Participation & Governance

The Future We Want, The Education We Want: Bringing Sustainable Development into Classrooms

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Education for sustainable development is firmly on the radar in planning for the replacement of the MDGs. But young people need to make sure that participation is meaningful and well designed if that education is going to be effective. Kennedy Mbeva returns to to give his thoughts on the importance of education for sustainable development post-2015 and what that educational model might look like.

Young people should be at the heart of designing and implementing the Rio+20 outcome document ‘The Future We Want’; this is incontestable.

However, we, as young people, must be strategic in designing our engagement in making this a reality.

One of the key pillars of this engagement should be centred on education. This isn’t a new idea; education already features prominently in discussions on the successors to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[1].

But we need to move beyond just pushing for education to be included in these global frameworks, we need to ask ourselves “what should education for sustainable development look like post 2015?”

Well, there are many different opinions on this, but one thing stands out: it should be The Education We Want. This will be key in realizing The Future We Want.

The Context of Education for Sustainable Development

“Sustainable development requires the meaningful involvement and active participation of…and all major groups… children and youth…”

- Paragraph 43, The Future We Want

With almost half of the global population under 25 years of age, our generation cannot fail to be at the centre of talks about sustainable development.

In 1992, the first Rio Conference - also known as the Earth Summit - set the stage for recognising that the surest path to a world where the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs was through sustainable development.

In 2000, UNESCO founded the Education for All initiative and in 2005 the UN launched the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

All of these things show that moves are being made in the right direction - sustainable development and education are on the agenda, and they are being brought together.

However, there is an important question that still lingers: is education for sustainable development responsive?

While attending the UNESCO Africa Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development Conference, aimed at taking stock of the achievements of this initiative in Africa, one thing stood out: the focus was mostly on classroom education, with little being said of the scores of young people already out of school. What is more, most of the projects under this initiative have focused on passing information to children and youth, but rarely integrating their opinions into the projects and programs. This top-down approach does not create the necessary conducive environment for the meaningful engagement of young people.

“We recognize that the younger generations are the custodians of the future, and the need for better quality and access t education beyond the primary level.”

- Paragraph 230 of The Future We Want

Bridging the Gap

The Education We Want should be responsive in nature. Much focus has been placed on integrating sustainable development in school curricula, and rightly so. However, this needs to be augmented with education for sustainable development that is dynamic, responding to the needs of young people, with a special focus on education for leadership on sustainable development.

This type of education for sustainable development, along with a thorough understanding of decision-making processes will make certain that young people are able to effectively and meaningfully contribute in designing the Future We Want;

Young people have already created platforms and spaces for advancing their opinions and needs. The youth constituency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), for example, has granted young people constituency status - YOUNGO - (affording rights such as addressing plenary negotiations) in recognition of the stake that youth have in the talks and their outcomes. The UN Commission for Sustainable Development has Children and Youth as one of its nine major groups of engagement, and there is even a new UN Special Advisor on Youth in town!

Further, youth have a prominent role in designing the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals through the World We Want platform.

But still, there is huge deficit in the capacity of young people to effectively engage in these processes, mainly due to their technical nature. If young people are going to have an impact on these processes - processes which, if successful will protect their futures - then they need to be equipped with much more than a few lessons in school about the meaning of ‘sustainable development’. They need the tools that will allow them to engage with the platforms for change already accessible through the UN. Leaving this chasm un-bridged will solve nothing.

“We stress the importance of the active participation of young people in decision-making processes, as the issues we are addressing have a deep impact on present and future generations and as the contribution of children and youth is vital to the achievement of sustainable development.”

- Paragraph 50 of The Future We Want

Intergenerational Education

There is a shining example that many organizations and decision-making bodies at all levels ought to take note of: The IUCN Intergenerational Partnership for Sustainability. This initiative by the IUCN Secretariat has recognized the need to build the capacity of young people through intergenerational partnerships. The program aims to create platforms for young people and senior citizens to engage in a meaningful manner, especially in decision-making processes with regards to the conservation of nature. It is young people who are spearheading this initiative, and it mainly involves coming up with programs, such as dynamic internships and enhancing policy integration of young people, focusing on decision-making.

“…We also recognize the need to promote intergenerational dialogue and solidarity by recognizing their views (of young people). ”

- Paragraph 50 of The Future We Want

This is the future of education for sustainable development, and if as young people we are to be successful in designing the Future We Want, then we should push for this kind of education. The experience of older generations is indispensable in building our skill sets necessary for designing The Future We Want; and when combined with the passion and drive of our generation, we’d be unstoppable.


[1] For more information about the post-2015 debate, visit

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