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Learning for Change: Scotland's Action Plan for the Second Half of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development



The United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development ( UNDESD)

Awareness of sustainable development has risen enormously in recent years, and many of us are now much more conscious of issues such as climate change and the need to act to preserve precious resources and use them sustainably for the future. Sustainable development challenges us, as individuals and as members of families, community groups and workplaces, to think about and act upon some very big issues. We need to face up to the threat of unsustainable development: development that is causing such significant environmental damage that the planet cannot sustain us, leading to a world where future generations will no longer have the resources to meet their needs.

In response to these issues, the United Nations launched the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development ( DESD) on 1 January 2005, to promote education as a basis for moving towards a sustainable society and to integrate sustainable development into education at all levels and all areas of life including communities, the workplace and society in general.

"The overall goal of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development is to integrate the principles, values, and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning. This educational effort will encourage changes in behaviour that will create a more sustainable future in terms of environmental integrity, economic viability, and a just society for present and future generations.

The objectives for the DESD are to:

  • facilitate networking, linkages, exchange and interaction among stakeholders in ESD;
  • foster an increased quality of teaching and learning in education for sustainable development;
  • help countries make progress towards and attain the millennium development goals through ESD efforts;
  • provide countries with new opportunities to incorporate ESD into education reform efforts"


For more info on the UN Decade, go to www.unesco.org/en/esd/decade-of-esd/

Scotland's Response

In response to the launch of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, the previous Scottish Executive set out Scotland's ambitions for ESD in the Learning for our Future action plan, published in 2006 to cover the first five years of the Decade.

Our aim is that by 2014 people in Scotland will have developed the knowledge, understanding, skills and values to live sustainable lives.

We want to see a Scotland where:

  • Learning for sustainable development is fully integrated into all stages of the formal education system
  • There are lifelong opportunities to learn
  • The sustainable development message is understood and acted upon
  • We share our skills, expertise and resources through strong networks and partnerships

Learning for our Future

Learning for our Future specified key actions across education and learning in Scotland ( www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2006/07/25143907/4). One of these was a commitment to review the plan in 2009-10.

Undertaking this review gives us an opportunity to consider progress made against the actions laid out in the original plan, to assess what we have learned over the first five years of the UN Decade for ESD, and to look to the future, laying out new actions to take Scotland forward into the second half of the Decade. It is our intention to build on the momentum and the excellent work achieved in the first half of the UN Decade.

This action plan provides a summary overview of the progress so far, and sets out what we will do over the remaining five years - and beyond - to help ensure that education for sustainable development is truly embedded in all areas of education throughout Scotland. A summary table of all the actions that Scottish Government and partners are committing to in the five years up to 2014 is provided at the end. Full details on activities within each of the three strands of education (Schools; Universities and Colleges; and Lifelong Learning) are hosted on the relevant pages of the Scottish Government's central website. The following weblinks will take you directly to these pages:

Schools -

Universities and Colleges -

Community Learning and Development -

This web-based approach to the sectoral-specific sections of the second action plan will ensure that the information does not become rapidly outdated - the content can be reviewed on a regular basis so that it reflects the latest developments that are happening across the country. The Scottish Government is committed to regularly updating these web pages to reflect progress made, and to highlight new initiatives.

How has this Action Plan been developed?

From the start of the process, we have worked with partners and stakeholders to jointly develop a coherent and up to the minute set of actions. We have maintained ongoing engagement across the related sectors in a variety of ways, including:

UN Decade Action Plan Steering Group

The Sustainable Development Commission ( SDC) Scotland, at the request of the Scottish Government, set up and managed a short life working group of education-related stakeholders. The group represented a broad spectrum of interests in ESD and has been invaluable in helping to shape many of the commitments and activities referred to in this action plan. For more information, go to: www.sd-commission.org.uk/pages/scotland-education.html

Stakeholder Events

In January 2009 the Scottish Government and CIFAL Findhorn hosted a conference to celebrate the excellent progress being made across all sectors on education for sustainable development. It was our first chance to discuss with stakeholders what we should aim to achieve over the next five years. In January 2010, a similar event was hosted by the Scottish Government and SDC Scotland where proposed key messages and actions from this plan were presented for discussion and feedback. For further information on both of these events, please go to: www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/SustainableDevelopment/UNDecade

2009 UNESCO World Conference for ESD

Scotland's Minister for Schools and Skills, Keith Brown, represented the UK at the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in Bonn, Germany, in Spring 2009. Information on the conference as well as its final declaration can be found at: www.esd-world-conference-2009.org

What is Sustainable Development?

The goal of sustainable development is to enable all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life without compromising the quality of life of future generations.

The Scottish Government's overall purpose is to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth.

The Scotland Performs web page, over time, will tell us just how Scotland is doing in the pursuit of these aims. It describes the outcomes we want to achieve and how well Scotland is progressing in key areas: health and wellbeing; justice and communities; the environment; the economy; and education and skills.

What is Education for Sustainable Development?

Education for sustainable development ( ESD) is about learning how we achieve sustainable development. ESD seeks to raise awareness and understanding of all the issues relating to sustainable development: to help us learn how best we can participate in building stronger communities and developing a sustainable economy; how best we can reduce our impact on the environment; and how best to cultivate skills and attributes which help us contribute to a just and equitable society.

Learning to live sustainable lives plays a key role in helping us rise to the challenge of making Scotland a better place for all. We need successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to build a sustainable Scotland.

The purpose of ESD is not to tell people what is important and what they should do, but to enable them to decide what is important to them, decide what they want to do about it, and equip them with the skills they need to do it.

"Education for sustainable development challenges individuals, institutions and societies to view tomorrow as a day that belongs to all of us, or it will not belong to anyone."


What are the benefits of ESD?

ESD is an approach that not only delivers knowledge and understanding but also enables learners to act on this information to change their behaviour. The importance of values is central to this: people are more likely to change their behaviour if they value the benefits that sustainable living can bring.

Learning to live sustainable lives can bring many benefits, some of which are highlighted below:

For Our Children and Young People:

  • assists in children's development as responsible global citizens
  • promotes a good learning atmosphere in schools
  • offers a broad sense of achievement
  • encourages outdoor and 'real-world' learning, which can enhance children's emotional development and reduce teacher stress levels

For Our Students:

  • access to highly-relevant new academic courses and modules
  • increased levels of relevant skills and employability
  • a greater sense of their place in their local community and the wider world
  • a heightened sense of their ability to influence the future

For Our Communities:

  • the chance to play an active part in building a sustainable future
  • learning to make better use of resources
  • a heightened sense of community and of links to the wider world

For Our Workplaces:

  • learning to make better use of resources, leading to more efficient and more effective businesses
  • more joined-up working across the private and public sectors
  • improved development of agendas such as health promotion, social inclusion, community wellbeing
  • more efficient governance and policy-making