Sergei Goncharov

Practices and Provisional Lessons of the UN Decade of ESD:

concluding informational and potential analytical aspects

On behalf of the Coordination Committee of the UNESCO Chairs in the Russian Federation and particularly on behalf of the UNESCO Chair at the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia which I have the honour to represent I am happy to welcome the participants of the Round Table. I am happy to see a lot of familiar people whom I met in 2009 in Khanty-Mansyisk at the UNESCO International Congress on Education for Sustainable Development when we adopted a number of important documents which underpinned the UNESCO plan for the second half of the Decade. It is remarkable that Khanty-Mansyisk government whole-heartedly supported the suggestion of the Russian UNESCO Committee to hold the International Conference on the outcomes of the UN Decade of ESD. This undoubtedly is an outstanding event of national as well as regional significance. This is a sign of recognition of the city’s scientific, pedagogical and cultural achievements promoting it to the status of an important center for international cooperation. I am sure that Herzen university makes a considerable contribution to the sustainable development and mutual enrichment of Khanty-Mansyisk and Saint Petersburg: for 80 years Herzen’s Institute of the Peoples of the Far North has been educating teachers of the highest qualification, and it is they who are the intellectual elite of the peoples of the Far North, as well as the graduates of Ugra State University.

By way of preparation for the UNESCO World Conference in Tokyo in 2014 where we will draw the conclusions of the UN Decade of ESD, the participants of the Round Table will have to answer the following questions: what are the results we achieved and what are the lessons we learnt during this decade? It is important that UNESCO as a major UN body and international coordinator for the DESD mobilized the efforts of all stakeholders in an attempt to evaluate the ESD outcomes.  In various parts of the world regional initiatives have been launched to comprehend ESD analytically, and it has additional value in the context of the XX century major political task as postulated in Director General I.Bokova’s statement – to build a global community.

I believe that in our speeches and presentations we should proceed from UNESCO’s two key documents:

The first document  is the International Plan of ESD actions, developed with the view to put into practice the decisions of UN General Assembly of December 2002 which defined the Decade’s objectives, problems and ESD values, strategies and resources, and activity areas.

The second document is the Global UNESCO DESD Report which outlined ESD contexts and  structures and which came as a result of the first stage of the Decade’s monitoring and evaluation as of 2009.

Let me remind, that as far as education is considered a major component for ensuring sustainability, the International Plan of ESD Actions outlined four main areas of activity in this field:

-enhancing accessibility to high-quality basic education,

-revision of existing educational programs,

-increasing the level of public awareness and comprehension,

-staff training.

Let me also remind, that estimating the first stage of DESD as successful, UNESCO has recommended the partners to focus their further effort on four key areas of strategic activity:

-enhancement of synergy with various educational initiatives,

-development and strengthening of the ESD potential,

-accumulation, sharing and practical application of the ESD knowledge,

-ESD promotion, raising public awareness and providing better understanding of the ESD issues.

Global monitoring and evaluation of the Decade allowed us to draw provisional results of the DESD, which were thoroughly analyzed at the UNESCO World Conference on ESD in Bonne (Germany, 2009):

1. Education for sustainable development can make a considerable contribution to tackling  major challenges of sustainable development. It proves the significance of ESD for solving the problem of sustainability.

2. International partnerships and integration of local and global components are decisional factors for the ESD. Establishing ESD partnerships involves many interested parties.

3. Successful implementation of  ESD is only possible when relevant conditions and circumstances are created. ESD will become the central aspect of any educational system, if supporting structures are created at the global, national and local level. 

4. Adherence to the ESD ideas brings about revision of the teaching and learning processes. Understanding educational processes should undergo a radical change we want ESD to have an beneficial impact on its quality.

I believe that we can agree with these ESD results and broaden them with regard to new developments. I suggest that special attention should be paid to the burning issues of education, brought about by certain new trends in global processes and made evident in the recent years.


The provisional results of the DESD allow us to speak of at least three leading tendencies in education:

Firstly, it is the global tendency for ESD paradigm shift.

Secondly, it is globalization and its influence on modern education.

Thirdly, it is the process of institutionalization of the ESD systems.


At the end of the Decade, what do these systemic changes suggest?


If the concept of sustainable development came into being due to the process of critical evaluation of the humanity’s condition and perspectives, and education is seen as a basis for sustainable development and creating a humane world (the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, 2002),  then we can assert that the ESD goals were formulated with regard to the systemic crisis in education, and they have become the DESD answers to the challenges of sustainable development.

In late XX century the world community came to realize the disparity between the existing educational system with its technologies, programs and standards, their content, the range of competencies, the quality of academic staff and student body, etc. and the radically changed society and social environment, contemporary personal or family needs and demands. Attaining the Decade objectives brought about re-evaluation of the role and place of education in a new social and economic environment. In the new paradigm ESD does not have to look for its place in the traditional education system, as it happened during the first years of the Decade. Due to the world’s interest to the issues of sustainable development ESD takes an advantageous position in its effort to synergize different educational trends. Here we count in environmental education, global citizenship education, responsible consumption education, climate change education, and education on reducing the consequences of natural hazards. In ХХI century education in the variety of its forms is recognized as an effective mechanism to secure progress for sustainable development. It is an important lesson of the DESD.

The changing nature of education entails corresponding changes in education forms and types of educational environment. It is one of the DESD lessons which found its expression in the UNESCO documents: ESD is often regarded as a means for renovating teaching and learning with an aim to disclose the students’ personal potential. The shift from the traditional educational paradigm, where the priority was given to obtaining knowledge, was conditioned by the system’s inherent flaw, namely – the exclusion of personality from the educational process, where man is perceived as an object rather than subject of the educational process. The idea of a pedagogue is being transformed, too: the range of pedagogical professions broadens, the system for teacher upgrading and post-university training is developed, the quality of the student body changes considerably. The only possible form of relations in education now is the subject-subject relations, where the idea of partnership, cooperation an collective creation comes to the foreground.


The Decade outcomes prove that globalization is the main external factor which has direct influence on the condition and development of education in the modern world. It is a complex dialectical process which – we underline it – has an intellectual and spiritual dimension: comparative advantages of the sustainably developing societies are conditioned by the quality of the human resource, i.e. by the people’s open-mindedness to knowledge, science, innovation, etc. In this respect globalization in education brings forward such an important for our times concept as tolerance, understanding and appreciation of another culture, learning about one’s own culture, which can only be obtained in the dialogue between different cultures. In terms of globalization the idea of partnership acquires a special significance, because sustainability invariable depends on the joint efforts made on different levels of the education system. Here we talk about educational institutions establishing connections with foreign partners and organizations, separate national and regional systems working together to create a joint UNESCO or UN strategy, and various international educational bodies and associations striving to make education a unified world system.

The most successful examples of integration among educational institutions and of developing inter-state educational systems are the programs of the European Union and the European Counsel purported to create a unified all-European educational space: Bologna process, the ASEAN program, the APEC program, the NAEG program and others. At the same time, unfortunately, popular ideas about creating a single educational environment in the NIS countries do not go beyond declarations.

The Decade outcomes show that the international aspect of the ESD has not come to dominate the activity of educational institutions; it exists only as a reference point for national educational tasks. We have not as yet achieved a common, general understanding  of the problems connected with man’s morals, worldview, and society in the global world.

One of the most prominent UNESCO initiatives was the international plan of actions UNITWIN which contributed to developing a network of UNESCO Chairs. The UNESCO Chair at Herzen University has accumulated valuable experience during its ten years of participation in the European Counsel program “Europe in Schools”. The principles of this program prompted the launch of the project “UNESCO in Schools” initiated by the Herzen UNESCO Chair in 2012.


Tackling the problems associated with attaining DESD objectives brought about the systemic changes in education, including Russian education, to answer better the demands of the present-day society.

Another important DESD lesson is institutionalization of education as a large-scale national program aimed at creating mechanisms for sustainable development. This is how the Russian educational strategy was postulated in state documents in the first quarter of the XXI century.

Participation in DESD revealed certain differences in understanding ESD, its vectors and approaches to its implementation. However, in all cases ESD means the innovative development, when the education system itself should turn into the center for innovative development and generate, implement and disseminate innovative projects and programs. At the same time, the DESD revealed the complexity of the educational development, when the support of the changes in different spheres of life paradoxically goes hand in hand with the resistance to change within the education system itself. It is necessary to take this factor in consideration, because the innovative character of ESD creates a foundation for innovative processes in other spheres of social life.

An important outcome of the Decade is the recognition of the leading role of the pedagogical education in ESD. The notion of the pedagogical education broadens and becomes more complex embracing the communication sphere “man-man” in a new educational paradigm. Alongside that, for many years Herzen university has been on the edge of the reforms in the field of pedagogical education, and our experience shows that in the DESD we deal with the disparity between the modern state of pedagogical education and the modern state of education at large. Drastic global changes ask for a new concept of pedagogical education, which would take account of the ESD goals and tasks, the specificity of the learner, ways of his socialization and development, current tendencies for broadening the educational space. Herzen university was requested by the Ministry of Education and Science to develop a modernization concept for the pedagogical education in Russia, and I have the honour to represent the working group responsible for drafting the plan of pertaining actions.

When in 2009 here in Khanty-Mansyisk we drew conclusions of the first half of the DESD we underlined that the paradigm of sustainable development should be grounded on a full-fledged theory of personal development. Today, we are even more certain that an important lesson of the Decade (at least for Russia) is acknowledging of rupture between humanitarian theory and educational practice. Analysts testify that at the modern stage of social development the role of the human factor and the quality of human personality increase, and they both are determined by the pedagogical education forming basic human qualities. Now that the DESD is in its final lap, Herzen university as an author of the national program for training specialists in education and social sphere on the basis of humanitarian technologies, can share its findings in this sphere.

We should acknowledge the fact that in the Soviet times pedagogy developed outside a broad humanitarian field, and it is in this sphere that we face the most dramatic situation. Modern pedagogy requires broader inter-disciplinary approaches. We need to develop a new philosophy of education, where pedagogical education should take a leading position due to being the main contributor to ESD in new social contexts. The history of education proves that new pedagogical systems were created and introduced by professional philosophers, and the history of pedagogy is a reflection of the history of philosophy.

The problems in Russian education, revealed by the DESD, have a lot in common with the problems in other developed countries. It enables us to analyze them and seek for solutions with reference to the world practices, and at the same time to seek solutions for the world problems on the national level, taking into consideration national differences.