Curriculum development

Sustainability in Our Curricula


How can we incorporate Sustainability into our curricula?

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) first came to public attention during the United Nation Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, which formally acknowledged the important role that education plays in “improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues1 ”. Since then, ESD has gained wide acceptance in government and educational circles. ESD is multi-faceted and complex, encompassing economic, political, social, cultural and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, as reflected in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals put forward in the 2030 UN Agenda.

ESD requires educators to shoulder the challenging task of enhancing students’ understanding and competences for contributing to sustained economic viability, social inclusivity and justice, as well as safeguarding the environment.”


ESD requires educators to shoulder the challenging task of enhancing students’ understanding and competences for contributing to sustained economic viability, social inclusivity and justice, as well as safeguarding the environment. Given its broad scope, no one subject teacher can teach all aspects of sustainable development, even though each teacher has the capacity and opportunity to teach about sustainable development within their classrooms. ESD is relevant to a broad spectrum of school subjects from geography and the sciences through to the humanities subjects like History, Social Studies and languages. 

It goes without saying that we have a duty to develop the knowledge students need to understand issues related to environmental, socio-political and economic sustainability. Education research also suggests that students learn better when they are actively engaged in the learning process — for instance, with inquiry-based learning or experiential or field-based learning. Researchers have found a positive link between outdoor experiences and gains in environmental knowledge. This approach to learning also has the potential to impact students affectively. A recent study by researchers at the Sustainability Learning Lab (SLL) at the National Institute of Education, Singapore, found that students who participated in an inter-disciplinary outdoor experiential learning camp reported significant increases in their feelings of connection with nature, laying the foundation for future conservation efforts.

The chapters in this book have been carefully curated to provide positive examples of how sustainability education has been carried out by educators in Asia, with the hope that their ideas can be adapted to your school/ classroom, or serve as a springboard for new ideas in your curriculum and lesson planning. The volume is divided into three sections and provide examples of good practices at different scales, within and across subject areas, and with varied goals with regard to taking action.

Section 1 focuses on curriculum development for sustainable development with examples of cross-curricular integration. Some chapters also demonstrate how to integrate classroom-based lesson sequences with experiential and authentic learning outside the classroom. The examples span from primary/ elementary levels of education through to teacher education, in diverse education systems in Bhutan, Indonesia and Japan.

Section 2 provides examples of how to support sustainability education through the use of pedagogical strategies that encourage students to learn actively and mindfully. The chapters here showcase a range of strategies like gamification, inquiry-based learning, and technology-enhanced learning. Students communicate their understandings through a range of formats like debates, the use of technology, as well as in-class discussions. Though they span a gamut of content related to social and economic inequalities, economic growth, and environmental management, these chapters invite students to reflect on the links between the content learned and sustainable development, and/ or consider the implications of what was learned to their own lives. Such tasks are important to the development of reflexive and engaged citizens. 

Section 3 focuses on this key desired outcome of ESD — nurturing individuals who are willing and able to take concrete action to support sustainable development. The chapters provide positive examples of how we can purposefully involve students in the process of designing, implementing and/or developing solutions to the real-world problems observed in our communities. Education research has demonstrated that experiencing success in taking action for the environment, for example, is a key motivator for sustaining behavioural change and willingness to advocate for sustainable development. The examples here show clearly how educators have guided students to address diverse sustainability issues like waste disposal, reducing plastic use in everyday life, or sustainable agriculture. Hopefully, While ESD is a long-term process, involving many players (including educators like us), we do not need to be overwhelmed by this complexity. Instead, we can be hopeful and choose each day to educate our students positively.” such lessons can spark a generation of citizens who can and will take action in support of sustainable development.

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DR. TRICIA SEOW, Co-chair of the Sustainability Learning Lab, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

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