August 31, 2008


Integrating Society through Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.72 (August 2008)

Education for a Sustainable Society

In order to create a society where all people, including future generations, can live comfortably, it will be necessary to change the social structure and balance human lifestyles with the environment, society and economy. Education is a key process for improving people's sense of values and ability to innovate, fundamental qualities needed to achieve this goal. This is why the United Nations (UN) launched the "Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)" campaign in 2005. ESD is a tool to link society's various problems with people's daily lives and to redefine the values that currently direct society, with the aim of calling forth behavior that will bring about a sustainable society.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, held from August to September 2002, Japanese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Japanese government proposed the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD). This proposal was adopted in the UN General Assembly in December of the same year.

In 2003, the Japan Council on the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD-J) was set up, mainly by members of the NGOs who worked on the UNDESD proposal. ESD-J currently carries out activities in the following five areas: (1) policy advocacy, (2) networking and supporting ESD activities in local communities, (3) international networking related to ESD, (4) information sharing via various media, and (5) holding workshops and promoting ESD.

The first phase of ESD activities in Japan focused on clarifying what kind of vision, knowledge, sense of values, and behavior are needed to meet ESD's goals. ESD-J also communicated general ideas on what and how students should learn and how teachers should teach. However, it was difficult for members to agree on clear, concrete actions to be taken. ESD-J then began to organize regional ESD meetings and workshops, on the assumption that it might be useful to provide case study-type information.

Regional Network Project

In Japan, many local communities already carry out various educational activities featuring their local issues. ESD-J assumed that, by focusing on the process of each educational program, it would be possible to identify the links between education and social activities and the factors that act to promote education, and thus come up with a unifying theory. Based on this assumption, ESD-J has attempted to conduct workshops to extract the effective elements of the process in order to incorporate ESD into existing educational programs. Here are two examples.

Workshops conducted by the Okayama Kyoyama ESD Environment Project (Okayama KEEP)
--From Environmental Education to ESD--

Okayama City of Okayama Prefecture has taken initiatives to promote ESD in the Kyoyama district. Home base for the initiative is the Kyoyama community center, which was inspired by the participation of regional representatives in the Johannesburg Summit. In 2003, the district initially carried out the "Kids Waterfront Checkup Project," aimed at determining the status of local waterfronts while reviewing existing educational activities for the study of waterfront culture and riverside lifestyles from the viewpoint of ESD. This leading project has since 2004 evolved into ESD-aware educational activities under the aegis of the "Okayama Kyoyama ESD Environment Project (Okayama KEEP)."

Japan's rivers (and canals) that run through residential neighborhoods used to be places where people could see fireflies and enjoy playing in the water. An Okayama KEEP project aims to restore these natural environments so that they can again become part of daily life. Participants from all generations have conducted waterfront and greenery surveys in their neighborhoods as a way to foster cooperation between school education and social education. Especially, junior high school students play a leading role, as the scheme places importance on children's point of view. Through these surveys, many people of all ages, including children to adults active in various fields, understand and share an awareness of the characteristics, attractiveness, and problems preventing sustainable development in their region. They also work together to examine possibilities for comprehensive solutions, with the support of experts.

The outline of Okayama Kyoyama ESD Environmental Project

For example, when discussing whether or not empty cans discarded in the town's canals should be removed, some children argued that the cans should not be removed because they serve as precious habitat for small fish. The discussion was finally resolved with a proposal to change the structure of the canals from the existing concrete-covered dikes to traditional stone walls, which can serve as habitats for fish, and to remove empty cans from canals. This had lead to a greenery and water corridor project as an outcome of the Kyoyama ESD.

Workshops on Process Identification

On September 24, 2007, ESD-J and the Okayama Kyoyama ESD Promotion Council held a workshop to identify suitable processes for developing ESD programs. By focusing on an analysis of the process under way in Okayama City's Kyoyama district, where the whole community is now working on ESD initiatives and has developed community-based ESD out of existing environmental education activities, the workshop attempted to figure out what, exactly, enabled the community to innovate ESD programs, while also raising awareness about ESD and clarifying future tasks for education.

Participants in the workshop reviewed community activities before and after implementation of ESD initiatives, and drew up a time line in order to share the process. Then, they noted down tasks for the future and presented their ongoing concerns about developing human resources, finding successors and so on. They also discussed methods for sustaining ESD activities, and identified the need to nurture junior leaders and facilitate participation by PTA organizations.

Ryo Mori, leader of ESD-J's domestic networking project team, analyzed the outcome of the workshop, noting that community groups and a variety of residents should: (1) participate in existing community activities such as environmental or social research, and explore various aspects of social problems, such as their causes and innate contradictions; and (2) define criteria for a sustainable development. These two approaches are the driving force that create ESD innovations and help develop people's self-awareness as members of society and their ability to take action.

Seeing the World through Chocolate--ESD & Multi-Cultural Study Materials Co-developed by NGOs and Teachers: Approach by the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center in Osaka and the Osaka Prefectural Human Rights Education Study Group

When looking at global issues in the fields of environment, development, human rights and peace from the viewpoint of ESD, all these world problems can actually found close at hand in the form of immediate problems. From August 17 to 18, 2007, the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center (Hurights Osaka) and the Osaka Prefectural Human Rights Education Study Group jointly organized a series of seminars on creating ESD and multi-cultural study materials. Through the seminars, hands-on ESD materials were developed on the topic of chocolate and cacao. This seminar project started creating ESD and multi-cultural study materials from a human rights perspective about four years ago.

Workshops to Create Educational Materials

Chocolate is familiar to students, but is not often dealt with in books or other educational materials. With the "See the world through chocolate" series, students learn where and how cacao is cultivated and about the manufacture, distribution, processing, sales and consumption of chocolate. The study materials and program aim to help students find the connection between developing countries from which ingredients are purchased and their daily consumption of chocolate, and also to facilitate their learning about their own position in society and nature through role play.

The chocolate-themed study materials were initially drafted in May 2007 by project members, including high school teachers, non-government organization staff members, and office workers. They prepared facts and figures, and visited and conducted interviews at confectionery companies and fair trade shops. The materials were refined during three more workshops.

The first topic taken up by the first workshop was palm oil imports to Japan; workshop participants learned ways to identify the issues, consider solutions and build consensus towards resolution by experiencing processes for adjusting to different opinions through role-play.

The second session on the same day was dedicated to the "See the world through chocolate" project. Participants learned about controversial aspects of cacao bean farming, particularly the working conditions of child workers, a study of which would lead to awareness of child labor issues at such farms. The session broke up into three groups representing the keywords "economy," "consumers, health and producers," and "plantations," and started working on study materials. After this and two more trial workshops, they held project meetings to refine their ideas, and finally came up with a 2-hour workshop study program.

Using this program, a participatory workshop was held in Osaka City on February 2, 2008, which verified that providing open and precise information was important as it leads to the development of the students' awareness, thought processes, and motivation to take action. The two-hour study program was improved over time, and the materials were finally released as the complete version of "See the world through chocolate -- education for sustainable development: environment, development and human rights." This program is now being utilized, mostly in high schools.

ESD-J - Future Outreach

In addition to the abovementioned projects, ESD-J advocates policy on the national government level to increase capacity in order to promote and adopt ESD into the national education guidelines. A revision of these guidelines in 2008 included the concept of "creation of a sustainable society" in junior high schools' natural and social science programs. However, the sustainability concept has not been adopted as part of the general provisions of these education guidelines.

ESD-J also participates in an international network, the Asia Good ESD Practice Project. In this project, ESD-J conducts international exchanges to promote ESD, for example by creating a website that shares good practices in seven Asian countries in each language.

Asia Good ESD Practice Project

At the halfway point of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, ESD-J is continuing to further promote ESD by communicating more clearly about ESD, providing practical know-how and presenting conceptual proposals aimed at promoting the effort.

(Written by Eiko Yukawa)