INTO Submission on National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development

On World Earth Day, 22nd April, 2021, Minister for Education Norma Foley, TD and Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, jointly launched a public consultation on the development of the second National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development to 2030. This revised strategy seeks to build on considerable progress that has been achieved to date in raising awareness about education for sustainable development (ESD) principles and practices.

Recognising the need to share in the international responsibility to address the increasingly global challenges we face and informed by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Government launched the Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan 2018-2030, a whole-of-Government initiative to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Our revised National Strategy on ESD must ensure that learners are equipped with the relevant knowledge (the ‘what’), the key dispositions and skills (the ‘how’) and the values (the ‘why’) that will motivate and empower them throughout their lives to become informed active citizens who take action for a more sustainable future.

Embedding education for sustainable development at all levels in our education system is identified as a prerequisite to promote the active participation by young people, our global citizens of the future, in working towards a more sustainable future for all. This central role of education is apparent in the area of curriculum development at different levels, for instance the Aistear-Síolta Initiative, First 5, the introduction of politics and society in the curriculum at senior cycle in post-primary schools and the embedding of ESD principles in further education programmes. It is timely that at primary level we are undergoing a review of the entire curriculum and the Draft Framework published by NCCA includes “being an active citizen” as one of seven key competencies for pupils. This competency envisages that children will be encouraged to question, critique, and understand what is happening in the world they live in within a framework of human rights, equality, and social justice.

The INTO supports the inclusion of education for sustainable development in our primary schools and acknowledges primary teachers’ contribution to ESD through the curriculum and through various school-based initiatives. Through the Global Citizenship School project, the INTO supports teachers and schools to take a rights-based approach to education in primary schools, including local, national, and global justice, equality, and sustainability issues. The vision of the Global Citizenship School is that all Irish primary school teachers and children will learn about global citizenship and that schools will take regular and consistent action appropriate for primary schools to help make the world a better place for all.  The INTO notes the opportunities to strengthen ESD in primary schools and to promote active citizenship through the redevelopment of the primary curriculum, however, the union cautions against adding additional content to an already overloaded curriculum and in its submission to the joint public consultation on a revised national strategy outlines a number of key conditions that are required to support ESD in primary schools. To allow pedagogical approaches associated with ESD be incorporated into primary education, the INTO recommends that a revised strategy addresses the following issues:

  • a reduction in class size
  • comprehensive CPD for all teachers
  • strengthening of ESD principles in initial teacher education
  • the restoration of middle leadership posts
  • investment in infrastructure
  • the provision of resources and supports to enable outdoor learning
  • retrofitting of all older school buildings and sustainable design in all new school buildings
  • a reduction in the use of school transport that relies on fossil fuels.

The first National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development marked a significant step in this important policy and challenged the Department of Education to assume leadership in relation to ESD. The INTO hopes that the Department of Education will carefully consider the recommendations included in its submission to this joint consultation and that the key areas identified therein will help inform the revised national strategy.

Read the INTO’s submission to the Department of Education on the National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development here.