Education for Sustainable Development and International Student Assessments: Governing Education in Times of Climate Change

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At the end of the UN's Decade of Education for Sustainable Development there are few, if any, indications of comprehensive educational reforms meeting the challenges of sustainable development. Rather, a central aim for current educational reforms appears to be improvement of student performance on national and international educational assessments, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)'s Programme for International Student Assessments (PISA). Against this background, this article explores the relationship between the UN's measures to promote education for sustainable development (ESD) and the OECD's measures to assist the development of education policy through PISA. The article finds that there are asymmetries in the ways these two different measures shape education systems. Moreover, the article also finds tensions between the educational practices associated with ESD, and those associated with ambitions to improve scores on PISA and other tests.

Policy Implications

  • In times of climate change, the OECD's PISA initiative and similar student assessments are insufficient for measuring educational quality. Such assessments do not measure students’ ability to contribute to sustainable development.
  • Education must be recognized as crucial in all sustainable development policy, including the new sustainable development goals.
  • International initiatives seeking to promote ESD should develop criteria for measuring countries’ ability to educate for sustainability.
  • International organizations should be equipped with sufficient resources for performing evaluations and rankings of education systems according to sustainability criteria.
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