Public understanding of sustainable development: Some implications for education

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A number of recent surveys of public opinion claim that there is now widespread acceptance of the need for sustainable development, and that the general public, through its social and consumer activity is already successfully engaged. However, in all this, the focus has primarily been on individual and family behaviours such as recycling and reducing energy use. Such surveys do not focus on the increasingly common community-based and social movements which operate in more complex, intractable, and inevitably political, arenas where shifts in government policy and funding, and business values and practice, are the goal. It is not just consumer surveys that have these blind spots; much education practice exhibits it too. Formal and informal education have followed a similar pattern by focusing on individual actions rather than more strategic, and overtly political, developing a coherent social movement around sustainability. Pressure groups campaign for changes in the curriculum, but what is missing is a systematic engagement in the community by formal education, and by researchers. As society gradually ‘learns its way forward’, shifting its values, norms, beliefs, and strategies towards a more sustainable model of development, it offers an array of opportunities for learners of all ages to witness, critique, be inspired by and become a part of the changes taking place around them. If we are fully to understand the effectiveness of such community-based programmes and initiatives, and help these grow and develop, then educators and educational researchers need to be much more intimately involved than they currently are.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-246
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental and Science Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


  • Education
  • Learning
  • Public opinion
  • Social movements
  • Sustainable development


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