Today’s blog is by Clive Belgeonne, Education Adviser at DECSY (Development Education Centre, South Yorkshire), one of the National Leaders (North) of the Global Learning Programme (England), and Course Leader of PG Citizenship Education at Sheffield Hallam University.

Education and Global Goals

In September 2015, 193 world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development.  If these Goals are completed, it would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030.  Our governments have a plan to save our planet…it’s our job to make sure they stick to it.

This is the introduction to the Global Goals website, set up by Project Everyone (devised by Richard Curtis, filmmaker and founder of Comic Relief).  These 17 Global Goals or SDGs replaced the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that ran from 2000 to 2015 and which had varied success in terms of meeting their targets, certainly on a global scale.  Stephen Sterling (2016) has suggested that these 17 goals address a series of problems that are all interconnected and which may be symptomatic of an inherently unsustainable model of global development.  He also points out that insufficient attention in the goals has been given to the role of education and that most education programmes not only do not address sustainable development goals, but may also be exacerbating the problems they are trying to address.

So, as educators, how can we make the most of the ‘plan’?  Environmental Educators may choose to focus on the goals that relate more to the Ecosphere, e.g. Goal 6 Clean Water and Sanitation, Goal 13 Climate Action, Goal 14 Life below Water and Goal 15 Life on Land[1]. However, this approach may miss the interconnectivity of the goals, and the fact that education itself needs to be more fully orientated towards sustainable development.

I would suggest that all educators need to focus on Goal 4 Quality Education: ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all’. The sub-sections include at number seven: ‘Promote education for sustainable development’.

4.7 by 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.[2]

The UK government has signed up to this goal and is supposed to report regularly on progress, though as yet there is no formal structure to do so[3]. The latest government report on its approach to delivering the Global Goals (DfID 2017) makes no mention of the need to promote education for sustainable development.  At a recent TEESNet conference[4] to assess progress towards the SDGs in teacher education in the UK, Peter Higgins pointed out that the SDGs are different from the MDGs in that they are universal, highly ambitious and focussed on the content of schooling and equity.  This conference and other TEESNet reports (Bamber et al, 2016, Wynne, 2017) have shown that not enough is being done in the UK, especially in England, to orientate education, and especially teacher education, towards sustainable development.  I feel that there is a real opportunity to promote discussion locally and globally around what we mean by quality education and how it needs to be orientated towards the goal of sustainable development, as the SDGs have a global remit.  I have had conversations with people involved in the Popular Education movement in Latin America who see it as a real opportunity to fight for education that promotes agency and critical thinking and which challenges an increasingly dominant notion globally of education for employment within a neo-liberal framework.

Another challenge posed by Goal 4.7 is that it brings together a number of so-called adjectival educations: education for sustainable development, human rights, gender equality, peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and cultural diversity towards one end (although environmental education is not mentioned specifically, it aligns with the ultimate aim of the NAEE to “understand and act on the need to live more sustainably”[5]).  In the UK, perhaps the two dominant adjectival educations in recent decades have been ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) which draws largely on the legacy of environmental education (EE), and GC (Global Citizenship) which draws largely on the legacy of development education (DE).  EE has traditionally had a more eco-centric view of education and DE a more anthropocentric one.  Both bring important strands to educational practice for sustainable development – EE the sense of connection to all living things and the biosphere (without such connection it is hard to really care about the state of the planet) and DE the engagement with critical thinking and multiple perspectives (which hopefully lead to the questioning of simplistic solutions to complex problems).  As I wrote some time ago in response to the advent of the UN Decade of ESD:

What the traditions of DE and EE share is a dissatisfaction with the narrowness of conventional education and a desire to focus more on the process of education (participatory, experiential) and the sort of values engaged with. (Belgeonne, 2003)

Many of us had hoped that the UN Decade of ESD would bring these legacies together and that ESD would prove more than a sum of the parts. Although there has been some progress in some organisations and initiatives in this regard, international research by Doug Bourn and others for UNESCO (Bourn, 2017) has shown that there is a tendency in many countries for ESD and GC to be promoted within teacher education along parallel lines.  The authors suggest that to maximise impact, there is a need for these initiatives to come more closely together.

The Global Learning Programme[6], which is government funded and has over 6,000 schools involved, offers opportunities to bring these traditions together, and many teachers and pupils are finding engagement with the Global Goals / SDGs highly motivating.

The SDGs differ from the MDGs in that anyone can report on them.  A number of organisations are trying to get agreement to share what we know is being done on the ground to address the SDGs.  As I said in the article quoted earlier “The NGO community cannot complain about a lack of joined up thinking and action in government if we do not demonstrate it ourselves” (Belgeonne, 2003) and this is an opportunity for all educators and NGOs to share our endeavours and learning towards the SDGs.

Global Goal 4.7 provides an opportunity to bring the traditions of EE/ESD and DE/GC together to realise the goal of ‘Quality education’ for all for a more sustainable future. UNESCO itself is providing links between the two, although they have separate sections on their website[7]. The SDGs should help us to realise the aspirations of the learning journey from the original Earth Summit:

strategies for promoting ESD must not relegate ecological concerns to one sphere and put development concerns in another; nor must they see decisions concerning economics or ecology as being science based and value free. The aim of ESD is to put the pieces of life back together again in order that we may see development not as an economic puzzle or ecological danger, but as a set of rational and moral choices to which we aspire (UNESCO 2002)


Bamber, P. Bullivant, A. Glover, A. King, B. & McCann, G (2016) A comparative review of policy and practice for education for sustainable development/education for global citizenship (ESD/GC) in teacher education across the four nations of the UK Management in Education 2016. Vol 30(3) 1-9 Sage Publications

Belgeonne, C (2003) DE + EE = ESD? The Development Education Journal Volume 10.1 October 2003 Trentham Books

Bourn, D (2017) UNESCO Report 2017: Teacher Education, ESD and GC Presentation at seminar ‘Meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in Initial Teacher Education in the UK: Progress and Opportunities’, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh, 10th March 2017 (forthcoming publication authored by Bourn, D. Hunt, F and Bamber, P for UNESCO)

DfID (Department for International Development) (2017) Agenda 2030 The UK Government’s approach to delivering the Global Goals for Sustainable Development – at home and around the world

Global Goals

Higgins, P (2017) The global and local context for ESD and Global Citizenship in Initial Teacher Education Presentation at seminar ‘Meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in Initial Teacher Education in the UK: Progress and Opportunities’, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh, 10th March 2017

Sterling, S (2016) A Commentary on Education and Sustainable Development Goals Journal of Education for Sustainable Development 10:2 (2016): 208–213

Wynne, K (2017) Audit of Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (ESDGC) within Initial Teacher Education in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland TEESNet (Teacher Education for Equity and Sustainability Network)

UNESCO (2002) Education for Sustainability – From Rio to Johannesburg Lessons learned from a decade of commitment UNESCO Paris



[1] There are many useful ideas on the Global Goals site and the related ‘World’s Largest Lesson’ The lesson plans are devised to be used in any country in the world, so if a school has links with a school in another country they could compare how they have used them / adapted them for their context


[3] The Office of National Statistics carried out a consultation last year on how the UK should measure the SDGs which had 131 responses, only two of which addressed Goal 4, which was ranked second from bottom in importance. The suggested measure for 4.7 is Inspection reports on the General Teaching Standards. A further consultation is due to be launched in May – let’s get in a lot more responses!




[7] &

#TeachSDG is a global movement of teachers and volunteers partnered with the UN to serve &


Clive Belgeonne can be contacted at

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