires educators and learners to reflect critically on their own communities.

What sets DESD apart from EFA and UNLD is that EFA and UNLD, by virtue of their mission to ensure the right to education for all, address the needs of all learners — in particular those who are excluded from quality basic education — whereas DESD addresses the relevance and necessity of education for sustainable development for all, whether they are within or outside of planned learning activities.

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