Educating for Sustainability

University of Manchester, Manchester Institute of Education, MA Digital Technologies and Communication in Education.


“the worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival-the issues now looming so large before us in the twenty-first century. It is not education, but education of a certain kind, that will save us.” (David Orr, Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect)


The teenage activitist Greta Thunberg has called on the world to urgently respond to the climate crisis. Greta’s recognition of the need for a concerted response is shared by many people across the world. The need for a response is increasingly recognised in educational spheres. Education whether in formal, informal or professional sphere needs to be at the forefront of that response. That is why educational bodies across the world are beginning to integrate a focus on sustainabiility into their educational provision with some, working to put it at the heart of what they do.


On this unit you have the opportunity to understand ways in which sustainability can be integrated into learning contexts. You will explore some of the approaches to sustainability learning including intergenerational learning and interdisciplinary learning. You will have opportunities to talk to key practitioners in the field and learn about the ways in which they are approaching sustainability learning. Finally you will have the opportunity to create your own sustainability education project in a learning context of your choice. Students in the past have focused on sustainability learning in e.g. museum and library contexts, in NGO contexts and in formal education contexts (nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary).


Unit Structure

The unit is made up of three components:

  • An exploration of themes, concepts and learning & teaching approaches central to educating for sustainability
  • Authentic case studies (involving invited speakers)
  • Student-centred group projects where students write proposals for and initially develop means of integrating sustainability into informal, formal or professional educational contexts



Topic 1: What is sustainability?

The unit begins by exploring different understandings of sustainability ( for example as reflected in the UN sustainability development goals ) and what is meant by sustainability education. In this video Susan Brown introduces notions of sustainability:



The topic introduces you to key thinkers in the field. See for example the work of Stephen Sterling. Activities investigate ways of conceptualising sustainability challenges.



Topic 2: What is education for?

We tend not to question the purpose of education. In sustainability education terms though the question ‘What is education for?’ is an important one. An attendant question is ‘what understandings, values and skills’ need to be fostered through education?’.


In this topic we explore the work of thinkers in the sustainability education field, for example David Orr, who argues that education needs to be rethought so that it is all ‘environmental education’ .


We go on to explore the values, understandings, skills and sustainability literacies seen as crucial to responding to social and environmental issues.



Topic 3: Sustainability World View

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. “(David Orr)


This topic explores the values, understandings, skills and sustainability literacies seen as crucial to responding to social and environmental issues.



Topic 4: Approaches to teaching and learning for ES: Powerful pedagogies

In this topic we explore the learning approaches/pedagogies associated with sustainability education, including interdisciplinary learning, intergenerational learning, whole schools learning and place based learning. Danielle Tilbury is one of the authors whose work is explored.


Sustainability education in practice

In this topic we look in more detail and via ‘authentic case studies’ at sustainability education in practice and as Informed by talks and practical demonstrations by practitioners and policy makers in the field. This focus helps students in the development of their own sustainability ideas. These ideas receive formative feedback both from tutors and other students

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