Teaching for a Greener Future: Unlocking Sustainability through Education

by Zainab Asif

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

This quote is a deep and thought-provoking statement that underpins a question- What kind of people do we want our students to be when they leave our classroom and school community?

The phrase “change the world” implies that education’s effects are not limited to personal growth but extend to broader societal and global issues.

Sustainability is not just confined to an approach to a greener world but also thinking about the future in which environmental, social, and economic considerations are balanced. To reach this point of paradigm, all individuals must be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for effectively responding to current challenges and issues. More than half of the population is under the age of 30 which suggests that education plays a major role in educating students and overcoming challenges of the 21st century.

Adapting the Curriculum to Encompass Sustainability

Curriculum adaptation around sustainability requires educational bodies to identify knowledge, issues, perspectives, skills, and values central to sustainable development in each of the three components- environment, society, and economy – and integrate them into the curriculum.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a framework provided by UNESCO that empowers learners to make informed decisions to preserve our planet for future generations. It helps in understanding complex and interrelated problems and challenges and the development of skills to overcome these issues.

“UNESCO outlines various essential skills and educational targets linked to the instruction of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

Thus, redesigning of curriculum is not only about incorporating new knowledge-based topics but also incorporating structures and activities designed to improve learning outcomes.

Teaching Strategies for ESD

Sustainability concepts are often complex and abstract. Simulations simplify and provide tangible ways to teach these ideas, which is crucial, especially for children and adolescents still in the concrete stages of cognitive development.

These simulations include:

  • Engaging students with audio-visual and kinesthetic learning modalities
  • Addressing current issues or real-life problems by adding relevance to the curriculum
  • Promoting higher-order thinking skills for improved learning outcome

To teach using these simulations, it is important to address related academic concepts, monitor activities to see student engagement in these activities, and reflect on the importance of reinforcing academic concepts.

Class discussion is another way to transfer information among a group of students and the teacher. Students come to class carrying different life experiences which can enrich the teaching of the curriculum. These discussions should be student-centered and stimulate students to analyze and think critically.

(If the discussion is about recycling plastic then the teacher can assess students’ knowledge and application in three spheres- environment, society, and economy.

For the above example, students know the obvious response which is recycling plastic is beneficial for the environment but others may not be obvious such as recycling is good for the economy as it helps to employ people and is good for the economy as the money saved through the limited process can be used for other purposes.)

Storytelling is another technique that adds a human element to any dry information. It helps learners to engage in cultural heritage and traditional knowledge that passes wisdom from one generation to another. A lesson can be structured with a storytelling component that illustrates the academic content of the lesson.

Promoting Sustainability Through Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities for students are usually voluntary outside regular school hours and include- social, philanthropic, artistic, or other goals than academic ones.

These activities can focus on sustainability, addressing the environmental, social, and economic concerns of the community.

Some of these activities or events could be:

  • Short-term recycling projects that focus on environmental issues and designing solutions
  • Community services such as beach clean-up, donation campaigns, visiting old age homes and orphanages
  • Planting activities and enhancing school gardens to build agricultural skills
  • Upcycling and waste management could be organized as school fairs and exhibition
  • Talent-based clubs enhance creativity and have a sustainability focus

The quality of education can be improved with the holistic development of students with a greater focus on strengthening the link between environment, society, and economy through community partnerships that can be built during these extra-curricular activities.

Whole-School Approach to Foster Sustainability

To create a larger impact and accelerate the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the whole school must be involved in redesigning and implementing the curriculum. It also means that schools need to follow sustainable practices such as the use of energy and water management, treatment of school property, updated policies reflecting environmental, social, and economic sustainability, and adapting curriculum based on knowledge and skills. The school leadership team can create a focused and shared vision through the collaboration of all stakeholders. The leadership team needs to take the lead in the process by getting trained and equipped with the knowledge required to initiate and navigate between policy and implementation. They also need to work on removing barriers that hinder the implementation of these goals. Staff and teachers should be supported through ESD professional development sessions that would allow teachers to plan lessons integrating the strategies of ESD.

Ideally, an entire school reflects sustainability in the academic program, school policies, and daily practices.

To conclude, ESD provides guidelines that prepare students to have the knowledge and skills necessary to care for and better address sustainable development issues that will arise in the future. It provides opportunities to observe the complex connections between local and global issues. The more practice students have in facing real-world issues, the more likely they will be able to address problems in the future and work toward responsible decision-making.

My intensive training through the Global Schools Program has helped me understand the importance of ESDs and be a change-maker by creating an impact and inspiring people.

Live what we learn & and learn what we live!

Zainab Asif is an Advocate of the Global Schools Program, an initiative led by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. To connect with her on LinkedIn, click Here



Embarking on a journey to incorporate sustainability into education is both a noble and necessary endeavor. At Leading Your International School (LYIS), we are committed to guiding institutions towards a greener and more sustainable future. With a deep understanding of the complexities of integrating sustainability into education, LYIS offers comprehensive solutions and expert guidance. Our experienced team stands ready to assist educational leaders in reshaping their curricula, fostering responsible practices, and nurturing future leaders equipped to tackle global challenges.

If you’re seeking to unlock the potential of sustainability in your school or institution, consider LYIS as your partner on this transformative journey. Together, we can create a better world through education.

To connect with LYIS Global Head of International School – Grace Hu, click Here

One thought on “Teaching for a Greener Future: Unlocking Sustainability through Education

  1. Thank you for your valuable contribution Zainab. As we build a global community of educators who feel empowered to bring the sustainability agenda to the fore, your words and support are very valuable. We look forward to re0visiting your journey in the future.

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