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 Approach Towards ESD

Writer for Section II: Professor Kiichiro Narita, Advanced Studies on Transforming Educational Practice, Graduate School of Education, Tokyo Gakugei University [Note: This is slightly different than the title you listed—I thought it was more natural in English to go from the smaller unit to the larger.  Still, I am not clear on what “Advanced Studies on Transforming…” is. Is it a department of the graduate school?  It would be good if that could be clarified.

1.    What is ESD?
How would you answer the question “What is Education for Sustainable Development (hereafter ‘ESD’)?”
    If people are nearby, you might ask someone “What is ESD?”
    Unfortunately, however, there are still few people who know this word.  Probably, there is a high possibility that you will get no answer.

    ESD is written using letters of the alphabet and in English, so there are probably people who will consult a dictionary looking for the answer.
    If they do this, they will understand that ESD is something involving “Education” “for Development” that is “Sustainable.”  However, they will not understand what “sustainability” means, what connection it has with “development,” and what kind of “education” would be for this.

    There are then probably people who will enter the term “ESD” into an Internet search engine to try to find out.
    There are (as of March 2009) as many as 14,900,000 hits.
    Even just looking at the first one or two pages, one can see that it seems like institutions such as non-profit organisations; the Ministry of the Environment; the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; United Nations University; Rikkyo University; and the Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO are using the term “ESD.”
    If one then scans the various pages, there are definitely many articles that touch on the definition of ESD.  One can also see the fact that the word ESD is connected with citizens, government agencies, schools, universities, research institutes, and other entities.

    If one scans the pages still further and clicks through the links, one learns that ESD’s international historical context includes a decision by the United Nations General Assembly resulting from a proposal by Japan, and that domestic ESD activities within Japan are beginning to get going.
    However, if we are asked by children “What is ESD?” how should we answer?
    In this guidebook, I would first like to answer in this way:

     ESD is learning how to become children and adults capable of investigating, thinking, sharing opinions, and taking action together in schools, families, communities, countries, as well as on the world stage, in order to enable ourselves, people throughout the world, and future generations to continue to live sustainably in the future.

    Probably most children will not be satisfied with this answer.
    For example, even if they don’t raise their voices to ask a question, children wonder “What does one learn in ESD?” or “When does one learn ESD—during academic subject times, moral education, clubs, or integrated studies?” and “Why is ESD necessary?”  Probably junior high school students will have questions they don’t ask such as “Is there meaning in studying ESD?” and “Will I improve my academic abilities by studying ESD?”
I just posed some simple hypothetical questions from children but, of course, ESD does not only concern children.  There are probably many citizens, people who work for government agencies, people connected with companies, and school staff and their principals who have similar questions about ESD.

    We use common words and concepts within our organisations and groups of friends to try to understand one another, have discussions, and take actions together.  There have probably been words and concepts that were fine for enabling various organisations and friends to understand one another.  I think that this is meaningful, as far as it goes.
    However, the concept of ESD is different from these other concepts because it traverses a very wide territory.

    For example, if you put your ear to the ground at a school, you hear: “We are doing environmental education,” “You are really putting effort into education for international understanding,” “Our school is engaged in practice and research concerning X type of education,” “That school is very enthusiastic in its efforts to develop students’ academic abilities,” “The neighbouring school is aiming at making itself a school with a special character,” or “Our school is not doing anything special, but we are implementing the prescribed curriculum firmly and steadily.”  One encounters the reality that the priorities of teachers and schools differ in their various contexts.

    It is not necessary for one  to set a brand-new priority of “doing ESD.”  ESD must have words and concepts that can be used across different organisations and societies, academic subject areas and spheres of learning, and specialties.  The various organisations and societies, academic subject areas and spheres of learning, and specialties are connected and have collaborative relationships with one another, and the concept of ESD must encompass this breadth and depth.
    So, based on the “simple questions” that children might have, how would you answer the “essential question”: “How should teachers and schools view ESD and how should they promote it?”

    We need to transcend limitations and boundaries and imagine the questions that the children in front of us, the teachers and schools in front of us, and the parents, guardians and community members in front of us have in their hearts, and prepare an answer to them.

    The “answer” to the broad and deep “essential question” of “What is ESD?” is probably that no one will prepare the answer for us.  Each one of us must parry the question, search together with children for the “answer,” and live while learning.
    Answering all of these questions is a nearly impossible task, but hidden in this guidebook are many hints about how to search for the answers.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
“ESD Goals, Basic Ways of Thinking, Abilities to Develop, and Ways of Learning and Teaching”

○To enable principles, values and actions needed for sustainable development to be incorporated at various sites where education and learning take place

○To enable all people to receive the benefits of high-quality education

○To promote changes in values and actions in the areas of environment, the economy, and society that will facilitate the realisation of a sustainable future

Basic Ways of Thinking
○ESD aims at developing people who can take on the responsibility of creating a sustainable society
 In implementing ESD, the following two points of view are particularly necessary
 ーDeveloping the humanity of learners such as personality development, autonomy of mind, decision-making ability, and a sense of responsibility
 ーDeveloping individuals who understand connections with other people, connections with society, and connections with the natural environment, and who respect relationships and connections

○It is important not only to address each of the various issues related to sustainable development through separate efforts such as environmental education, education for international understanding, basic education, and human rights education; it is important to use an integrated approach connecting the various areas and

Abilities to Develop
○Systematic thinking skill (understanding the background of issues and phenomena, and viewing things in a multifaceted and integrated way)

○Ability to discern values contributing to sustainable development (respect for human beings, respect for diversity, openness, equality of opportunity, respect for the environment, etc.)

○Ability to think of alternative options (judgment)

○Ability to gather and analyse information

○Communication ability

Ways of Learning and Ways of Teaching
○Positioning learning within a sequence of flow that encourages “concrete action”--through “catalysing interest →deepening understanding →development of an attitude of participation and problem-solving”

○Using a participatory approach that does not stop at obtaining and applying knowledge and skills, but emphasises physical and sensory experiences as well as exploration and experimentation

 ○Skillfully drawing out autonomous actions from learners where the learning occurs
 http://www.mext.go.jp/unesco/004/004.htm(accessed on March 3, 2009)[Japanese only]


Question:What is commonand reaches across these types of educational materials are visibleconnections and relationships between students’ lives and thecommunity, country, and the world; design aimed at bringing aboutinternal changes in children as well as in their actions; and the capacity to enable children to see the meaning in their learning and feel a desire to learn.  One can definitely find educational materials that make the hearts of children and teachers beat with excitement.


In these ESD educational materials and practices, the following points are generally held in common and should be given careful attention.

(1) Wow do you choose educational materials for ESD?


 From children’s discoveries and ideas: Examples include Pictosigns andthe Eco Picaset.  The pictosigns in particular were made intoeducational materials as a result of a teacher hearing and taking insomething a child was talking about.  Teachers are apt to be slantedtowards speaking and teaching, but it is important to increase emphasisas much as possible on listening to children’s voices and words as wellas observing and perceiving children’s facial expressions and behaviour.

From the ideas and hopes of the teacher: Examples include MatsusakaCotton, Nara World Heritage Sites, Pet Bottle Caps, Revolving Sushi,School Library, Omose River, Experience of Hunger, Disaster PreventionMap, and Survey Questionnaire.  These are “educational materials”selected from within the context of a teacher’s educational activitiesand research, based on questions teachers would like to pose tochildren and ideas they want to communicate to the children in front ofthem.  It is important for the teacher not only to think as anindividual, but to learn from practices of colleagues and moreexperienced teachers, and to discover learning material from the hintsthat one gets.

From the ideas and wishes of parents/guardians and the communityoutside the school:Examples are Mozambique, Minamoto no Tomonaga,etc.  These were educational materials that were selected based on theideas and wishes of parents/guardians, community members, and othersoutside the school, and as a result of linkages and collaborationbetween experts and the teachers and schools.  Educational materialswhich overcome the limitations and boundaries of teachers and theschools and which involve people with outside experience and expertisestrongly capture children’s interest.

(2) What kind of content can one deal with in ESD?
    Pictosigns (children and welfare), Matsusaka Cotton (children and community, the world, and the economy), Nara World Heritage Sites (children and community and the world), Pet Bottle Caps (children and mathematics and the world), Minamoto no Tomonaga (children and community and history), Revolving Sushi (children and the fishing industry and the world), School Library (children and reading books, libraries and information literacy), Eco Picaset (children and the environment), Omose River (children and rivers and the environment), Experience of Hunger (children and food, the world, and their bodies), Disaster Prevention Map (children and disasters), Survey Questionnaire (children and data), Mozambique (children and the world), etc.  In the cases of all of these educational materials, one can see the internal and external worlds connected and related to the children.  With these thirteen case studies as a hint, how about searching for ESD educational materials that would be most suitable for the children in front of you?
    In addition, the learning content of ESD consists not only of the various educational materials and what is contained in them.  ESD learning content also includes relationships and dialogue, ways of learning, ways of thinking, means of expression, and children’s minds, bodies and actions.  For example:







 Children’s connections and relationships with people, things, ideas, and money

Children’s connections and dialogue with the present, past and future (time)

The connections and differences between the children here and in other countries, regions and places

Children’s encounters with knowledge, information and data, ways to search for it and ways to communicate it

Changes in children’s minds and bodies and various influences

The continuation of children’s discovery of questions and their connections

The actions that children can take now looking toward the future

(3) Approachto ESD--From the Choice of Educational Materials to Methods ofEvaluation [Did not put these in quotes (globally)—do not seem to beneeded in English and interrupts the flow.]
  • In an approach that “takes flight towards the future,” the learning of the children in front of you and the backgrounds of their lives serve as a base.  One then responds to situations thinking about how you would like to stretch the children, what you would like them to master, what areas are weak, and what skills are lacking.  In addition, one can be supported by the new national curriculum guidelines and be guided in aims for the ESD curriculum from the educational materials and content that one predicts will be appropriate for the children.
  • There are no pre-determined answers to the issues and questions established based on the ESD aims.  Therefore, as in past educational activities and research, teachers and collaborators should not use teachers, schools families and community to plan for particular conclusions, but keep learning issues and questions in mind and develop educational activities and research together with the children.  ESD does not involve placing educational materials and children in a “test tube,” observing the external and internal changes objectively, and gathering data.  One must conduct activities putting educational materials, children and teachers, parents/guardians, and community members into the “test tube” where they can react to one another and change autonomously, and all the participants should observe and gather data.  Further, these are educational activities and research in which one must conceive of the possibility that the “test tube” will crack and break during implementation.  Therefore, these ESD aims that are attendant with a type of tension always also belong to the adults as well as the children.
  • The aims of ESD are not at the same level as the aims of past individual educational activities and research or the individual educational activities that one is trying to implement as a result of the revision of the national educational guidelines.  This is because ESD is a large educational concept that connects to and is in a relationship with various educational activities and research efforts and encompasses all of them.  In addition, it is not only a curriculum that is planned, implemented, and accomplished, but it involves a hidden curriculum that continues pulsing within the school and community and frequently affects the aims.  In particular, even though they are not engaging in explicit ESD activities, in Mitsukawa Elementary School in Fukuroi-City and Choyo Daiichi Elementary School in Tsuruoka-City, and Otemachi Elementary School in Joetsu-City and others, there are educational activities that have been sustained and passed down for 10-20 years even when the school principal changed or other teachers rotated to different positions.
What the schools that conduct educational activities that are sustained and passed down have in common are the connections and relationships developed together among teachers and schools, parents and guardians, and the community (see the item “social capital” in Section III “The Academic Abilities Developed by ESD”).  These connections and relationships are firmly rooted and are supported by the power of collaboration that crosses over the boundaries and limitations of the teachers and school.  Further, the educational activities that are conducted by teachers and schools empowered by the community are able to draw out children’s hopes for their lives, confidence, pride, and positive feelings about themselves.  The children at Mitsukawa Elementary School, Chooyo Daiichi Elementary School and Otemachi Elementary School are very cheerful, understand the meaning of learning, and are full of motivation.  The new school principal and teachers new to the school who see the growth in intelligence, heart, and body of the students and their autonomous internal changes learn from these children the meaning and significance of educational activities that cross subject areas and spheres of learning and which are sustained and passed down.  In addition, families and members of the community strengthen their connections and relationships with teachers and the school when they see these children, and help and participate in the educational activities.  The children, the teachers, the parents and guardians, and members of the community are living brightly in the midst of these connections and are increasing their hopes about their lives, confidence, pride, and positive feelings about themselves.

    The aims of ESD are to draw out and develop hopes about one’s life, confidence, pride and positive feelings about oneself and to set as a concrete goal “becoming children or adults who investigate and think together, share opinions and are able to take action with others in school, families, the country and the world to create a future in which we and people around the world and in future generations can live sustainably.”

(4)   In ESD, what ways of learning and teaching are good?
In order to encourage students to understand the knowledge and concepts, literacy, and skills connected with the educational materials and content you have envisioned and the aims you have established, teachers and others must recognise the existence of the educational philosophy below that raises essential and fundamental questions.

1.At a glance, the world seems divided into pieces, but fundamentally it is one and all human beings are connected to one another.
2.The connections among each one of the human beings on earth are not only rational and logical; fundamental understanding and insight can also be achieved through sensitivity, intuition, creativity and dialogue that shakes the soul.
3.alues and the meaning and significance of things most likely arise from noticing connections and the self-realisation of them.
4.Doesn’t the motivation and action towards social change aimed at addressing various problems and issues that make the world unsustainable such as injustice and distress arise from a human being realising these connections?

   Based on the connections and balance between the transmission style of lessons in which teachers teach children and the “interaction” style in which students learn from one another, one must aim at “autonomous change” lessons that encompass both, and in which children, teachers and others experience lessons that encourage big, autonomous changes that shake one’s values.

    To conduct the kind of lessons that cut through “transmission,” “interaction,” and “autonomous change,” teachers and children must constantly ask essential and fundamental questions that cut through the ESD curriculum like “Why do we (children) do the Minamoto no Tomonaga appeal?” “What meaning does reading and the school library have to us (children)?” and “What meaning does food have for us (children)?”

 (5) In ESD, What Evaluation Methods and Evaluation Materials Are There?
   Evaluation is necessary for every lesson. Evaluation is not necessary for appraising the past of children and teachers.  However, one must engage in evaluation in order to expand, deepen and enable children’s learning to take root in the future, as well as to enable teachers to improve the aims, content and methods of their teaching.
    Naturally, in order to raise the quality of ESD learning and curriculum, and to make educational activities that can be sustained and passed down, evaluation is indispensable.  If evaluation is not attached firmly as a part of ESD, ESD will end up as simply an event or momentary trend and the practice will be criticised for just wasting time.
    So, what evaluation methods are there?

1. Evaluation Methods
The most appropriate evaluation methods for ESD are the following

Portfolio Evaluation: Works and documentation that have been created through the learning activities and experiences such as records of self-evaluations and joint evaluations, and records of instructor and collaborator evaluations are accumulated in chronological order into a “working portfolio.”  Then, in order to clarify results and issues at the final stage of the learning activities and experiences, representative works and documentation, self-evaluations, and other items are narrowed down and moved from the “working portfolio” to a “permanent portfolio.” Portfolio evaluation is a qualitative approach to evaluation that encourages children to reflect on their own learning activities and teachers to evaluate children’s learning and their teaching through the creation of the portfolio.  The evaluation that occurs through this method involves dialogue between the children and the teacher through the medium of the portfolios.

Journal Approach: ESD consists of educational activities developed over a long span of time.  In the midst of this process, children have various ideas and hopes as well as doubts and feelings of discomfort.  Leaving a record of these is important.  It is probably a good idea to have children continually complete such things as written reflection sheets, diary entries, letters, and essays.  In particular, children should be asked to search for a “keyword” that most remained in their minds from what they learned on a certain day and at a certain time, and to comment about why they chose that keyword.  These “reflection comments” are extremely effective.  If one accumulates these comments continuously in the portfolio, one can see the “beginning,” “middle,” and “end” of the learning activities and experiences, and through that “how far I/we have come,” and “what points of achievement I/we have attained and what points for improvement remain.”  Through self-evaluation and joint evaluation, children can increase their “meta-intelligence” through understanding the relativism and objectivity of what they themselves have learned.

Performance Approach: ESD learning activities and experiences not only involve desk study, but interview surveys and speeches in various situations, free discussion, “poster sessions,” debate, role-playing--many and diverse types of performances.  Concerning these children’s performances, one can have them create their own “rubrics” (charts with criteria for expressing the degree and quality to which learning goals were achieved), and evaluate themselves.

Individual Internal Evaluation Test:From the perspective of developing children through ESD who will take on the responsibility for sustainable development in the future, it is extremely important to consolidate knowledge.  How can children consolidate the knowledge and concepts that teachers have transmitted and those children have gained through interactions such as joint investigation and experiences?  ESD aims to enable students to gain knowledge and concepts while drawing out children’s autonomous discoveries and motivation. Therefore, in an ESD practice, one should not use a confrontational evaluation test (objective test), but an individual internal evaluation test. If one proposes 100 questions on knowledge and concepts, and each question is worth 1 point, and children are asked to complete all the questions, it is just like the former type of test.  However, for example, if you propose 100 questions and each is worth 5 points, and children can choose which 20 questions they want to answer to get 100 points, it becomes the latter type of individual internal evaluation test.  The above may be what happens, but many of the children will acquire 100 points, meaning that they understand that content with certainty, and many will work on their own to become able to solve the questions that they don’t understand or can’t do.  In this case, the questions students didn’t choose or weren’t able to do, they can learn through “extra help,” or they can be asked to repeat trying to solve the same problem.  Mysteriously, children love this test.

2.Diverse evaluation materials
●The work products and documentation that one accumulates in portfolios should be items that represent a variety of genres of expression.  One should continuously pay attention to achieving a balance between children’s left brains and right brains when considering forms of expression in evaluation materials.  Thus, in addition to “reports” and “short essays” that make use of rationality and logic in writing, things like “poems,” “illustrations and pictures,” and “music and dance,” that make use of sensitivity, intuition and creativity should be used.  By preparing for diversity in forms of expression and situations, let’s take into account the strengths and weaknesses of different children and increase their motivation towards learning.

●The knowledge and concepts mastered through ESD learning activities and experiences vary for each individual, and their meaning and definition will not form a linear record.  The knowledge and concepts that students gain are based on mutual relationships and integrated in cause and effect relationships that can be described through knowledge networks or concept maps.  Image maps or mind maps also become precious evaluation materials.  These not only express what is inside of children, but children can themselves evaluate their own learning with reference to the history of what they have learned, and children can engage in joint evaluation with their friends and increase their “meta-intelligence.”

3.Where is ESD?
   ESD is broad and deep learning in order to become a human being capable of crossing various limitations and boundaries in order to investigate, think, and discuss collaboratively and then be able to take action within schools, families, communities, countries, as well as on the world stage in order to enable children and adults in Japan and the world to live sustainably in the future.

    Just as we who are living in this same period of time wish to continue our lives and activities in society without them being cut off, don’t we wish that the people in future generations will be able to sustain and pass on the activities in our lives and society?

 However, at present, in various countries and regions on the earth, and in our country of Japan and the communities around us, aren’t we in this generation bringing in a situation of unsustainability for people in future generations through our lives and activities in society?

    For example, information about “global warming” and “resources and energy,” “war and terrorism,” “human rights violations,” “economic gaps and poverty,” “religious conflict,” “sickness,” “educational gaps,” “crime,” “discrimination and bullying,” and recently the “global financial crisis” appears frequently in newspapers, on television, and on the Internet.  However, it is extremely difficult to solve each one of these problems one by one.  This is because the problem of global warming is connected to the problem of resources and energy and to our daily ways of living, the gap between rich and poor and religious conflict is a cause and result of war and terrorism, and the discrimination and bullying that occasionally touches us sometimes becomes criminal, and crimes beget discrimination and bullying.  When we also become involved, there are complex causal relationships that make our lives and the lives and activities in society of future generations unsustainable.

    Even while the glass “test tube” of the earth and community in which we children and adults live our lives together continues to be beautiful and sturdy, the possibility that it will crack and break is increasing every day.

    However, children are being developed amidst teachers, schools, parents and guardians, and community members and constantly aiming to soar into the future.  In addition, the image of children who are developing rich intelligence, hearts and bodies and being active with confidence and pride encourages teachers, parents and guardians, and people in the community and returns the confidence and pride.

    Isn’t this, fundamentally, the essential and basic functioning of “education” and its chain of cause and effect?  ESD is definitely not a special educational activity.

    For example, whatever “crisis” or “danger” one has, if the “boy who cried wolf” only says, “Danger!” “Help!” people will not recognise the problem and not move.
    The Belgian playwright Maeterlinck (1862-1949) had Tyltyl and Mytyl, children in his play, search for a “blue bird” in trips through present, past and future countries.  However, they did not find the blue bird in any country and, in the end when they returned, realized that the blue bird was in their own home.

    Now, in the schools and families and communities where you have children right in front of you, please discover ESD in the “education” you see.  If you can’t discover it immediately, use the “approach to ESD” as a hint in order to change your educational activities after reflecting on them.
We wish that even one more school, family or community—whether explicitly or implicitly, begins an ESD practice and it becomes one that is sustained and passed on.

 ESD Predictive Map
【Now, where are we? Which direction should we go?】(School version)

Note 1: Schools in which the whole school is involved in ESD such as through the creation of an ESD calendar
Note 2: Indicator of sustainability and continuity: Educational activities which have been sustained and passed down for more than ten years
Created by Kiichiro Narita, 2009.

Main Reference Works---------------------------------
Narita Kiichiro (2008) The Method of  Curriculum Development for Education for Sustainable Development: A Pilot Study for ESD Environmental Education Studies (Bulletin of Tokyo Gakugei University Field Studies Institute for Environmental Education) Volume 17: pp. 33-59. 
Narita Kiichiro (2003) Introduction to Holistic Curriculum Theory, Holistic Education Guidebook (Seseragi Shuppan): pp. 73-77.
Nishioka Kanae (2003) Making Use of Portfolio Evaluation Methods in Subject Areas and Integrated Studies—Aiming Towards Creating New Evaluation Standards. (Tosho Bunkasha).

What do these goals and ways of thinking, ways of developing children and students, ways of learning and ways of teaching have in common with the educational activities and research you have conducted in the past and with the educational activities and research you are planning to conduct in the future?  Also, where are the differences?  What kinds of things do you think you might be able to incorporate into your educational activities and research?

2. Approach to ESD--From the Choice of Educational Materials to Methods of Evaluation [Did not put these in quotes (globally)—do not seem to be needed in English and interrupts the flow.]

    What kind of approach is necessary in order to broaden and deepen ESD?
In this guidebook, I would like to focus on an approach that “takes flight towards the future” starting from children, teachers and schools, parents and guardians, and communities--rather than one that lands where we have been before based on the ideas of the United Nations and international institutions; the national government and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; boards of education and school principals, etc.
    One can truly explore “an approach that takes flight towards the future” by reading through the thirteen case studies introduced in Section I.