A combination of factors including Global Climate Change, population growth, depletion of natural resources, and degradation of the environment have contributed to a general consensus concerning the need for man to amend his relation with the earth in order to perpetuate the survival and well-being of future generations of human beings. An emerging answer to this need is Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), a conceptualization of education oriented towards equipping future generations with the skills and the capacity for critical thinking needed to create lifestyles compatible with the natural environment. This new vision for education has been codified and promoted by various international entities, including the United Nations and its subsidiary organizations.
This dissertation documents the current status of Education for Sustainable Development at the global level, as described by academics and policy makers in the available literature. Often times missing or present only in abbreviated fashion is documentation of actual Education for Sustainable Development projects, especially those designed and implemented in the developing world by grassroots activists and community based organizations. Through six case studies conducted during the spring and summer of 2009, I document and analyze six examples of Education for Sustainable Development in the provinces of Gujarat and Rajasthan in western India. I collected data through site visits, participant observation, interviews, document analysis, and archival research.
The analysis of these case studies provides a counterpoint to some of the prevailing narratives concerning Education for Sustainable Development. Although in most ways the themes emerging from the Education for Sustainable Development organizations I looked at are harmonious with the general theoretic model accepted in the academic literature, the case studies provide some insights previously absent or underdeveloped, such as the relative disconnect between the global Education for Sustainable Education movement and the implementation of ESD projects, the unfamiliarity with academic debates and terminology amongst many practitioners, the importance of indigenous knowledge and local history in ESD projects, the powerful theoretical framework provided by the teachings and life example of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, the centrality of livelihoods to ESD, the limited importance of traditional academic divisions which separate fields such as environmental studies and economics to the work of practitioners, the ability to implement ESD in resource constrained environments, the ability of non-educated people to bring about innovative solutions to problems in the field of ESD, the generally marginal status of nature preservation in ESD in India, and the great variety of successful ESD programs existing currently in Western India.
This study was only able to examine a limited number of case studies, due to logistical and financial constraints, but points to the possibility of the existence of even more examples of successful Education for Sustainable Development. This study specifically addressed the following two research questions: (i) How do practitioners in India see and interpret their efforts in Education for Sustainable Development? What are their motivations and concerns? (ii) How do the academic debates on Education for Sustainable Development in India relate to the realities in the field for practitioners who are implementing this new type of education?