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Exploring the Impact and Future of Education for Sustainable Development: Insights from Charles Hopkins and Katrin Kohl

Why is the concept of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) more crucial now than ever before? Join us as we explore the world of ESD with our esteemed guests Charles Hopkins and Katrin Kohl. They offer rich insight into the history of ESD and the contemporary urgency of implementing ESD in the wake of the pandemic. Our conversation provides a broader perspective on the importance of ESD and regeneration in the current global context.

We journey into the intersection of education, sustainability, and Indigenous perspectives through the global initiative #IndigenousESD. Our guests elaborate on how ESD aligns with Indigenous worldviews, and how it can help shift the focus of education. We also explore the importance of understanding and including traditional practices in our educational systems and beyond. 



Charles Hopkins and Katrin Kohl

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Episode Chapters

(0:00:19) – Education for Sustainable Development

Charles and Katrin discuss the importance of ESD for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and its role in the current global context.

(0:14:35) – Education, Sustainability, and Indigenous Perspectives

Charles and Katrin discuss indigenous worldviews, sustainability, ESD, and traditional practices for appropriate progress.

(0:27:41) – Sustainable Education for Indigenous Peoples

Charles Hopkins and Katrin Kool discussed ESD to create quality education accessible to indigenous peoples, best practices transfer, and action research to implement changes.

(0:38:10) – ESD and Global Citizenship Education

Charles and Katrin discuss ESD, global citizenship, higher education, and AI to create quality education for all.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Agenda 21 

ESD for 2030 Roadmap

#Indigenous ESD


0:00:19 – Anna

Welcome to Creative Praxis. I’m Anna Griffith, an assistant professor in the School of Creative Arts at the University of the Fraser Valley. 

0:00:27 – Kyla

And I am Kyla Mitchell-Marquis, an undergraduate honours psychology student focusing on gender and sexuality at the University of the Fraser Valley and a research assistant for the podcast. 

0:00:37 – Anna

I would like to begin our conversation by acknowledging that we are recording this episode on the beautiful territory of the Stó:lō peoples. Many of the ideas and inspirations I’ve had about regenerative education are directly related to the land that I’m on and the teachings of the Stó:lō  about reciprocity, relationships, ideas of stewardship and a deep sense of being intimately connected to and part of this place, and I really see a deep interconnection between indigenous knowledge and practices and regenerative approaches to living and educating. At this moment, that asks us to rapidly shift how we orient ourselves and our societies. The guests we have the honor of speaking with today have rich insight and knowledge to share about how to do this. We are joined today by Charles Hopkins and Katrin Kohl. 

0:01:22 – Kyla

Charles holds the UNESCO Chair in Re-orienting Education towards Sustainability at York University in Toronto, Canada. This Chair, established in 1999, was the first to focus on Education for Sustainable Development also called ESD, as a central concept and purpose of education. Today, the Chair conducts research through two global ESD research networks, the International Network of Teacher Education Institutions and the #IndigenousESD project. 

0:01:50 – Anna

Charles has a long relationship with education and sustainability, locally as a school superintendent in Toronto and internationally, chairing the writing and adoption processes of several UN ESD Declarations. Charles has lectured and presented papers in approximately 75 countries. He also serves as the Co-Director of the Asia-Pacific Institute on ESD in Beijing, China.

0:02:14 – Kyla

Katrin is the Executive Coordinator and Principal Researcher at the UNESCO Chair in Re-orienting Education Towards – Sustainability at York University in Toronto. Katrin is also the Focal Point for SDG 4: Quality Education of the Higher Education and Research for Sustainable Development Global Cluster, led by the International Association of Universities. With a background in law and management, she served in prior positions such as the Managing Director of the German Commission for UNESCO and the Strategic Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany.

0:02:45 – Anna

Welcome, Charles and Katrin. We’re so pleased that you’re able to join us today. 

0:02:50 – Charles

Well, thank you very much for the opportunity. 

0:02:53 – Katrin

Thank you, we’re looking forward to the conversation. 

0:02:56 – Anna

Us too. So our first question is for Charles. You have an extensive history championing ESD. Can you paint a picture of how ESD, as this focus, came to be and why it’s so urgent right now? 

0:03:11 – Charles

I do. Thanks, ESD. Our education for sustainable development has its roots, of course, in sustainable development. So let me just begin by briefly talking about the evolution of sustainable development and then the role that education played in it. Recall in the late 1950s, the 60s, the 70s, we had a tremendous rise of environmentalism, in the North part of the world at any rate, but by the 1980s we had this overwhelming need for development of the former colonies and we had the explosion of population and so on. And so we had almost a bit of a stalemate between those that wanted environmental protection around business, industry and so on, and the massive, about 80% of the world’s population that really needed development. They were in abject poverty and in facing starvation. And so, in order to try and bridge the gap, the prime minister of Norway, Gro Bruntland, along with 15 or 16 other people, formed a commission at the behest of the United Nations, travelled the world, spoke to people and came back with the idea of having both. It was the idea of development, but development that was sustainable, and so they had an agreement within the UN on the concept of sustainable development. That would be 1987. But then they needed an implementation framework or plan, once you come up with the name, what do you do? And so for the next five years, countries negotiated what they would include in the framework, what they wouldn’t, what are the aspects, and so on. 

And so, ready for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, they had a framework. It was called Agenda 21. And in that there were four sections. The last section was called means of implementation how are we going to do it? And in there they had finance, monitoring and assessment, the role of science. 

But an important part was education, public awareness and training. We needed that and unfortunately, I was invited to be one of the authors of that particular chapter. But the role of education has continued. Then, after the turn of the century, from 2000 to 2015, we had the Millennium Development Goals and again education, although it was largely one aspect of BSD, the basic education that was promoted. But from 2015 to 2030, now we have the 2030 Agenda, again with the sustainable development goals, and an integral part of that again is ESD. In fact, esd was identified on three occasions by the United Nations General Assembly. The urgency of ESD comes from the fact that on these three occasions, they have identified ESD as the key enabler of all of the sustainable development goals. So, briefly, that was its emergence. It was a key means of implementation, not only in the beginning, but remains so today and is actually heightened at this point. 

0:07:25 – Katrin

If I can even jump in here, as we are almost halfway through the, through the SDGs, following the experience of the pandemic, education and in particular ESD at the core again the first priority of the Secretary General of the United Nations, and he showed his interest and the urgency of moving towards quality education and ESD with the Transforming Education Summit that he held as the very first event that was possible, again after the pandemic. 

0:08:02 – Anna

Thank you. So you’re both doing a really clear job in highlighting that education really is this key enabler. As you said, it’s shown up in these multiple iterations of various sustainable development plans, and so I guess I have two kind of questions, and they stem from this broader challenge. I think that I faced that people generally don’t really know what education for sustainable development is. Or, when you say ESD, not everybody really recognizes that. For example, in teacher training programs, it’s not yet a focus. So I guess my first question is anytime we are educating about the sustainable development goals, does that count as ESD, would you say? Because I think that’s something we’ve seen at the higher education levels really adopt lots of programs, and courses map sustainable development goals into their curriculum that they cover. So is ESD synonymous with understanding the sustainable development goals? And then, maybe the larger question that I’m asking, though, is what do you see as the obstacles or challenges in having ESD more recognizable? So either of you want to take up those big questions. 

0:09:23 – Charles

Well, perhaps I could take a quick go at it. When you’re talking about the sustainable development goals, that would be a part of education for sustainable development, but the real concept is education for sustainable development, so it would be going beyond an awareness of sustainable development, but actually learning the knowledge, skills, perspectives, the values, the attitudes and so on to actually live one’s life, not only their personal life, but to influence their employment and so on. It’s trying to shift the big perspective. We looked at ESD as more of a purpose of education, as opposed to knowledge and content online. Catherine, do you want to pick up on that? 

0:10:25 – Katrin

Yeah, I’m always very happy to see people teaching about the SDGs, which I think is an important component in terms of people understanding that they’re part of something bigger. As we have curricula often organized, like in Canada, on a province level and then there’s school boards there, there are various levels that our education systems, in our curricula are broken down. Even learning about the SDGs makes people often feel of a global framework that they, with some thought, easily connect to. We all have a connection to those big at this point, 17 global themes, if we just mentioned water, energy, jobs, innovation or inequalities. A lot of these big themes connect to each of us. But what I often use because, being a lawyer, I also had to learn and understand many new things when I started working in the field of ESD bringing locally relevant issues in appropriate and culturally appropriate ways into the classroom and into the public discussion that is the big piece. 

I think that is very important when looking at ESD. It is a way, it is a lens. It is not something new. It’s taking a different lens onto our world. That considers it connectedness, and that’s what I also see often as the obstacle. When a new concept is presented, it is considered an add on a new thing, an additional task that people have to deal with. But it does not. It’s just turning by a certain number of degrees and looking at the same situation from a new angle, and we all know what sometimes looking at the same thing from a new angle can do to us and what kind of new perspectives we can develop. 

0:12:41 – Charles

Perhaps I could shed a story from the days of the early 1990s when I was part of that 10 person team trying to draft what is the ESD and what would be the roles of education, public awareness and training and so on. 

And one of the 10 of us was the president of Princeton University who was making the point if we really taught recycling very, very well, that would probably do it. We need better recycling education. And the dean of the faculty of education of Cairo is sitting across the table, looked at him and very quietly said I have several hundred thousand children who are very, very good at recycling. Of course he was referring to the children who live in the dumps of Cairo their entire life and he said what they need is access to quality education. And that changed our minds very, very deeply as to what is ESD, and so we look at it as action and retention in quality education, and that is sort of the core of it, and most teachers don’t really see it that way. Now there are more aspects to it. Counter may want to to embellish it a bit more, but that it is key that many teachers are already doing it, if they’re really working on reaching out to, and not only access but retention in quality education. 

0:14:35 – Anna

I think that’s a really powerful story and I like how catching your framing this as a lens that we can see through. And, charles, you mentioned that the purpose of education is fundamentally different. It’s not about content, but it’s about values, it’s about relationships and seeing ourselves. I think seeing ourselves in relation to the world in a different kind of a way, and I think it’s it’s really powerful the way that you’re framing it. Thank you. 

0:15:03 – Katrin

But what often comes and building on what you’re saying but often comes into into discussion within the developed world is that sustainability, and therefore connected ESD, comes in the sense of giving up and doing less. But those are exactly the questions that we, that we have to have to have to ask what are our human values? Where do we, where do we want to go? And the happiness about the, the recent thing that we bought, is that. Is that really the happiness that we can, that we can build build our life, so on? So it’s especially in the developed world where everything is as possible in terms of things and services. It’s often a very challenging discussion to bring sustainability into a positive and wanting to achieve perspective. 

0:15:57 – Charles

Absolutely, and what goes, what goes along with that not only access, by building on what Catherine is saying is it’s often our most educated countries that are creating the greatest problems. And, as well as accent and retention, is this need to reorient purpose of education from one of progress and development to one of appropriate progress and sustainable development. So that that’s where many teachers, when you mentioned at the beginning what what is sort of holding it back is that how do we reorient the purpose of education? This is a huge challenge that in the beginning many people thought was impossible, but it’s. It’s really happening in many places now. People are really questioning the outcome of our education system. 

0:17:03 – Kyla

I think what comes to mind is we have speaking of reorienting and this is directed to both of you. I think we are seeing a wave or of people seeking indigenous knowledge, or people seeking indigenous ways of knowing, and so in what ways do you think ESD supports and braces and draws on indigenous pedagogies, and how do you think ESD can move non-indigenous people into better alignment as allies? 

0:17:33 – Katrin

Maybe I jump in first and then throw the ball back to Charles. So, first of all, I believe sustainability in itself is is a concept that is very much aligned with with indigenous, indigenous worldviews If we look at it, and I personally prefer the short definition of enough for all, forever. So here is again the question of what is enough. Is it the things that we have as the assets, the, the access that we have? What is what is really enough? What do we really need to live a purposeful and and happy and fulfilled, fulfilled life for moving on? Enough for all? Who was for all and this is often criticized as a very human centered concept and here and to to anyone in the world, the invitation. Sustainability was what they came up with in the 80s. There are very few things that we still trust from the 80s, but we’re still building on sustainability development, so it might even be time to to to question the concept a little bit more. And this is for all from an indigenous perspective. That includes so much more than from the typical first Western, western view, includes all life on on on planet and it goes into into the world of animals and the world of plants and to into the entire system of Mother Earth and then forever. And this is the concept of forever. Most institutional and system plans go to the next election cycle or to the next four or five years, like most business plans cover. So if we look at sustainability as a concept in itself, it could include and it does include many indigenous aspects, if we dare to critically question what we do. Where I do see and I’m building on what we’ve mentioned as well ESD Education for Sustainable Development really embraces indigenous perspectives Going back to the four thrusts we had the access and retention in a quality education. 

A quality education is relevant, it’s locally appropriate, it is culturally appropriate and if done in an indigenous environment, then those indigenous influences, the stories, the background, the intergenerational learning, they are all part of it. Reorienting towards sustainability we’ve mentioned that several times also includes the sense of balance and the sense of well-being in systems. If we go further, the public understanding, the societal understanding and adaption and acceptance of sustainability is a part of ESD. And here again comes the living in balance with all, not only with our small society or regional society, that we often consider, but also consider what does my action imply for the person on the other side of the world. 

And the last part, that is, the fourth thrust of ESD, is the inclusion of training in all sectors. And looking into the business world. And here again, in those environments where we have indigenous peoples directly involved, considering traditional practice, bringing those into the business world in appropriate ways, but also in those where we don’t have direct involvement, considering the knowledge. To my concern, often we actually just talk about the indigenous ways of knowing and including them into our knowledge, and I don’t think and also I’m critical of UNESCO’s work here, because there is a focus on the knowledge to be included, but we haven’t yet we’re working towards, but we haven’t yet reached an institutional, network-wide approach of truly and equally working with one another and including each other’s perspectives yet yeah, perhaps I could throw in the. 

0:22:00 – Charles

I really think that non-indigenous people need to become a bit more aware of indigenous perspectives and the perspectives of many traditional cultures and so on, because we have to come up with something that’s sort of that is parallel or acceptable politically and where the general public would vote for the politicians to actually bring it forward. 

So the idea of learning more and of translating the idea of enough for all forever which I really love, the indigenous, the same from Africa to more about well-being for all forever, because in the Northern context enough kind of sounds like stuff or thinks of how many things we have. But really understanding what is well-being other than well-off, and looking into ways in which indigenous cultures have looked into it, for instance in Latin America and when Vivir, which is a much more collective, communal approach. We have Ubuntu in Africa. Ubuntu again is a collective well-being, an individual, it’s only there and sees themselves as part of a much bigger aspect. In Buddhist traditional cultures you have gross national happiness is the pursuit and so on. So I think this blending of exploring the way forward, looking for the best of both worlds or of many worlds, not just two there are many perspectives out there. We need ways of exploring them and honestly looking into them and seeing what aspects we can take and build on. 

0:24:24 – Anna

One of the things that is coming up is about this idea of how we can deeply learn from not just extract knowledge and try to add it in to our current ways of understanding the world, but to really deeply try to understand indigenous knowledges from all over the world and consider again this idea of a lens, but just how it can shift something within us so that we see ourselves as interdependent on others, not just humans, but the more than human ecosystems that we’re involved in. I think it’s so deeply powerful and I think I’m just wondering do you have any suggestions of how we can start to do this? 

0:25:13 – Katrin

Yeah, I can build on the ESD for 2030 road map, which is our current document that is in parallel to the SDGs. 

Education has traditionally always had an extra plan because it was so extremely important, so there has always been a particular extra and additional program, and, building on the most recent one and it’s called ESD for 2030 road map, UNESCO suggests that we need to build the knowledge and the skills we need to be able to critically reflect and learn about the global issues that we currently face, and then the next two steps to moving from knowing about it to doing something about it are experiential exposure and compassion, and being able to experience those things and to learn from another. 

It often comes through human connections. That’s why, wherever possible, if we foster networks, for people have the opportunity, in formal or informal ways, to learn from one another and, to put it simple, to put a face to an issue or put a particular story to an issue really creates a new sense of compassion, and that means to be able to feel things like the other person feel, and not just in terms of sympathy, but in terms of empathy and really wanting to step forward. And then there is, as the last hope, there is this potential of really wanting to make us our own agenda and moving forward. So those are the aspects why I do feel, following those steps, that the deep learning and the moving from conscience to action, that this is really possible. 

0:27:19 – Anna

And I actually see it demonstrated in the work that you’ve both done with the hashtag indigenous ESD project that you’ve worked on. So, as we’re thinking about how to actually put some of these concepts into action, can you share a little bit about that project and what you’ve been working on there? 

0:27:39 – Charles

Mm-hmm. It all came about, I guess, because of some research that I was doing. I’ve been involved in the same for a long time and my work has largely been international. So I put together colleagues in 16 different countries who were scoring. Their countries were actually scoring quite well, but they also had school systems, schools or cross clusters of schools or school districts that had really gone into ESD and they were doing very well, and so we did research in these countries as to how ESD actually builds on these the skills of math and language, you know and they reported back that math and language they’re important, but they’re tools, and we want these tools as sharp as we can get, but they’re not the purpose of education, and so we could blend them together. 

That math and language, enhanced by actual engagement and applying these in dealing with local issues that were really relevant to the students and so on, for the application showed that we overall enhanced the overall outcomes. And so then we thought from this research, is there a way in which we could use education for sustainable development to perhaps help those that are least well served around the world by their education systems, and that’s the world’s indigenous? And so Catherine and I began this project. Maybe, catherine, you can, if you’re really the coordinator of it. 

0:29:35 – Katrin

Okay, yeah. So in 2016, in the first year of the SDGs the SDGs were adopted in 2015, and we’re beginning early 2016, we saw our chance because, while not very prominently mentioned in the SDGs, there were certain anchor points where we could directly work with to make the point that this indigenous research was extremely important. Amongst them, the SDG for quality education. Vulnerable people and including indigenous people were explicitly mentioned, that there was better access and retention and quality education needed. So we built on that. What we did through the entire year of 2017 was simply consult with stakeholders. We held five regional meetings because we wanted to build a global network and we wanted to build an equal global network, and no one ever thinks how hard this is to build a global network where no government or no country and no particular institution is going to take a lead, but we all want to work as equals and so we traveled to Malaysia, we traveled to Nigeria, to Chile, to Kazakhstan. 

We were in Canada. We held several additional meetings wherever there were conferences we could build and we suggested ideas, how we could conduct global research. And every time we made sure we had all stakeholders at the table. We had, of course, indigenous representatives, elders, ministry officials, we had students, we also had teachers, of course, universities, as we, as a UNESCO chair, we partnered directly with universities and research institutions. So we brought over all over 120 representatives to the table throughout all of these meetings and suggested we wanted to do research and suggested research questions, and every time again we got feedback, we got criticism, we got praise, took it back, went to the next meeting and did that through the course of an entire year and ended up with three research initiatives, because, also, we wanted to get away from the sense of questioning and collecting new knowledge. 

And the first research initiative was finding out about perspectives on what quality education entails, what are the outcomes of quality education. The second one was to collect best practices that included ESD, that were transferable from region to region. And the third one that we’re currently still working on was real action research, changing something in the curriculum or in the pedagogy and then seeing what the outcome is on the ground. What was really interesting from the first one that the outcomes from different countries we had overall over 30 countries involved, 50 plus stakeholders responded. But what was really important for all of these groups and one of the most important aspects was teaching 21st century competencies, which is something that we would acquire and hope for for all of our children that they have those competencies and that curriculum is taught in a local, relevant and culturally aligned context, which is part of the definition and understanding of ESD. 

And so other aspects like globally network learning, being engaged in networks, including technology, including community representative Indigenous elders. So all of these recommendations over all 10, they’re really aligned with what we hope for in quality education in general, and so our understanding was that there are not so many differences. If we’re applying ESD in a proper and in a broad sense and a holistic understanding of sustainability, we could create a quality education not only to so Indigenous children and youth can benefit, but also non-Indigenous children and youth could do so. The second one was during the second initiative, when we were collecting the best practices. 

The pandemic hit, so our world was turned upside down and particular Indigenous communities were very, very much hit. So partially we treated back into the forest, so we lost contact, partially our university partners starting helping them with health issues rather than discussing education, because health was just the more urgent need. But what we were able to collect was a number of practices that actually helped with education, helped through the pandemic, and we suggested that this might also be practices that could be used for post pandemic recovery. So, with a catalogue of 32 practices, we were able in 2021, to inform the UN representative, the UN special rapporteur for Indigenous rights, and we presented our best practices to him when he was asked by the UN Human Rights Council to present his recommendations for post pandemic recovery of Indigenous peoples. 

And we were able to position education at the Centre Office Report that economic recovery, health recovery all of these aspects were extremely important for in the short term. But in the long term, quality education with ESD, which again includes public awareness and understanding and informed public, would really make a difference for the Indigenous peoples to live within their world but also to be able to walk the path between both worlds. And that was also the hope. And closing it here to the discussion on quality education, which was the biggest hope of parents to Indigenous children they wanted their kids to survive in both worlds and be able to to wonder both sides of the coin was one of the one of the citations and now we’re working on the third initiative and we’ll report back when we have results on that. 

0:36:10 – Kyla

Thank you so much. Yeah, I think, like what comes to mind and throughout this whole conversation so far, and what you had just said is, education is the through line to like how do we solve problems, how do we change and how do we have an impact on all people in the world, but in particular with Indigenous peoples as well, is like education in a holistic sense and weaving that together. Catherine, our next question I want to direct towards you specifically, or also to answer as well, of course, but how do you see ESD containing the potential for transforming society? 

0:36:47 – Katrin

Well and, as we said, if we apply ESD in its broadness, we are able to position sustainability as a purpose of our education outcomes and we’re able to look at our own world from a different angle front and looking at it through a new lens. If we look at the current path of the of the SGGs, we have to admit we’re not going to achieve what we have to do by 2030. So what we need now are actions of acceleration. We need to be able to transform, and here transform and using simple question, what has done well, what has not gone well and what can we keep and what do we need to change. And just those simple questions towards our society, without tailoring what is well, but trying to create new, completely new approaches towards our education systems to make a difference and to really position sustainability could make a difference. And it’s not even about whether we believe ESD has that potential. 

The United Nations, in several occasions since 2017, charles mentioned it briefly before have said ESD is a key enabler and so far it’s the only one they have found. It’s the only key enable that has been determined since 2016 is the key enable to achieve all of the SGGs. And if we then look back at the aspect of experiential exposure compassion. How can we create global compassion and how can we start caring one another? Because that is, I believe, one of the biggest aspects where we have to transform. We have to start caring about one another, without necessarily knowing one another, but caring for people that are far away and caring for their issues, and start treating them as our own problems and not sitting in the sinking boat on the higher end and thinking, ah, I’m going to be well, anyways, I’m throwing it over to Charles. 

0:39:11 – Charles

Okay, well, the potential. I think if we are able to embed ESD in K through 12, that will go a long way towards the third goal of ESD, and that being informing the general public so they actually understand what it’s all about, and having the skills of critical thinking and so on. Why is this an issue? And particularly if they look at it in a local situation, they can do hands-on and so on. And now what we’re trying to do is to marry ESD with global citizenship education. Global citizen education moves on from the knowledge and skills and understanding of sustainability issues whether there are social justice issues, resource depletion, economic justice issues and so on, homelessness, whether it’s these issues or the global issues as well. But the idea of adding to this insight into ESD two other aspects which we encase in global citizenship, that is, building the compassion, as Captain said, the willingness to become involved, the engagement, along with the skills of how to engage, how to present an argument, how to get your message out there, how to collectively come together and build a collective message, and so on. These two things are important, but as well, if I could go on, one more little bit, and that is the importance of us addressing higher education as a way of transforming society. The transformation really is transforming the individual, but it can also be transforming the institution, as both steps in the way of transforming society. 

But the particular thing where we’re focusing a lot of our time now is with post-secondary education, higher education because only a small percentage of the world’s population actually graduates from universities maybe six, seven percent, but they’ll become 80 percent of the shapers of the world. They’ll not only be leaders in the private sector, they’ll also be our politicians, they’ll be our senior civil service, but they’ll also be our artists, our poets, our writers, our thinkers. They’ll be the leaders of faith-based groups and so on. So you have these, while they’re in that small percentage in university, and that’s where we can really do the work in trying to prepare for a more sustainable future not just present them with the past, but where they can dream and think of the future that they want and the future for others, and change perceptions of about going to university. Well, it’s all about improving myself, but also embedding concepts from indigenous perspectives of the common good and working on that as well. So let me leave it at that. But I see ESD, especially combined with global citizenship education, as the powerful transformers. 

0:43:00 – Katrin

Yeah, and especially if we emphasize the third thrust of an informed public, because even the best politician will only be elected if people understand what it is and what it is all about. And we were in New York last week at the UN and at the consultation. The most important aspect that was determined by 120 people in the room was political commitment. But we all know political commitment will only come if politicians reflect the will of the people. And that’s why ESD is so powerful, because it goes beyond the formal education but it includes the societal learning and the opportunity that we all have together. 

0:43:51 – Anna

It’s very powerful and I think I love this connection between the possibility for individual transformation and expanding compassion and engagement, but also which extends into potentially institutional or systemic shifts, with an emphasis on society and how to actually change society. We work backwards, it is from the individuals but it’s related to institutions. It’s such a really important kind of feedback loop. 

0:44:25 – Charles

See whether education and educators, institutions and so on rise to this challenge and are able to take on this. It is huge, I don’t want to say not just a challenge, but it’s an opportunity for education to reassert itself as central to humanity and central to our future. 

0:45:02 – Katrin

On that note, the task to higher education and NGOs was also to get organized, to organize ourselves, to have the global voice that we keep asking for, to present not only our graduates, but to have the science and the research ready to sit at the table. 

0:45:23 – Charles

It will take both leadership. Right now, most education leaders either do not see the opportunity or are a little meek in stepping forward. 

0:45:39 – Anna

Unfortunately. I really agree, but I also think that we’re in this really interesting moment Again I’m speaking from a higher education perspective where AI is all of a sudden causing us to rethink all of our practices, how we understand what teaching is, what learning is, what assessment is, although I hope that we can be in a moment where this could actually help us to transform what we are doing in education, because it does require us to rethink how we exist as an institution, as the system of education. But I also am hopeful that we have this opportunity to regenerate, where these moments are coming together, of this urgent crisis, but also this rapid, really swiftly moving technological change. Go ahead, Katrin. 

0:46:34 – Katrin

Yeah, I’m just building on what you said, because AI also has the interesting reflection of the individual versus society. It asks this question like how do we create education with AI in it? How is our science research enhanced through these opportunities? But at the same time we need answers to the question of what happens if people fall in love with Siri instead of a human, and those ethical questions. And how do kids to learn to accept a no if every digital device always says yes, why be around humans if I can get what I want from AI? Those are those kind of ethical questions are also in that mix of transforming society will have a huge impact on their generations to come. 

0:47:26 – Kyla

I think especially too. Like what just came to mind is if education is key and then, sorry, going back to what you said earlier about compassion, like what is the link between AI and compassion? Would AI remove compassion? Does it increase our capacity for compassion? Does it have that potential? I’m not sure, especially because it’s still in the budding days. But yeah, I mean I have a hard time believing it probably could, but maybe, but maybe to some capacity. I’m not 100% sure he has. 

0:47:58 – Katrin

Can AI replace human compassion and be better at it? 

0:48:03 – Anna

I don’t know, oh my gosh. So these are all fascinating and slightly scary conversations that we have to have. Right, it’s really important, and I’m so. The work that you are doing is about reorienting, and the word that I really love is about regenerating, and I think that AI, you know this moment is going to ask us to look at practices and pedagogies, but also what you’ve talked about in terms of quality education that’s experiential, that’s applied, that is in, maybe infused with indigenous worldviews, that’s culturally appropriate and relevant. Those are all really what I consider like best practices of education. And so I’m just curious, as we’re coming to the kind of the close, what gives you hope in the work that you’re doing, given this moment that we’re in? What gives you hope? 

0:49:03 – Katrin

Let me start on that one, because I’m a cynical one. A chance has been with ESD and is still so incredibly positive, so he should have the last word on that. It gives me hope that there’s more and more people that really make sustainability a priority and are changing their values. Whereas I personally sometimes consider the question can I allow myself the luxury of hope? I simply feel I have to do it and we all have to do it, because, no matter whether there is hope or not, we all know what the right thing is to do at this point and in the next years to come. And I don’t want to be 80 at some point and think back and think I haven’t done the right thing and I was part of the program and instead I’m really trying to be part of the solution and every day, even if I wake up hopeless, being part of the solution and being surrounded by everyone trying so hard, that brings back the hope for me. 

0:50:18 – Charles

Yeah, one of the drawbacks of our work is that we do become aware of the severity and when you’re working on a global scale it is difficult to see beyond the issues that are there. We recognize that we really can’t even envision a sustainable future. Most of our work is trying to move away from the past. It’s like driving while looking in the rearview mirror just trying what are we backing away from? So there is tremendous difficulty, but I have a lot of glimmers of hope from those early days in sitting there trying to write and think what would be the roles of education, of public awareness and understanding, to today, where universities are willingly being ranked on their impact in trying to build a more sustainable future. Over 800 universities around the world are putting forward what they are doing in many, many more universities and so on are working, but not necessarily part of that program. 

The public awareness of the need for action is very, very widespread. Certainly be it more so beyond Canada and the United States. As we travel around the world, we find whole sustainable towns and cities and so on and people being engaged. Far more schools and universities are putting this into the curriculum. I long for it being put ESD going into more faculties of education, because if we could ever engage the world’s teacher education institutions in a way that there are roughly 80 million teachers in the world far short of what we actually need but if we had them, knowledgeable, engaged, what a jump that would make the concern of youth vertical rise that is going on there by young people wanting to take concern. 

I see funding is growing. Covid has hurt terribly but still their governments are pledging at the UN level and even countries are voluntarily coming forward with the work that they are doing and reporting on it. So overall I see things moving forward upward, but not nearly at the speed that’s needed. It is still if you look at the need and the speed at which glaciers are retreating, the oceans are becoming more acidic, climate is changing, the forced migration around the world, not just by climate change but the complexity of climate, plus inaccessibility to agriculture work, the rise of food costs largely because of climate change, and crops failure, all of these things. It is very, very difficult but and we’re not moving at the speed we should, but I have hope it is a lot better than when I first began. 

0:54:27 – Anna

Thank you both so much for sharing your insight and your perspectives, and I think that the work that you’re doing is remarkable and it’s action oriented, and so that’s something that is a great model for others of us who also feel this urgency and want to do everything we can within the spheres we are in. So thank you for the work that you’re doing, but also for the really rich conversation today. 

0:54:51 – Charles

Thank you and thank you. 

0:54:55 – Katrin

It was a pleasure talking to you and it actually made me think about many more things. Thank you. 

0:55:01 – Anna

You can find our guests’ contact information and any resources they mentioned in the show notes for the episode. If you want to stay connected with us or learn more about our work, visit my website, There you’ll find additional resources and ways to contact us directly. We would love to hear from you, so if you have any feedback, suggestions or topics you’d like us to explore in future episodes, don’t hesitate to reach out. The Creative Praxis podcast is produced by me, Anna Griffith with support from Kyla Mitchell-Marquis. Sound editing is done by Brendon George, with music from Wattaboy on Pixabay.

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