HEADS UP or thumbs down? A postcolonial analysis of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development

Is it possible to analyse a complex and multi layered initiative as the UN decade on education for sustainable development through Vanessa Andreotti’s postcolonial inspired HEADS UP checklist, which was featured earlier in this blog?

Such undertaking has certainly strong limitations, as the respective hermeneutics of the two approaches – a longterm, multilaterally negotiated UN process, and a short and experimental checklist aiming to stimulate doubt and questioning – are pretty much incompatible. Nevertheless, despite obvious shortcomings, the exercise proved to produce some interesting findings:

“The questions of the HEADS UP checklist provide evidence that there is a general lack of systems thinking in the texts on the decade, omitting, in a almost systematic way, questions of power, ideology and history (colonialism). These are, however, key elements for understanding and eventually achieving sustainable development. It is questionable how the DESD should achieve its objectives and make a meaningful contribution towards a more just and sustainable world without addressing these questions in an open and ambitious way. One could even argue that the absence of these questions reinforces the current unsustainable system, and the evidence that today, in year eight of the decade, the world hasn’t really become more sustainable, might support such an argument. [..] It seems that the decade has provided a powerful framework for a broad range of states and actors to advance the ESD agenda, to put questions of education on the national negotiation tables and to mobilise resources around the topic. However, considering the dramatic situation of the world and the lack of progress in challenging the current, deeply unsustainable system, we have to ask if this is enough, and if the DESD wouldn’t channel energies of well-meaning actors to address questions of sustainability and justice into an institutional setting were they don’t question the system as such.”

You can download the full essay, submitted as assignment in the “Development Education in the Era of Globalisation” module of the Development Education Master at the Institute of Education in London:

HEADS UP or thumbs down.pdf

Your critical comments are welcome, as always!


The dilemma with “adjectival educations”

Development education, global education, citizenship education, human rights education, peace education, education for sustainable development – there is an ever increasing number of “educations”, all with their own history and rationale. How to make sense of this multitude, and to to avoid that teachers get overwhelmed by various, always legitimate demands to their classroom practice?

Understanding how these different concepts relate can be a first useful step to create some order (and logical hierarchy) between the different concept. There is certainly not one right answer, but the chart above seems (though a little complex) quite useful to me (however, I don’t know the source, so if anyone knows where this comes from – please put a comment! And sorry to the author if any copyrights are violated..). A more simple version is my personal attempt below, which puts development education and education for sustainable development as “twins separated at birth” under the umbrella of global education and global learning (the latter emphasising the learner centred aspect of empowerment and self-directed learning, while the former is rooted in the more instructive concept of education of someone by someone else).