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Integrating Education for Sustainable Development into Music Education

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Edited by Jonathan Harris, Tuesday, 6 Apr 2021, 16:45

An interdisciplinary approach is required for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) to truly impact on education and create a sustainable future. Two strands of ESD are knowledge and understanding of the issues, and the development of the key skills, or competencies, to instigate positive change locally and globally. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015) set out the issues at hand. The SDG Quality Education, target 4.7, encapsulates what should be the essence of ESD, promoting sustainable development alongside issues such as human rights, equality, peace, diversity and global citizenship. ESD should therefore include the development of an understanding of these issues alongside equipping communities, including learning communities, with the skills required to bring about a sustainable future for all.  Embedding ESD into the heart of education is the key to implementing the SDGs and thereby critical for ensuring a sustainable future.

Moves within arts education to reflect the sustainability agenda are increasing but music education is lagging behind in this area (Østergaard, 2019). Prominent voices within music education advocate for the place of music within the curriculum and focus on its subject-knowledge but there is little advocacy for the role music can play in developing and promoting an understanding of SDG issues and also the relationship between the skills commonly developed in music education and those competencies seen as necessary for a sustainable future.

Music education naturally lends itself to a variety of learning styles; both acquisitional and participatory learning (Sfard, 1998) form part of good quality music education. The skills associated with dialogic, experiential and participatory learning can all be developed through music education. UNESCO’s (2017) eight competencies, seen as important for future sustainability, can be developed, directly and indirectly, through delivery of the music curriculum. Indeed, many aspects of The OECD PISA global competence framework (2016) can be experienced through engagement with music.

Lyfta’s (2021) educational resources link directly to understanding SDG issues; their Awra Amba and Secrets of the Opera storyworlds highlight, amongst others, equality and inclusivity issues with natural links to music education (Harris, 2020). Music performances are often an important part of the public face of a school; these can be shared locally and internationally to help the development of respect and cultural appreciation. The British Council’s (2021) requirement for participants on their Connecting Classroom programme to link partnership work with SDGs epitomizes ESD and suits the sharing of cultures. Global Science Opera (2021) takes an SDG-based science topic (currently the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration) for children to create and perform an opera annually through international collaboration and participation (Harris, 2021). Such international collaboration between teaching communities and children, founded on ESD ideals, brings about the cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural learning outcomes that will help achieve the outcomes sought in the SDGs to aid the creation of a sustainable future.

Music education has the potential to embed education for sustainable development into its curriculum and ethos, and to become a leading example of holistic education fit for the 21st century.   



British Council (2021) Home, Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning. Available at https://connecting-classrooms.britishcouncil.org/ (Accessed 31 March 2021).

Global Science Opera (2021) Home. Available at http://globalscienceopera.com/  (Accessed 31 March 2021).

Harris, J. (2020) Blog No. 17. Enhancing Global Music Education With Lyfta. [Online] Available at: https://www.lyfta.com/blog-storage/2020/5/1/global-music-lyfta (Accessed 31 March 2021).

Harris, J. (2021) GSO and the key drivers of education. [Online] Available at: https://globalscienceopera.com/news/ 28 January (Accessed 31 March 2021).

Lyfta (2021) Home. [Online] Available at: https://www.lyfta.com/ (Accessed 31 March 2021).

Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD), (2016). Global competency for an inclusive world, [Online]. Available at: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/Global-competency-for-an-inclusive-world.pdf. (Accessed 31 March 2021).

Østergaard, E. (2019) Music and sustainability education–a contradiction? Acta Didactica Norge13(2), pp.2-20. Available at:  https://journals.uio.no/index.php/adno/article/download/6452/6032 (Accessed 30 March 2021).

Sfard, A. (1998) ‘On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing only one’, Educational Researcher, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 4–13.

UNESCO (2017) Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives, [Online]. Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000247444 (Accessed: 30 March 2021).

UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015) Goals, [Online]. Available at https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/ (Accessed 30 March 2021).


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