Role of teachers in education for sustainable development highlighted by educators and partners

published 20 May 2021 updated 27 May 2021

The importance of providing quality education for sustainable development (ESD) was highlighted at the recent UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development. This vital topic – and ensuring that teachers receive initial and continuous training on that topic – was raised by Education International’s member organisations and partners during various sessions at the conference.

CTERA: Education unionists pioneers in climate education

Graciela Mandolini, from the Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina(CTERA), explained how her union has been actively involved in climate education since 1998, particularly through organising teacher training.

This training included a postgraduate programme on environmental education and sustainable development, as well as a specialisation in environmental education.

CTERA has also been to the forefront on projects, programmes, and actions on environmental education such as tree plantations, plogging days (a combination of jogging with picking up litter), ancestral ceremonies (for example paying tributes to Pachamama - Mother Earth), recreational days, and environmental camps.

Argentina’s new national law on extensive environmental education (Pino Solanas law) reinforces the union’s work. It proposes a permanent transversal public policy, with interdependence of different interacting issues including equity, recognition of diversity, and the right to a healthy environment.

Mandolini emphasised the need for climate education that is publicly funded and regulated. Climate education must also incorporate the knowledge of indigenous peoples, highlighting their trajectories, itineraries, and life stories, she said.

JTU: Comprehensive ESD teaching and learning tools at all levels

Teachers’ roles in ESD were highlighted by Asuka Inoue of the Japan Teachers’ Union at a session on Putting ESD into Action. She spoke about her professional experiences at her high school, which implements a “whole institution approach”. Her school offers comprehensive teaching and learning tools for teachers as well as students at every grade.

First-grade students learn about and receive general information about the sustainable development goals; second graders learn about global issues relating to their daily lives, and third graders are invited to suggest how they can get involved in the issues in the community. For example, students gain knowledge about marine pollution, then learn about measures taken by the international community, and create posters to raise awareness among their friends and community.

Teachers also need knowledge about ESD, to map challenges together, find suitable learning materials for their students, and realise the philosophy of ‘no one left behind’, Inoue stressed. To support teachers, a core group of other teachers promote ESD, implement peer learning, and modify teaching practices.

She added that students from other countries who attend her school make ESD more fruitful by sharing stories of ESD in their native countries.

At her school, students also have an opportunity to give feedback on what they have learned. This is aimed at ensuring that students remember the significance of ESD after they graduate from school, she reported.

Earth Day: Promoting climate change education via Teach for the Planet campaign

In a session dedicated to climate education, Nick Nuttall of EARTHDAY.ORG highlighted Education International’s Teach for the Planet campaign. Led by educators and in partnership with EARTHDAY.ORG, Teach for the Planet aims to ensure that climate change education, based on science and with a civic action focus, becomes as fundamental as teaching reading and writing. The campaign will drive global mobilisation for quality climate education leading up to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021.

He also mentioned Education International’s Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All. This outlines the importance of including climate change education in initial teacher training and professional development.

Adoption of the Berlin Declaration

On 19 May, the conference adopted the Berlin Declaration on ESD. This commits to ESD as a core curriculum component and, importantly, recognises the crucial role of teachers.

UNESCO member states committed to implementing the new global framework, entitled ESD for 2030, and concrete commitments, including national initiatives on ESD for 2030, were made and/or strengthened further.


The UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development was held as a virtual conference from 17 to 19 May 2021. It was organised by UNESCO in cooperation with and supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany, and with the German Commission for UNESCO as an advisory partner.

All UNESCO Member States were invited to nominate a delegation to represent them at the Conference. Approximately 2,500 stakeholders from all regions of the world attended, including policymakers working in education and other areas related to sustainable development, ESD practitioners, non-government organisations, experts and members of the development community and the private sector.