The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by the United Nations in 2015, include a focus on education for sustainable development (ESD) and global citizenship education (GCEd). Specifically, by 2030, SDG target 4.7 seeks to “ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promoting of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and culture’s contribution to sustainable development.” However, what stands out is that the indicators that accompany different levels of monitoring of SDG target 4.7 do not focus on the institutional level. That is, to this point, what has been identified are global, thematic, regional, and country level indicators—with the implication being that these indicators may not shed light on teaching and learning at the level of schools, universities, etc. The paper on which this proposal is based reports insights from a systematic literature review that has sought to respond to the gap identified above.
Stated directly, the goal of the research reported on here is to contribute to the discussion around strategies and options for monitoring ESD and GCEd at the institutional level. Within this overarching focus, our review of the literature was designed to be attentive to studies that have looked at both student learning and teacher education related to ESD and GCEd. This twin foci stems from the recognition that achieving the SDGs will be particularly difficult if policymakers are not attentive to both sides of the learning equation—that is, first, to the ways that teachers learn to teach about ESD and GCEd and, then, the ways that students acquire this knowledge and are assessed.
The systematic search of the literature was guided by two separate search protocols, with one protocol corresponding to each of the two foci stated above. The terms in the protocols were derived from the definition stated above for ESD and GCEd (drawn from SDG 4.7). The protocols were then used to search two literature databases: Web of Science and ERIC. These searches returned 1250 results for studies related to the first focus (i.e., assessing student learning related to ESD and GCEd) and 34 related to the second focus (teacher education related to ESD and GCEd). After multiple levels of review, the samples were reduced to 85 and 12, respectively. Expert consultation then provided the team with additional resources, bring the total number of studies in the final, combined sample to 123.
The results of our literature review first characterize the literature retained in terms of its key characteristics. Here, we report on the nature of the programs, curricula, etc. that were assessed in the studies we retained (e.g., with regard to level of education where the program was implemented, by whom, geographic region, etc.). Second, we characterize the kinds of assessments that have been used to understand the associated outcomes. Third, we include some brief reflections on the documented outcomes and the implications of them for achieving SDG 4.7.
Among the 76 publications retained in this study, 54% focused on student assessment of ESD/GCED/SDG4.7 at the institutional level, while 36% focused on the assessment of teacher education in the areas of ESD/GCED/SDG4.7. The content of the programs assessed focused primarily on education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles (34%) and education for global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity (30 %). Thematically, other issues were also covered (e.g. human rights, gender equality, peace education) but more infrequently. The publications tend to focus on formal education as seen in the statistic that 80% of the programs in these studies were implemented either in the traditional classroom or university. Similarly, while the level of program implementation varied from kindergarten to adult education, it was most common for programs to focus on the university (37%), followed by high school (22%) and then primary school (18%). Geographically, there was relative a lack of variation as programs tended to be implemented in either North America (34%) or Europe (45%). Fewer studies focused on other regions, and no publications were from Central and South America, East Asia or South Asia.
In many publications, quantitative and qualitative assessment tools were used to understand the associated outcomes to the SDG 4.7. Qualitative data mostly revolved around in-depth interviews with teachers or education professionals about their opinions and experiences with different aspects of SDG 4.7. Teachers’ action research and narrative essays, transcripts of classroom discussions, journal entries, reflections, diaries, and course plan analysis were also used to assess teaching experiences and learning progress related to SDG and GCEd. Quantitative data were often in the form of Likert scale surveys and reflected both student opinions and educator opinions about different programs. These surveys were administered both before and/or after program implementation. Few quantitative studies gathered longitudinal data over the years in different schools and higher education institutions.
As brief reflections, we found that different countries and organizations interpret and implement the SDG target 4.7 in various ways, and there was a broad spectrum of results and data that evaluate the progress of education drawn from this target. Teacher opinions regarding this target varied by country and type of program, though they were often positive with regards to the importance and implementation.
Both students and teachers who partook in educational programs that incorporated certain aspects of the SDG target 4.7 showed an increase in intercultural competency and global citizenship activism. Some studies indicate that if schools or classrooms made a concerted effort to focus on these issues, there was often an increase in the student’s attitudes, awareness and understanding of the importance of the SDGs.
The implications of these studies highlight the importance of educating pre- (and in-) service teachers and students about the SDGs in order to ensure the development of tolerance, empathy and cultural sensitivity, among others. From the studies reviewed, a teacher education curriculum could be adapted to fit targeted training on incorporating the SDG4.7 in classroom curricula.