Twenty-first Century Education: Transformative Education for Sustainability and Responsible Citizenship

David V. J. Bell 1
  • 1 PhD, Professor Emeritus and Former Dean, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, 4700 Keele St, Toronto ON Canada, M3J1P3, Toronto Canada


Many ministries of education focus on twenty-first century education but unless they are looking at this topic through a sustainability lens, they will be missing some of its most important elements. The usual emphasis on developing skills for employability in the current global economy begs the question whether the global economy is itself sustainable over the course of this century. According to the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) whose membership comprises 29 of the largest, most important companies on the planet, it is not. Continuing on the current development path would require approximately 2.3 planets earth to support existing levels of resource and energy use, and waste production, projected out for a global population which will reach 9 billion by 2050. And yet most discussions of 21st century education are premised on servicing, rather than transforming, the current global economy.

This paper explores the opportunities and benefits of connecting the discourse on twentyfirst century education with Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) which seeks to prepare learners for the varied and interrelated environmental, social, and economic challenges they will meet as they confront a changing world. ESD emphasizes futures thinking and strategic planning that will enable learners to help create and flourish in a more sustainable economy. Conventional teaching models must also shift to a “transformative” style of education for the twenty-first century in order for humankind to learn how to live more sustainably on this planet.

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