Educational quality and policy transformations

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In the mid-term of SDGs implementation, education providers in Europe and around the world attract attention to qualitative content in dealing with sustainability issues. The process is complicated due to the fact that modern approaches to sustainability are inherently based on bridging existing gaps between rapid development of natural, exact and social sciences, technology and innovation, on one side, and national governance and political economy’s priorities, on another. Hence, SDGs education quality resides on both fundamental transformations in education and reforms in political economy.

Contemporary measures in teaching sustainability (TS) shall use new teaching parameters in evolving education process towards implementing SDGs: e.g. sustainability as an emerging specific profession, appearing of a new type of education providers (with additionally needed knowledge and qualification), as well as creating a model of a general SDG course (through both transforming SDGs into modern curricular) and the TS’ accommodation to other contemporary challenges. Modern multi- and trans-disciplinary learning for the SDGs is supposed to secure excellent labour placements and careers in progressive sustainable development.

Education reforms and quality
A lot of changes have occurred at the same time in both the education process and programs, and in the structures of a new and challenging theme, i.e. “teaching sustainability, TS”. In spite of all complex and extremely broad concepts involved in TS, numerous education facilities in Europe, as well as around the world, have been urgently integrating SDGs in the national education policies and universities’ curricula facing, at the same time, some very complicated and challenging circumstances. While accommodating education quality parameters involved in SDG implementation, the education institutions are trying to embrace all the pertinent for national priorities SDGs with transforming corresponding political-economy and digital issues in practical implementation. During the second decade of this century, with the ultimate goal on the SDG-2030 deadline, the world-wide education providers and the national governance systems are actively involved in the process of redirecting and reforming existing growth patterns towards more perspective and successful sustainability’s paths.
In this regard, quality teaching and learning in complex SDG issues, actually, is composed of two vital parts: i.e. progressive educational reforms, and reforming provisional process in the SDGs quality teaching and knowledge.
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The global sustainable agenda requires the states to take all necessary measures (“what it takes”) to implement the UN sustainable development goals by 2030. Generally, these measures involve three spheres of national governance: social, environmental and economic. However, to be effective the states have to go through substantial reforms in existing national education and training policies to catch up with the SDG-2030 deadline. Pressures have been mounting for changes in the perspective SDG-teaching sector, i.e. in particular in technology-engineering education. Besides, academic communities worldwide favour radical changes in existing traditional programs’ pedagogy to deliver on SDGs with adequate changes across all natural and social sciences’ programs. The aim was to increase integration among disciplines and between the elements that students study as part of their degree programs. As a result, the integrated engineering programs are being launched to streamline SDG-project-based learning and integrated skills. Making widespread changes in establishing research-and-learning are being intensified in universities around the world and new programs are becoming a common trend and agenda specifically in the European “universities-consortium” specializing in the SDGs issues.
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There are several roadmaps/items of progressive research which are vital in dealing with the ongoing transformations and reforms in educational quality:
a) assessing existing and required changes in the national political-economy’s structures and governance with widely-known responsible management education principles, so-called PRMEs, and the most impactful quality approaches. The PRMEs is the UN-supported initiative founded in 2007 and aimed to “raise the profile of sustainability” in the classrooms through several principles focused on “serving society and safeguarding our planet”.
At the same time, modern studies in economics and political science have been dramatically affected by new global challenges making national political-economies’ priorities rapidly altering existing educational approaches while actively experimenting with new ones.
More on PRME annual report-2022:

b) evolving “sectoral courses” (e.g. in corporate and business education) aimed to include different approaches influenced by modern challenges (i.e. including SDGs, climate mitigation, digital and “green” transitions, etc.) Labour markets’ requirements for “new skills” already strive for fundamental changes in education and training: with this in mind, the EU has already inaugurated the periods of 2023-24 as the “Year of Skills”. Increasing role of an ever growing technology’s effect on all spheres of socio-economic development provides for fundamental changes in education process, functions and structures.
Emerging new technologies enabled by the digital “intervention” are changing not only the basic educational concepts but also the structure and essence of online educational services. Never before in the education history has contemporary emerging ICTs had such a dramatic effect on modern education providers.

  c) an important trend has appeared recently: progressive states are trying to follow needed transformations in education and training systems aimed at supplying necessary qualified labor adequate to modern challenges and crises. National governance has realised that the only efficient way to perspective growth is through a modernized educational system (so-called “educational revolution”) as an optimal “cure” for possible stagnation and decay.
Educational systems are presently involved in active reforms to specify their place and role in the national actions towards sustainable and resilient societies.
More in: International Science Council “Flipping the science model: a roadmap to science missions for sustainability”. – Paris, 2023. International Science Council. DOI: 10.24948/2023.08. In:

New teaching parameters
Presently, some new forms of teaching and learning are necessary in order to: a) help students better grasp the SDGs complexity, ambiguity (and often uncertainties), coped with the new values and moral dilemmas; and b) assisting education providers in the process of breaking the “business-as-usual” approaches, as the SDGs are already challenging the “education-as-usual” concept. Most of the education providers are still explore “linear” and free-market economy practice, which do not allow for revolutionary approaches to modern SDGs.
In the quality TS two processes shall be analysed, i.e. teaching and learning; both are important as they link two processes: acquisition of knowledge, values, traditions, behaviors, etc. and the “delivery process” in providing specific skills for some new professions; the latter is vital for education quality.

New approaches in some EU states to SDGs-learning/teaching are becoming a must reflecting a new type of a “journey together”, e.g. through the so-called new “social contract”. The latter implies that in making “living places” healthy (aka, “sustainable” in modern meaning) the growth perspectives can be achieved only through circular, green and bio-economies with the political guidance within the global climate goals. The task is difficult but not impossible: progress could be achieved using advanced science, technology and innovation achievements with a due regard to welfare conditions for present and future generations.
Although each global region, country and community is making own nationally specific sustainable development strategies, teaching SDGs shall have some common denominators: e.g. in energy sector – on renewable energy and energy efficiency, in transport sector – on non-polluting transportation means, in economics – on sustainable development and circular economy, etc. with some other parameters, like welfare, wellbeing and happiness. The role of science as vital accelerator of the TS progress shall be kept in mind.
Source: Kestin T.S., Lumbreras J., Puch M.C. Higher Education and SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals. ISBN: 978-1-80455-707-5, eISBN: 978-1-80455-704-4. In:

Increasing efforts to achieve the UN Agenda 2030 objectives within the expected timeframe require major transformations in both the general political-economy’s paradigm and education policies. Besides, new directions in growth have appeared: e.g. sustainable financing, green growth and circular economy, citizens’ empowerment, collective action as well as closer SDG-cooperation among public and private actors. In 2012, the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, HESI was launched to highlight the role of higher education in advancing the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
More in: MSc in Sustainable Development – Programme Details in:!W_HU_MENU.P_PUBLISH?p_tag=PROG&MAJR=W485

It is seen that achieving SDGs in Europe is better accomplished by adopting a EU-wide sustainability strategy and including SDGs in the EU guidance (e.g. the European Semester) and other new initiatives, such as the “green deal”, the NewGenerationEU program, REPowerEU, National Recovery and Resilience plans, etc.
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Education providers have to address some new teaching parameters: e.g. the sustainability as a specific profession (i.e. transforming SDGs into modern curricular); the implications for a “new type of teachers” (as TS needs additional knowledge for the instructors); and the teaching process implying both cross-sectoral approaches and new digital means. The digital transformation is, probably the most vital in educational reforms with all its pros and cons.
Higher education institutions, HEIs are widely recognized as essential partners with adequate teaching in achieving SDGs.
Reference to:

Education quality: recommendations
The following are some of the issues to be taken into consideration in the education and teaching as the background of education quality concerning teaching sustainability, TS:

= The subject: The success of implementing SDGs depends, first of all, at the ability at states’ education policies to accommodate the SDGs and 169 targets within the existing educational processes. As a rule, teaching sustainability, TS is partially divided among several education levels: schools, colleagues, higher education institutions (general and special). Both existing education institutions and teaching methods shall be re-assessed fundamentally: higher education institutions shall teach the necessary skills for a sustainable growth; the teaching methods shall be adapted to needed general and professional skills (able practically implement various SDGs), and governance bodies shall know the ways to transform existing socio-economic policies on sustainable paths.
Mentioned challenges require specific approaches to the “subject-TS concept”: it could be, for example courses on a) sustainable and circular economy; b) on sectoral SDGs (like e.g. clean energy and transport, responsible consumption and production, sustainable cities and communities; sustainable industry and infrastructure, etc.), and c) on so-called “quasi-SDGs” directions, like reduced inequality, zero-hunger and gender equality.
Long-term professional and vocational education/training shall be additionally available through people’s life span. All national middle- and high- education institutions shall provide valuable examples for teaching future decision-makers providing them with the necessary skills.
Just one example of new courses: assessing the role that hydrogen can play in helping Europe reaching its climate neutrality goals and practical hydrogen’s implementation in helping EU states to divert from fossil fuels in seeking a substantive contribution to dangerous emissions.
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= The teachers: known as the most important “resource” in modern education processes, teachers can improve effectiveness, efficiency and equity of delivering knowledge; however, institutions have to ensure that very competent people are employed as teachers and that their teaching is of high quality. Suffice it to say that in most countries, teachers’ salaries and expenses represent the greatest share of expenditures on education. Therefore “investment in teachers” is going to have significant returns: research shows that the best teachers can make a real difference in the learning systems and in the student’s life’s outcomes compared to otherwise similar occasions.
According to global Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), teachers are not “interchangeable workers” in a kind of industrial assembly line; individual teachers can change lives – and better teachers are crucial to improving the education that schools provide. According to TALIS and PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), the “teacher-policy issues” deal with: a) selecting, evaluate and compensating teachers; b) education system’s equity, and c) attracting and retaining talented people in teaching.
Academic professionals are regarded by the network “Higher Education Sustainability Initiative, HESI” as an important step in global cooperation around the “teaching SDGs” idea. The three educational organisations representing the Anglo-Saxon, Francophone and international universities’ association are seeking to consolidate higher education’s role in implementing SDGs, in creating new sustainable knowledge and innovation, in developing a generations of new leaders and skilled professionals who will implement SDGs ideas and concepts for the benefit of progressive socio-economic development in countries around the world.

= The process: the TS is a challenging “subject” in the educational process because of the SDGs interdisciplinary nature: i.e. due to the “nature of sustainability”, the teaching process requires cross-sectoral and holistic knowledge; both components are quite rear in most universities. The initial SDG’s idea (i.e. since its inception in 2015) served as a kind of the “Earth’s salvation” paradigm, which supposed to include all pertinent elements, both natural and social, which has become a tremendously complicated task to perform in teaching.
Most vivid example is presenting knowledge on Earth Overshoot Day’s concept, which is an “illustrative calendar date” on which national resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources. It was calculated already by early 1970s, that human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce; presently, global demand for resources is equivalent to more than 1.7 Earths.
Thus in the TS’s process, instructors are often facing the need to dwell into uncharted waters of other scientific fields – natural, technical and social. Hence, any TS’s qualification needs interdisciplinary approach.

Presently, the TS is entering universities in various ways: as a rule, through already existing departments and faculties, i.e. often by just adding “sustainability” to their titles with introduction of general-type SDG courses for B.Sc. and M.Sc. levels geared for the faculty’s business and social studies.
For example, so far, in most EU states the B.Sc. is awarded in the areas of natural sciences, humanities, business and engineering sciences, mathematics and informatics, but not in SDGs. However, some states are taking effective steps in forwarding TS: e.g. Southern Danish University (SDU) started already in 2020 M.Sc. studies in several SDGs; and so are universities in France, Germany, Sweden, etc. with the idea of providing the graduates (i.e. the future national decision-makers) with valuable tools and necessary skills to “govern and manage SDGs”.
Note: however, recently the master program is changed to “Environment & Resource Management”; more in:

The UNESCO, as a global education organisation, has already included TS in the world-wide priorities to assist teachers in incorporating SDGs in teaching and learning, and provide for the SDGs interdisciplinary inclusion into newly established curricula. The UNESCO’s program on Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future is a timely response to global TS challenges; the program is presently available for teachers in the world. However, the current curricula are already exhausted and packed; hence several issues are to be resolved, such as the ways higher education institutions can make necessary adaptations and changes, as well as the number of SDGs to be addressed in the curricula, etc.
Hence, two main models may appear in TS: a general one, including resilience’s theories; and a special one, including practical implementation of sectoral SDGs alongside all 17 goals. Hence, the TS-sector is apparently entering the uncharted waters, while forming an integral part of a new “resilient socio-political economy” in all countries! Most educators assume that specifics in TS are in technologies; this sounds true as most of the SDGs are actually grounded in the achievements in modern science and technologies.


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