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Initiatives for promoting ESD in Japan and China: Through a comparative lens

article 7-01

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has been emerging as an essential approach for the global society to promote sustainable development since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This initiative was further addressed in the Rio+10 conference in Johannesburg in 2002, and it led to the launch of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) between 2005 and 2014. The follow-up programme of the DESD, the Global Action Programme (GAP) for Education for Sustainable Development, was adopted by the UNESCO World Conference held in Aichi-Nagoya City in 2014 (UNESCO, 2014). With the approval of the SDGs by the UN Summit in 2015, ESD became one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 4. In 2019 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to scale up ESD in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

 

Although this global campaign promoting ESD has achieved significant progress in recent years, there is still a big difference in the progress of ESD between countries in the different development stages. When it comes to considering initiatives for promoting ESD in different countries, is there a unified model, or a common but universally effective approach? In this piece, by reviewing and comparing policies and practices promoting ESD between Japan and China, I argue that it is necessary to integrate policies and practices for promoting ESD within diverse socio-economic contexts between countries in different development stages. In the following paragraphs I will share my reflections on the experience of promoting ESD in Japan and China, as well as their implications for the ASEAN community.

ESD IN JAPAN

Japan, as one of the developed countries, made a strong commitment to ESD and has been taking the initiative to promote ESD since the beginning of the global campaign. Institutional cooperation has been one of the features of Japan’s initiatives during the DESD. The DESD was promoted by an inter-ministerial meeting consisting of more than ten government agencies (Watanabe, 2015). Moreover, the integration of ESD into relevant policies and laws provides a legal backbone for promoting ESD. ESD was integrated into the Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education formulated by the government in 2008, and it was continuously emphasised in the revisions to this plan published in subsequent years.

 

Since 2008 the concept of ESD has been addressed in the Course of Study for primary and secondary schools, in order to promote it across subject teaching and learning and encourage the sustainable development of Japanese society. The government also provided capacity-building for schools and educators by delivering training and experts to support ESD practices. In addition, the government promoted ESD through an increasing number of schools becoming affiliated to UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project Network (ASPNet).

 

By March 2023 there were 1,115 schools in Japan which had been included in the network, within which schools are encouraged to share good practice and provide training for teachers and principals from other schools within the network. The government also developed A Guideline on Promoting ESD in 2016, in order to guarantee the quality of ESD in these schools. In addition, an interuniversity network supporting the ASPNet schools was established to support these schools to improve the quality of their ESD (Bedford, 2022; Didham & Ofei-Manu, 2012).

 

Although ESD has been widely promoted in Japan, it is difficult to conclude whether these activities have generated a comprehensive transformation towards a sustainable society. Indeed, despite the expansion of ESD in school education, research shows there is still a lack of interdisciplinary, holistic and whole institutional approaches to ESD. Researchers are calling for a shift of pedagogy, from transmissive to transformative education in ESD (Nagata, 2017; Tanaka, 2017). In addition, how to integrate both environmental issues and social issues into ESD and how to establish a cross-/inter-disciplinary or cross-subject approach to promoting ESD also need further investigation, as well as partnership from multiple stakeholders from communities and industries.

ESD IN CHINA

China, as one of the most rapidly developing economies in the world, has been taking a self-oriented approach to promoting ESD. Despite the country’s rapid economic growth, the distribution between individuals and groups and the development between areas and regions are still not in balance. Researchers have pointed out regional disparities in ESD (Han, 2015; Witoszek, 2018).

 

In contrast to Japan, China’s initiative for promoting ESD is more driven by domestic interests. Similar to Japan, China also placed environmental education as a core component of ESD and developed two environmental education programmes in the 1990s (the Environmental Educator’s Initiative (EEI) and Education for Environment, Population, and Sustainable Development (EPD)) as part of their initiative for promoting ESD.

 

Although ESD in China has been closely integrated into policy discourses, such as The Scientific Outlook of Development and Ecological Civilization, the scope of ESD in China is still limited to environmental and economic perspectives rather than also including social and cultural aspects (Zhou & Lee, 2022). Moreover, although ESD and sustainable development have been utilised in some official policies in China, there are limited interpretations, explanations and action plans in place for the implementation of ESD initiatives (Zhou, 2020). Furthermore, there is no inter-ministerial cooperation for promoting ESD in China, in contrast to Japan.

 

Similar to Japan’s ASPNet schools, China also established ESD pilot schools to implement ESD and provide teacher training. However, research has already shown inadequate teacher training, as well as limited and inconsistent government and social support for ESD in local contexts (Han, 2015). In addition, a literature review shows that the limited interdisciplinary approach to teaching sustainability became a barrier for teachers to fully develop and implement ESD. More importantly the exam-driven education system in China is also seen as systemic barrier for students and schools, who may be unwilling to fully engage in promoting ESD if that means reducing their attention to college entrance exams.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE ASEAN COMMUNITY

The above comparison of ESD in Japan and China indicates that policy relevant to ESD should be contextualised into specific social contexts, and should be comprehensively formulated by multiple stakeholders according to an interdisciplinary approach. Moreover, the comparative analysis also offers policy makers and practitioners in the ASEAN region a reference to address the demand for improving their own ESD.

 

To do this, first it is necessary to better understand the principle of “the shared but distinguished responsibilities” for countries in different development stages to take action to build ESD. More importantly, it is also necessary for ASEAN countries to interpret the shared responsibility for promoting ESD in their local discourse, and to contextualise their ESD. Finally, ASEAN countries must collectively promote ESD through multiple stakeholders and an interdisciplinary approach.

 

In summary, by taking a comparative lens this review sheds light on the differences in ESD between two countries at different development stages and with differing political and socio-economic contexts. As there are diverse contexts among the ASEAN countries, it is important to identify “the shared but distinguished responsibilities”, encourage collective partnership, and explore innovative and interdisciplinary approaches for promoting ESD towards 2030 and beyond.

REFERENCES

  1. Bedford, T. (2022). Education for sustainability in Japan. International Journal of Development and Sustainability, 11(3), 87–113.

  2. Didham, R. J., & Ofei-Manu, P. (2012). Education for Sustainable Development: Country Status Reports: An evaluation of national implementation during the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2004–2015) in East and Southeast Asia. Institute for Global Environmental Strategies.

  3. Han, Q.-X. (2015). Education for Sustainable Development and Climate Change Education in China: A Status Report. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 9, 62–77.

  4. Nagata, Y. (2017). A critical review of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Japan: Beyond the practice of pouring new wine into old bottles. Educational Studies in Japan, 11, 29–41.

  5. Tanaka, H. (2017). Current state and future prospects of education for sustainable development (ESD) in Japan. Educational Studies in Japan, 11, 15–28.

  6. UNESCO. (2014). Roadmap for Implementing the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/ pf0000230514

  7. Watanabe, R. (2015). Implementation of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Japan: A qualitative case study of formal education in Kesennuma City [Unpublished Masters dissertation]. Stockholm University.

  8. Witoszek, N. (2018). Teaching sustainability in Norway, China and Ghana: Challenges to the UN programme. Environmental Education Research, 24, 831–844.

  9. Zhou, R., & Lee, N. (2022). The reception of education for sustainable development (ESD) in China: A historical review. Sustainability, 14(7), 4333.

  10. Zhou, R. K. (2020). Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in China’s Local Primary Schools: A Pilot Study. European Journal of Sustainable Development, 9(4), 118–118.

DR JING LIU

Dr Jing Liu is an Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education, Tohoku University.

JUNE 2023

Issue 13

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Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

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About

Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

Stay updated on our latest announcements on events and publications

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