Analytics, Education and Science, EU – Baltic States, Modern EU

International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Saturday, 21.09.2019, 19:12

Enforcing sustainability: modern challenges and reforms in education (II)

Eugene Eteris, Latvian Academy of Sciences, senior adviser; BC International Editor, 19.08.2019.Print version
National education facilities in the states shall be geared towards teaching SDGs and training necessary specialists. Hence, the second article shows that existing education institutions and teaching methods shall be reassessed fundamentally alongside the teaching methods. Sustainable economic growth needs new types of general and professional skills for SDGs’ practical implementation, the skills that have never been trained before.

The success of implementing SDGs depends - first of all – on the ability at states’ education policies to accommodate the SDGs and 169 targets to modern sustainable growth patterns and challenges. Thus, teaching SDGs is partially divided among several education policies’ levels: schools, colleagues and higher education institutions, both general and special.

Teaching and training today’s youth means provide contemporary skills to tomorrow’s policy- and economy- decision makers, providing them with necessary basic knowledge on modern 4th industrial revolution challenges with a critical approach as well as system-thinking on complex socio-economic problems.

Introducing SDGs into the national education agenda requires fundamental reassessment of existing education and teaching methods. That means that colleges and higher education institutions shall teach the necessary skills for SDGs; the teaching methods shall be adapted to needed general and professional skills for practical SDGs implementation in the transformed socio-economic policies.

See the first article “Enforcing sustainability: modern challenges and needed reforms (I). 16.08.2019. In:;


Long-term professional and vocational education/training shall be available through people’s life span. All national middle- and high- education institutions shall provide valuable examples for teaching future decision-makers providing them with the necessary skills. 

For example, cross-sectoral approaches to syllabus and curricular shall include cross-faculty approaches to the knowledge system when including the SDGs components into a systematic analysis. Besides, some training aspects shall be considered too: “teaching the teachers” about the SDGs requirements; developing new e-learning skills in SDGs and partnerships with other universities teaching SDGs; providing coordination among national political, economic, business, cultural and educational authorities to facilitate the SDGs state’s fulfillment obligations, as well as an exchange of positive practices.  

See, e.g.:   


The needed dynamic reforms in national education policies are connected to the mentioned I the first article “triangle” in SDGs implementation: social, economic and environmental dimensions in the national growth which required adequate reflection in national education and training.   

Wanted: active member states’ education policies

The issues connected to the SDGs implementation have vital consequences for the EU and the member states’ education policies: coordinating and supplementing “competence” for the former and efficient policies adequate to prosperous SDGs transition for the latter. It is quite notable that the Commission has been closely watching the member states’ efforts in meeting the global and European SDG targets.


National education policies are generally oriented towards two main goals: a) providing youth with the necessary knowledge in natural, social and technical spheres; and b) equipping the youth with “specific” knowledge, skills and experiences (often creating new knowledge) fitted for the constantly changing labour markets. SDGs are in the second path, though “educators” have to acquire a broad spectrum of knowledge in both, though be specifically aware of the three components in SDGs implementation: social, economic and environmental (mentioned in the first article).


Fitting into the new education challenges is not an easy task: the EU has provided educators with some hints on possible changes. According to two most probable scenarios, a huge gearing up for an “intelligent capitalism” in manufacturing/industry and services promises the disappearance of labour as a factor of production; it is advocating also massive old-skills’ disappearance too. Another scenario (a “hybrid” one) argues that future changes should involve augmented intelligence rather than autonomous learning systems (a model with human skills under control). The third scenario (a “normal” one) states that it is business as usual and that AI and intelligent systems are just another tech-hype discourse that will erode, but also create, new skills and jobs. 


All three scenarios are based on models of change, but the first two recognise that there is something at work that is different from old linear industrial processes of scale and assembly, i.e. circular economies, which part of several SDGs -3, 8, 9 and 15…  


More in the following links: 

- EU Erasmus+ programme;

 - European Structural and Investment Funds, including the Youth Employment Initiative;

- European Solidarity Corps, as well as 

- Horizon 2020, and 

- European Institute of Innovation and Technology


Mentioned scenarios shall be kept in mind in designing new national education policies while being revised along the new tasks for the “education governance”, such as: - introducing SDGs into the national socio-economic planning structures, - developing new specializations on sustainability in the universities, - creating “model” curricular on SDGs on all level of education and training, etc.   


There are two sides in the SDG educational facilities: theoretical and practical; the former provides additional SDG knowledge and cross-sectoral synergy, the latter - practical steps in introducing SDGs into national sectoral growth, e.g. in energy and construction, in transport and tourism, to name a few.


Numerous international organisation are already active in the SDGs implementation, e.g. the UN bodies (the UN SDG Academy) and mostly OECD, which provide practical guidance for the so-called “national policy coherence for sustainable development”, which includes the following main “instruments” for decision-makers in the education policies: a) improving understanding of interactions and synergies among SDGs and national growth models; b) strengthening public/private institutional mechanisms in the SDGs integrative implementation, and c) monitoring and assessing progress in SDGs policy’ coherence.


More in the OECD online policy toolkit:

HESI’s initiative

In order to occupy the mainstream in national and regional policies, the SDGs would have to become an integral part in the educational policies. Some steps in the right directions have been already made: a new initiative was adopted to create a specific “SDGs-education network” as a step in activating universities to increase their contribution towards SDGs implementation.


By sharing good practice, European and global universities will strengthen the educators’ impetus into SDGs practical implementation for sustainable development and the national growth.


The initiative was inaugurated by the three global education groups: the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Agence universitaire de la Francophone and the International Association of Universities agreed on a network to increase the contribution of universities to the SDGs implementation. That means that already more than 2,000 different universities globally are already in the network!


Academic professionals see the network “Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, HESI” as an important step in global cooperation around the “teaching SDGs” idea. The three educational organisations representing the Anglo-Saxon, Francophone and international universities’ association are seeking to consolidate higher education’s role in implementing SDGs, in creating new sustainable knowledge and innovation, in developing a generations of new leaders and skilled professionals who will implement SDGs ideas and concepts for the benefit of progressive socio-economic development in countries around the world.


More on the HESI and the Association of Commonwealth Universities opinion in:


I am particularly glad about the HESI, as finally –since the SDGs was agreed on at the end of 2015 - the idea of “teaching SDGs” has been taken seriously by the global education facilities. As a member of both the global and Northern European SDSN groups, I was constantly pushing forward the “teaching SDGs” project (while teaching SDGs implementation at the bachelor’s level). To the satisfaction of us all teaching SDGs, we have at last an “umbrella-organisation” that will, hopefully, start doing something positive. 


Including sustainability and circular economy issues into the states’ education and training policies can play a decisive role in helping every state to implement SDGs’ agendas: that could be the main drive and outcome of the HESI’s activity. However, only the time can tell how these activities would really help the states’ decision-makers in a noble task to implement SDGs!


There are about 1,8 million researchers working in thousands of European universities, science centers and in industries. By working together across borders, sectors and disciplines, the member states can push the boundaries of science towards developing practical SDGs applications. 

Teaching sustainability

Teachers are the most important resource in modern education processes; suffice it to say that in most countries, teachers’ salaries and expenses represent the greatest share of expenditure in education. This “investment in teachers” is having significant returns: research shows that being taught by the best teachers can make a real difference in the learning systems and in the life’s outcomes compared to otherwise similar occasions.   


According to the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), teachers are not “interchangeable workers” in a kind of industrial assembly line; individual teachers can change lives – and better teachers are crucial to improving the education that schools provide.


Improving the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of schooling depends, in large measure, on ensuring that competent people want to work as teachers and that their teaching is of high quality. The TALIS report, building on data from the Indicators of Education Systems (INES) program and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), explores three teacher-policy questions concerning: a) best-performing countries to select, evaluate and compensate teachers; b) equity of education systems, and c) means to attract and retain talented men and women to teaching.




Teaching sustainability is challenging because of the interdisciplinary nature of the SDG problems: by the essence of sustainability, the teaching process requires both cross-sectoral and holistic knowledge which is not presently taught in the universities. Thus, when teaching sustainability, instructors are often facing the need to dwell into uncharted waters of other scientific fields - natural, technical and social. Hence, ways to build sustainability’s qualification need interdisciplinary approach.

As soon as sustainable growth becomes a critically urgent concept in the states’ governance theories, on the win-win situation shall be economically feasible approaches and solutions. However, most of the educators/teachers are still in the linear market economy practice, which do not allow for revolutionary approaches to modern SDGs. 


Presently, the new forms of teaching and learning are necessary that can help students deal better with complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty, with new values and moral dilemmas; in line with the breaking the “business-as-usual” approach; the SDGs are going to challenge the “education-as-usual” concept.


New approaches to SDGs-learning/teaching are no longer an option, it’s a must. It is a “journey together”, so-called new “social contract”: to making living places healthy (in a modern meaning, sustainable), with growth perspectives only through circular and bio-economies, and political guidance only through global climate goals. The task is difficult but not impossible: all that could be done using most advanced science, technology and innovation with regard to welfare conditions for present and future generations.  


It is obvious that present development sectors in most states are not sustainable: hence, each region, country and community has to make their own SDG-strategies. However, teaching SDGs shall have some common denominators: e.g. in energy sector -on renewable energy and energy efficiency, in transport sector – on non-polluting transportation means, in economics –on sustainable development and circular economy, etc. with learning by good examples, which is of paramount importance.


Teaching SDGs is entering universities in various ways: as a rule, through already existing departments and faculties, i.e. just adding “sustainability” to their titles with introduction of general-type SDG courses for B.Sc. and M.Sc. levels geared for the faculty’s business and social studies. So far, in most of the EU states the B.Sc. is mainly awarded in the areas of natural sciences, humanities, business sciences, engineering sciences, mathematics and informatics. Thus, SDGs have to find their ways into existing bachelor or/and master studies.


However, Denmark seems to be in the forefront of SDG studies: Southern Danish University, SDU will start M.Sc. studies in all 17 SDGs. “This is not just a project or strategy; it represents the SDU’s fundamental transformation”, acknowledges the SDU’s website.


More in: and


The success of implementing SDGs depends, first of all, at the ability at states’ education policies to accommodate the 17 SDGs and 169 targets within the modern educational challenges. Teaching SDGs is partially divided among several education policies’ levels: schools, colleagues, higher education institutions. Teaching and training today’s youth means provide contemporary skills to tomorrow’s policy- and economy- decision makers, providing them with necessary basic and specific knowledge on SDGs components in modernized national structural policies.  


Higher education institutions shall teach the necessary skills for implementing SDGs providing students with the needed general and professional skills; long-term professional and vocational education/training shall be available through people’s life span. More important is that high- education institutions shall provide future decision-makers with valuable tools and necessary skills to “govern and manage SDGs”. 


Teachers education is already a priority in Unesco, which is an example for the national education community; within its special work programme on education, the Unesco’s Commission on Sustainable Development has made a significant effort to help teachers worldwide not only to understand sustainable development concepts and issues but also to learn how to cope with interdisciplinary, values-laden subjects in established curricula.


Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future is Unesco’s response to that challenge, and a major contribution to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, September 2002). By making the program available as both a web site and a CDROM, UNESCO hopes to reach as many teachers as possible across the world. The programme can be used as it is, or in any adapted form to local, national or regional needs.


More in:

Note: Some recent publications in our magazine on SDGs and education issues:

- Supporting sustainability: EU’s financial innovation. February 2019. In:

- European dimension in education: perspectives for Latvia. March 2019. In: ;

- Education and science in the Baltics’ future. March 2019. In:;

Tackling Latvian economy and sustainability: OECD’s assessment. June 2019. In:

- SDGs in the EU: monitoring progress. July 2019. In:  

- Teaching sustainability: new global initiative. July 2019. In:

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