©ronjohnston2019 Amsterdam

There is a risk that "education for sustainable development" is introduced in lesson plans, in textbooks and curricula without any real attention to how it integrates with subject-specific knowledge. It is often introduced as an addendum or "bolt on" component and thus is not truly capable of being transformative but merely a peripheral interest.  


New progressive curricula and definitions about "what education is for" appear throughout the world's education systems almost on an annual basis. Frequently, in a bid to be holistic, these conflate subjects to form a mosaic of information with little focused subject-specific knowledge.


This holistic approach to knowledge has many virtues - not the least of which is educating the whole person in the context of the learners' own experiences. However, this also runs the risk of creating many well - intentioned but seriously ill-informed, half understood solutions to sustainability issues, based more on wishful thinking than applied subject knowledge. As more than one environmental activist has famously said, "we should listen to the scientists" or "subject experts" in a given field. This is admirable as long as our approach is to also provide the tools to critically evaluate what they say.

Globally, science-led technology appears to have created as many problems as it has solved.  Some might say more problems than it has solved! Many sustainability issues have a science dimension to them, referred to here and in the wider literature as socio-scientific issues (SSIs).  SSIs have come to represent important social issues and problems which are related to the (mis-?) application of science. Impacts are associated with the widespread use of economically driven, science-led technologies frequently associated with unbridled resource exploitation. They have a global impact and extend into most, if not all, aspects of  human life (Johnston, 2018b, 2017b; Johnston, 2009) impacting the sustainability of ecosystems at a fundamental level.

(click here for my Ecosystem studies pages and Film and Media .   

I suggest that we can view ESD through (at least!) two complementary lenses. First, as awareness raising strategy about sustainability - highlighting the consequences of doing nothing .... recognising the need for lifestyle changes &  bringing about a perspective shift and fostering awareness of sustainability issues.....







The second approach might be to promote a route leading to actions informed by subject-specific knowledge with sustainability issues (SSIs) embedded into subject- specific learning outcomes.

Embedding in this way allows ESD to speak to learners through the language of the subjects being studied:

My own publications (available here) offer some personal perspectives on the concept of socio-scientific issues as a cornerstone of embedding sustainability issues into science education (some available as downloadable pdf files. 


Extensive consideration of the role of SSIs in sustainability education can be found in : 

Ratcliffe, M., & Grace, M. (2003) Science education for citizenship: Teaching socio-scientific issues. Maidenhead: Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Zeidler, D.L. (2014). Socio-scientific Issues as a Curriculum Emphasis: Theory, Research and Practice.
In N.G. Lederman & S.K. Abell (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education,
Volume II (pp. 697-726). New York, NY: Routledge.