Education for Sustainable Development in Early Childhood Care and Education: A UNESCO Background Paper


In a recent UNESCO review of the progress that has been made in developing ESD in ECCE Siraj-Blatchford and Pramling-Samuelsson make the following recommendations :

Accelerating the global progress in Redefining Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)

Sustainable ECCE needs to be clearly defined by policy makers around the world to include provisions to ensure child safety, nutrition, hygiene, attachment, stimulation, and communicative interaction from birth to starting school.

Wash in Schools

The pre-primary sector has an essential role to play in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education (WASH). It is the youngest children who suffer the most from inadequate provisions and all pre-primary institutions must be provided with the support they require to provide safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education to the children in their care as a matter of urgency.


Continued violence is widely recognized as one of the most significant threats to sustainability, and this has to be stopped. The UN lunched a consortium for Peace education network in 2013, and this network should become more closely associated with ESD.

Universal access to ECCE

There is a need to ensure that all children are cared for from birth, and that all children should have access to pre-primary educational support from 3 years of age. But access to a classroom is not enough. Story books provide important foundations for the children’s emergent literacy development and many preschools have none. We therefore recommend the commissioning of a high quality series of ECCE children’s books to be produced for global multi-lingual application that can foster both literacy skills and an early understandings of ESD.

The Rights and Responsibilities of Young Children

Children often influence their families in adopting more sustainable thinking and behaviours and in pre-primary education a curriculum focus on sustainable consumption is therefore appropriate.

Quality Provisions for ECCE

ECCE programs should include ESD curriculum content, but they must also:

  • build upon the everyday experience of children;
  • provide curriculum integration and creativity;
  • involve intergenerational problem solving and solution seeking;
  • the promotion of intercultural understanding and recognition of interdependency;
  • involvement of the wider community;
  • active citizenship in the early years;
  • the creation of cultures of sustainability.

The Initial Education and Training of ECCE Professionals

ESD and ECCE should be integrated in pre-service and in-service health, community support and teacher education at all levels with explicit reference made to the need to develop greater global awareness, child resilience and disaster risk reduction (DRR), alongside more traditional sustainable development concerns such as sustainable consumption, recycling, energy efficiency etc.

An ECCE Sustainable Development Goal

The findings of the review strongly supported the perspective adopted by Aber, Lombardi, Klaus and Campion (2013) in their proposal for a new global development goal for the post-2015 agenda. While we consider that the specific targets that they suggest in their proposal could be more ambitious, as an urgent short-term global goal the United Nations should certainly: “Reduce by half the number of children under 5 who fail to reach their developmental potential” (Aber et al, 2013).

Delegated funding for ESD in ECCE

Given the urgency of creating change new models of funding are required. In the short and medium term there is a need to increase targeted funding. There is a need to embed ESD practices in all ECCE activities and every budget associated with ECCE should therefore have an audited ESD component. Every receiving agency or institution would then be accountable to a national or regional authority with overall responsibility for supporting ESD. It is essential that such a national authority should have an overview and responsibility that lies outside and across traditional disciplines and ECCE sectors, and that it encourages the development of successful and long lasting multi- and transdisciplinary ESD practices.

As an emerging field of practice, ESD in ECCE is also seriously under-researched and under evaluated. This must be remedied in order to build the field on an evidence-base of critique, reflection and creativity. Every budget associated with ESD in ECCE should therefore be awarded with a research component, this could also be administered by the national authority with overall responsibility for ESD.

The full report will be available in November following the end of UNESCO ESD World Conference in Nagoya, Japan.


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