Why is education key to sustainable development?

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

A strong education system broadens access to opportunities, improves health, and bolsters the resilience of communities – all while fuelling economic growth in a way that can reinforce and accelerate these processes.

Moreover, education provides the skills people need to thrive in the new sustainable economy, working in areas such as renewable energy, smart agriculture, forest rehabilitation, the design of resource-efficient cities, and sound management of healthy ecosystems.

Perhaps most important, education can bring about a fundamental shift in how we think, act, and discharge our responsibilities toward one another and the planet. After all, while financial incentives, targeted policies, and technological innovation are needed to catalyse new ways of producing and consuming, they cannot reshape people’s value systems so that they willingly uphold and advance the principles of sustainable development. Schools, however, can nurture a new generation of environmentally savvy citizens to support the transition to a prosperous and sustainable future.

Some schools are already becoming learning labs for sustainable development, where young students are being prepared to adapt to and help mitigate the consequences of climate change. Already, more than 14 million students and 1.2 million teachers in 58 countries have been engaged in such learning, and 550 business schools have signed on to the Principles for Responsible Management Education, developed by the UN Global Compact.

This progress, though important, is just the beginning. What is needed now is a global movement, with every student in every country learning about sustainable development from well-trained teachers, equipped with the appropriate curricula and resources. An ambitious sustainable development agenda, together with a legally binding global climate deal, could go a long way toward catalysing such a movement.

Of course, we cannot secure a sustainable future in a matter of months. But, with a well-designed set of commitments and targets, we can move onto the right path. And, with effective educational programs that instil in future generations the importance of restoring Earth’s balance and delivering a prosperous future for the many, rather than the few, we can stay on that path.