Setting the stage for a strategic research agenda for the UNDESD
Presentation to the UNESCO Workshop on ESD Research
By Peter Woods,
Chief Information Officer,
Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage, February 2006
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to provide some information on the current status of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Australia and in particular the status of our ESD research.
I would also like to congratulate UNESCO and the UNU for organising this workshop given the fundamental importance of underpinning our United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD) activities with sound and relevant research.
As requested I intend to cover in my remarks:
- the general Australian response to the Decade and interest in ESD at various levels - national, provincial, and local;
- ESD priorities within Australia; and
- the research that is currently going on in Australia to support ESD and the national UNDESD effort.
My presentation will perhaps be a little different from others in that it will be the perspective of a government official working in the area of education for sustainable development rather than an academic perspective. This perspective is a relevant one however given this workshop is about developing national agendas and, irrespective of the sources of funding for research, national agendas ultimately need to be endorsed in some form by relevant national government bodies if they are going to have any practical application.
I know from the Australian experience that this is not an uncontested view and there will be those who argue for pure research, uninfluenced by government agendas or the need for practical application. There is a need for both, but if you wish to change the way society operates there needs to be a connection in some form with broader government agendas and processes given the impact these agendas have on society.
General Australian Response to the UNDESD
The overall vision being developed for the Australian response to the Decade is that:
At the end of the Decade the Australian community will have the understanding, knowledge, skills and capacity to achieve a sustainable future, and will embrace the intrinsic value of sustainability as a national aspiration.
Our Goal is:
To mainstream sustainability in all sectors through education.
As far as support for the UNDESD generally is concerned, the Decade was launched by the Australian Government Minister for the Environment and Heritage in June 2005, along with the announcement of a number of grants that had a Decade focus. One of those grants was for a national symposium on the Decade in July 2005, organised by the Australian National Commission for UNESCO and bringing together a wide range of non-government and government bodies. The outcomes of that symposium are being taken into account in the development of the formal Australian Government response to the Decade. That response is still being finalised but will entail a whole-of-government approach, not just a response that focuses on the environmental aspects of sustainable development.
The response to the Decade at other levels in Australia is mixed. Some state governments have launched the Decade with specific events and responses; others are yet to announce their positions. At local government level there is little indication of activity at this point, although many local government bodies have a commitment to sustainable development. In civil society there is considerable interest among the environmental education community but little apparent more broadly – a challenge for us in terms of our communication of the issues.
ESD/UNDESD Research - Context
The Australian Government has formally recognised the importance of research underpinning its approach to sustainability since 2000 when the first National Action Plan for Environmental Education was launched. The National Action Plan recognised the need for a sound understanding of how to influence community thinking and behaviour relating to sustainable development. One of the Plan’s key initiatives was the establishment of a formal research program funded by the Australian Government. This program is being run through the Australian Research Institute in Education for Sustainability (ARIES) at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. ARIES was officially launched in August 2004.
ARIES of course is not the only body in Australia undertaking research in ESD. There is a great deal of research being undertaken by various academic and other institutions around the country, some funded by the institutions themselves, some funded by other government and non-government bodies in Australia. But in terms of a program of research that can be defined as a national research agenda, and directly linked to the Australian Government’s ESD agenda, ARIES is the primary focal point.
In essence our approach to Education for Sustainable Development is firstly, supported by a national policy framework; secondly, the framework recognises the importance of research; and thirdly, there is a structure and process in place that facilitates the funding of research projects and incorporates community input.
ESD/UNDESD Research - Needs
Research needs and priorities will vary from country to country depending on an individual country’s circumstances. In Australia ESD research at the national level is very much related to our general economic and social circumstances and the Australian Government’s sustainable development policies and priorities. The research program is strongly influenced by advice provided by the National Environmental Education Council (NEEC), a group of eminent people drawn from different sectors of the community; the National Environmental Education Network (NEEN), a network of national, state and territory government environment and education agencies; and by the outcome of research previously carried out by ARIES or other individuals or bodies.
Based on these various inputs, our ESD research needs and priorities include the following:
Communicating the concepts
- clarification, in simple terms, of what sustainable development and education for sustainable development mean in different contexts, particularly for key decision-makers in government, industry and the community, and for educators;
- clarification of how the different dimensions of sustainable development interact and are integrated, and what this means for ESD;
- studies to determine current understandings of sustainability in different sectors, and what messages and processes will work to improve that understanding.
Identification of needs
- studies to identify the structures and processes that need to be in place to support and progress ESD at a national level;
- identification of the ESD needs and priorities in different sectors, and across sectors;
- studies into what influences the adoption of sustainability attitudes and behaviour in key areas, eg economic development, community health and well-being, water and energy conservation, sustainable consumption, etc;
- studies that identify the actions and processes that would make the most difference in terms of achieving enduring, systemic change in key areas;
- studies to determine how Indigenous knowledge can be incorporated in ESD;
- examination of the most appropriate strategies to address the shortage of skilled ESD practitioners across all sectors (and the development of quality training materials and programs).
Practical demonstration or “how to” studies
- case studies that demonstrate what sustainable development looks like in practice, and what ESD strategies and approaches have worked;
- practical, action research studies involving stakeholders in key sectors to explain and more deeply embed sustainability practices;
- development of practical resource materials for educators and decision-makers in different sectors, particularly those outside the environment area;
- development of professional development programs for educators;
- studies directly related to national policy priorities and broader education agendas such as quality teaching.
Monitoring and evaluation
- the development of best practice guidelines on monitoring and evaluation and performance indicators to measure ongoing progress;
- evaluations of existing approaches to ESD to identify what works and what does not;
- benchmarking studies, supported by longitudinal studies, of the sustainability knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of various sectors of the community to establish the success or otherwise of ESD activities over the longer term.
- given sustainable development is a global problem, comparative studies between countries.
ESD Research in Australia
To address these needs the Australian Government has developed a coordinated national research program run through the Australian Research Institute in Education for Sustainability (ARIES). ARIES’ primary purpose is to undertake research that informs policy and practice in education for sustainability across a range of sectors including government, business and industry, school education, further and higher education and community education.
Since its establishment ARIES has undertaken, or is in the process of undertaking, a number of research projects in a range of different areas.
- A National Review of Environmental Education and its Contribution to Sustainability in Australia
- Education About and For Sustainability in Australian Business Schools:
- Industry Sustainability Toolkit Project - A review of sustainability resources for industry
- Whole-School Approaches to Sustainability: An international review of whole-school sustainability programs
- Research Dialogues – industry and vocational education and training
- Education About and For Sustainability in Australian Business Schools:
- Industry Sustainability Project: Action research with major Australian companies
- Whole School Approaches to Sustainability: A review of models for professional development in pre-service teacher education
- Building Government Capacity towards Sustainability: Stage 1
- Air Quality Education: Effective Programs
- The Development of a Tool for Assessing Provision and Effectiveness of Coastal Management Education
- Reef Water Quality Protection Plan: Scoping of Issues Associated with Industry Practice
- Communicating ESD
- Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy - Indicators for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development
- Education for Sustainability Portal
- Mentoring of Local Government in ESD
- Climate Change – professional education programs
- Community Futures/Sustainable Communities Partnership (CSIRO)
This research program is supported by activities such as the development of the first National Environmental Education Statement for Australian Schools, Educating for a Sustainable Future, and the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative, both of which promote a whole-of-school and whole-of-curriculum approach to ESD. In addition funding is provided to build community and organisational capacity and to develop resources to support ESD. Examples include funding to a group called Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability to build awareness of sustainability in tertiary education; RMIT University for a project aimed at embedding ESD in university curricula; and the National Centre for Sustainability to develop online resource materials for the inclusion of sustainability in vocational education and training sector training packages.
In summary, Australia’s current approach to education for sustainable development is characterised by:
- an acceptance at national policy level of the importance of research to support ESD efforts;
- the establishment of a mechanism, and funding, to support a national program of research;
- alignment of the research program with national needs and priorities;
- a focus on research that can be, and is, practically applied;
- a focus on research that is strategic and aimed at achieving enduring systemic change in key areas; and
- the input of advice from national advisory bodies on the projects undertaken under the program.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide this brief outline of ESD and ESD research in Australia, and the situation with respect to the UNDESD, from the perspective of a government official. It is important that those engaged in research and those involved in developing and implementing government programs establish effective means of communicating with each other, to ensure our mutual objectives are achieved.
More Information: www.deh.gov.au/education
National ESD Research in Australia
To address the needs that have been identified for Education for Sustainability the Australian Government has developed a coordinated national research program run through the Australian Research Institute in Education for Sustainability (ARIES).
ARIES’ primary purpose is to undertake research that informs policy and practice in education for sustainability across a range of sectors including government, business and industry, school education, further and higher education and community education.
Since its establishment ARIES has undertaken, or is in the process of undertaking, a number of research projects in a range of different areas.
A National Review of Environmental Education and its Contribution to Sustainability in Australia
This study provides a snapshot of environmental education and its contribution to sustainability across a number of sectors within Australia.
The first volume reviews trends in environmental education towards sustainability. As well as defining key components of this area of learning, it examines national strategies from around the world and the frameworks they offer.
The other volumes provide a snapshot of the current context and experiences within the formal school education sector, community education sector, business and industry education sector and the further and higher education sector.
Overall the study identified that to enhance environmental education or ESD’s contribution to sustainability, initiatives across the sectors need to:
- build the capacity of educators, policy makers and funding bodies in sustainability and learning for sustainability;
- establish strategic and systemic approaches to learning based change for sustainability;
- establish partnerships between institutions and with business, government and non-government organisations to strengthen and share experiences in sustainability and learning for sustainability; and
- provide incentives and support to include learning for sustainability approaches in Environmental Education.
The study found that internationally the profile of education and learning for sustainability has remained low within national sustainability frameworks. As a result there has been an international call for the development of learning for sustainability strategic frameworks.
The report recommends the development of a national learning for sustainability strategic framework that would map out a vision and provide a coordinated framework for consistent and coherent action plans.
The report provides guidelines on the contents and processes required to develop this learning for sustainability strategic framework based on international best practice.
Education About and For Sustainability in Australian Business Schools: Stage 1
In this study, Business Schools were examined to identify education about and for sustainability in MBA (Master of Business Administration) curriculum and short courses. The study identified current best practice from overseas through a benchmarking process that was then applied to thirty-three Australian MBA programs in order to understand how they address sustainability content and teaching of skills for sustainability.
This study found that there are no specialised sustainability MBA programs or core sustainability courses in postgraduate business education in Australia, and recommended a further Stage 2 project to promote the mainstreaming of sustainability across leading Australian Business Schools through actions to address a range of identified needs.
Industry Sustainability Toolkit Project - A review of sustainability resources for industry
A review of sustainability resources for the business and industry sector was completed in April 2004. International and Australian products designed to engage industry on various aspects of sustainability were examined.
The findings of this study indicate that there are many products already available to help companies prepare TBL reports and improve environmental performance by making operational changes. Of these:
- most products focus on short-term rather than long-term outcomes; and
- a lack of resources and time are the barriers to engagement with sustainability.
The report recommended an action research project to engage participants from selected companies in managing change towards sustainability.
Whole-School Approaches to Sustainability: An international review of whole-school sustainability programs
Whole-school programs around the world such as 'Enviro Schools', 'EcoSchools' and 'Green Schools' were reviewed. The study found that whole-school approaches to sustainability have an important contribution to make in shifting our communities towards sustainability.
The study identified that there are a number of critical success factors for whole-school sustainability programs, including:
- alignment with national government priorities;
- significant and continuous funding;
- alignment with EfS approaches;
- investment in professional development;
- establishment of multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Fundamental to the ARIES approach is to work with stakeholders in different sectors. To date the research program has involved working with stakeholders in the industry, formal education, natural resource management and government sectors.
A number of research dialogues have also been carried out to develop an understanding of the dynamics in particular sectors, as well as the specific challenges and opportunities for engaging in education for sustainability. To date these have involved stakeholders from the industry and vocational education and training (VET) sectors in discussing critical questions relating to education for sustainability, helping to identify the critical research priorities in these sectors.
Education About and For Sustainability in Australian Business Schools: Stage 2
Stage 2 consists of action research studies that are seeking to build capacity, resources and partnerships to strengthen education about and for sustainability across the Business School curricula within a period of two years. Four of Australia's leading Business Schools are participating, viz the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM), Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM), The University of Queensland (UQ) Business School, and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Graduate School of Business.
Industry Sustainability Project
The Industry Sustainability Project is considering how to manage organisational change towards sustainability. The project involves representatives from major Australian companies and a number of public utilities, including Amcor, Insurance Australia Group, National Australia Bank, Parramatta City Council, Toyota Motor Corporation, Visy, Wesley Mission, Westpac Banking Corporation and Yarra Valley Water, as well as the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage.
Using an action research process, participants are developing action plans to assess and improve the effectiveness of sustainability practice and process as drivers for developing a culture of sustainability.
Whole School Approaches to Sustainability: A review of models for professional development in pre-service teacher education
Teacher education is widely recognised as a key strategy that has yet to be effectively utilised to embed education for sustainability approaches in Australian schools.
The goal of this research project is to identify and appraise the critical success factors of a range of professional development strategies and models which could be utilised to mainstream learning for sustainability approaches in pre-service teacher education programs in Australia.
Building Government Capacity towards Sustainability (Stage 1)
This is a 12-month project that will investigate how to bring about change towards sustainability at the Australian Government level. The project will use a participatory inquiry approach to engage senior staff from a wide range of government departments and agencies. The participants will reflect upon their knowledge and practical experiences and work collaboratively to identify opportunities for change towards sustainability in the Australian Government.
Air Quality Education: Effective Programs
This project will review major air quality education programs from Australia and overseas in order to identify the critical success factors which improve the effectiveness and outcomes of community air quality education programs.
The Development of a Tool for Assessing Provision and Effectiveness of Coastal Management Education
This project is aimed at assisting government bodies with promoting good practice, establishing national standards and developing ways of assessing the value of existing programs in coastal management education.
Reef Water Quality Protection Plan: Scoping of Issues Associated with Industry Practice
This project entails working with farmers, government agencies and associated stakeholders to gain insight into farmer choices and actions on sustainable practices related to water quality impacts to the Great Barrier Reef.
The project’s objective is to produce a multimedia education for sustainability (EfS) resource that will provide the DEH and stakeholder audiences with an inspirational, interactive learning session about the EfS approach and its application in practice.
Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy - Indicators for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development
To ensure that progress is achieved during the Decade, the Australian Government is working with ARIES to develop a monitoring and evaluation strategy and performance indicators to measure national efforts in education for sustainability.
Education for Sustainability Portal
The Education for Sustainability (EfS) portal is being developed to provide a central source of information relating to ESD.
Mentoring of Local Government in ESD
The key goal of this project is to build capacity in local government so that education and learning can be used as tools to effectively contribute towards sustainability.
Climate Change – professional education programs
The objectives of this project are to develop a greater understanding of current approaches to climate change in professional education programs, in particular programs for engineers, architects and planners, and to develop an educational approach to climate change adaptation that is likely to be effective in leading to behaviour change in support of sustainable development.
Community Futures/Sustainable Communities Partnership
This project (involving the main Australian Government scientific research organisation, the CSIRO rather than ARIES) will be developed and operated using an action learning approach, working with communities to improve their sustainability. The project will bring together partners from the private sector and government to work jointly with the communities involved.
The Sustainable Community Partnership (SCP) will broker partnerships across governments, business, NGO’s, researchers and communities that harness knowledge, expertise and resources to develop and deliver innovative, knowledge based solutions that address community specific sustainability challenges and opportunities.