01 December, 2016 - Speech by Seán Ó Foghlú Secretary General, Department of Education and Skills, for the Opening of the Forum on Education for Sustainable Development


It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning to open the Second Forum on our Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development 2014 – 2020.

Our strategy complements the National Strategy on Sustainable Development – “Our Sustainable Future – A Framework for Sustainable Development in Ireland” which was published by the Government in 2012.

It is very encouraging to know that you, the audience, are representatives of many different organisations, including officials from different Government Departments (Foreign Affairs; Communications, Climate Action and Environment; Taoiseach’s) as well as representatives from third level colleges and a wide range of non-governmental organisations representing the Development Education and the environmental agenda. This diversity will, I hope, lead to a very rich debate later on this morning.

In January 2016, the UN launched its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Today we want to see how, through our education system, we can give our young people the knowledge, skills, values, awareness and motivation they need to live sustainable lives.  The ‘for’ in “education for sustainable development” is about enabling young people to see that their actions can have an impact at national and global levels.

We are honoured to have Gary Fowlie, who is the UN’s Focal Point on Technology for Development, as our keynote speaker. He led a UN inter-agency effort to ensure that science, technology and innovation were adopted as key catalysts for the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This emphasis complements our commitment last week to prepare a STEM Education Policy Statement in the first half of 2017. 

Gary’s work focused on ICT targets in the areas of education, gender equality and infrastructure (universal and affordable access to the internet) as a means of implementation across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The UN sustainable development agenda recognises that “global connectivity has great potential to advance human progress”.  

Through this work he met our own Ambassador to the Permanent Representation at the UN, David Donoghue, who acted as co-chair for the UN on the preparation of their Sustainable Developments Goals.  Gary has interviewed the Ambassador for this Forum and you will be able to see and listen to the Ambassador later this morning.

What is Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) about?

  ESD encompasses

·      environmental issues (climate change, water security)

·      social and economic issues (sustainable economic growth and corporate responsibility)

·      political issues such as citizenship, human rights and democracy

  Where does ESD fit into the Action Plan for Education 2016 – 2019?

Part of our Department’s ambition and vision, as set out earlier this autumn in the Action Plan for Education 2016 – 2019, is to provide the best education and training system in Europe for our learners (over the next decade).

This would be very much in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal on Education. Economic success will enable us to build a strong community for our people. I believe, as a leader in Europe, Ireland can create sustainable jobs that respect the rights of our future generations.

Where is ESD encountered in our Curriculum?

In our approach to active learning across the curriculum from early years onwards, we wish to align ourselves with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We want to ensure that our education system enhances our awareness of how environmental, social, economic, technological and political decisions can impact us at local, national and international levels. The role of STEM and ICT, which Gary has been promoting in the UN, is one that this Department wants to prioritise here in Ireland.

There is a lot going on in our schools already in the ESD arena. For example:

In our primary schools, our pupils encounter ESD, particularly within the Social, Environmental and Scientific Education aspect of their learning.

The Framework for Junior Cycle, 2015, for example, incorporates a number of Statements of Learning that all students will experience. Thus our students, at the end of their junior cycle, will

·      have an understanding of the origins and impacts of social, economic and environmental aspects of the world around them

·      be aware and have the knowledge, skills, values and motivation to live sustainably

·      use technology and digital media tools to learn, communicate, work and think collaboratively and creatively in a responsible and ethical manner

If we can achieve the above, I believe, our young people can influence their world to be one that is more sustainable and more successful in the eyes of our nation but also internationally.

Last September, 41 of our schools introduced the new Leaving Certificate Politics and Society syllabus which has a particular focus on sustainable development. The full roll out of this new subject, to all interested schools, is scheduled for September 2018.

I would like to pay tribute to the work of the many agencies, non-governmental organisations and individuals outside of the formal education sector who continue to assist in making sustainable development a reality, through their projects and initiatives for our learners.

Our young people participate, with the guidance of their teachers in projects such as the Green Schools, Blue Star, Young Social Innovators, World Wise Global Schools, One World Awards, ECO UNESCO initiatives as well as a range of other projects whose representatives are here present today. Such projects complement the formal curricular work that is undertaken in the classroom and enrich the learning experiences of our students.

The ESD Strategy

Our Strategy has a six year life span. It will be important to review it towards the end of 2017, as set out in the Strategy, to determine its effect on our learners, our society and our economy. 

The range of topics which come under the Education for Sustainable Development umbrella is vast, but for us the challenge is to see them as interrelated and complimentary.

In one corner, we continue to be challenged by those who deny climate change, including some who hold real positions of power and influence while in another corner we are challenged by those who see contradictions/ challenges in promoting an economy where our enterprises take a sustainable route.

Links to Entrepreneurship

  Entrepreneurial skills are very closely linked to those of ESD and they can complement each other. Our curricula and quality pedagogical approaches must continue to encourage problem solving, applying knowledge, reasoning and also help our young people to develop empathy, understanding and collaborative skills.  

We should see entrepreneurship as an ally and not as an enemy of sustainable development. There are many, many ways in which a focus on ESD can generate ideas, foster creativity and promote opportunities for employment.

This message was reinforced as recently as this November at the UN Marakesh conference, where one of the outcomes was the declaration that:  ‘The transition in our economies required to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement provides a substantial positive opportunity for increased prosperity and sustainable development.’

We must listen to the views of young people

The Strategy acknowledges the importance of the voice of young people.

One of the actions in the Strategy committed us to consult with young people directly on ESD. The findings of such consultation would be used as an evidence base to inform the development of future policy in this area.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs Citizen Participation Unit, led by Anne O Donnell, selected a sample of young people from both the primary and post-primary sectors and facilitated the consultation process. The young people were asked their views on “What they learnt in school that would make the world a fairer and better place for everyone”. This all happened here in the Clock Tower, in October.

A report on the consultation facilitated by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and funded by this Department has been prepared by Dr. Deirdre Mc Gillicuddy. The report sets out the young people’s views and identifies a number of issues for us to consider as we continue to monitor the implementation of our Strategy on ESD. Deirdre will outline the main findings from the young people for us later this morning

I want to thank the DCYA and its expert associates for their help in highlighting for us what this sample of our young people think about ESD. Their views will inform the discussion later in the morning.

This is a Forum that is listening to young people. Before your workshop, you will be hearing from young Rappers from Scoil Iosagáin in Farranree, Cork City on ESD. These are no ordinary rappers, they are Late Late Show Star Rappers.

  Thank You

 Finally, I do want to thank Gary personally for making his time and expertise available to us here today and also for interviewing our Ambassador. Thanks also to Deirdre for presenting to us the views of the young people

Inputs from people like Gary this year and Professor Daniella Tilbury, last year, provide a vital international perspective for us as we re-energise our efforts in promoting ESD. If we take an ESD approach and believe it to be the way forward, we will make a difference to all our lives today and into the future

  Closing Remarks

 I want to thank Breda, Eamonn, Sinead, Tim and Kevin from our Curriculum and Assessment Unit for their work in organising today’s Forum.

I want to thank each and every one of you here today in the Clock Tower for making your time and expertise available to the Department. It is of immeasurable value to us. I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of today’s Forum.

I wish you well in your deliberations. My final thought – the world faces many challenges, ESD helps us to see the many opportunities that are out there for us to grasp as we make our world a better place for our children and future generations.

 Thank You