Learning from each other: Pedagogical connections between peace education and education for sustainable development

Alicia Jiménez

Earth Charter International Secretariat and Center for ESD
(Featured article: Issue #119 March 2015)

It has been 15 years since the Earth Charter was launched, in the year 2000, and after all these years, we are continually learning about new ways that the Earth Charter can be used as an educational tool for different education movements. The Earth Charter is a declaration of values and ethical principles to build a more just, sustainable and peaceful global society in this 21st Century. One important characteristic of the Earth Charter is its holistic nature, since it proposes ethical principles for all dimensions related to sustainability. Having this wide perspective is what helps educators from different education movements, such as peace education and education for sustainable development, to find values and principles that resonate with their learning objectives.

heartIn 2014, the Earth Charter Center for ESD launched a publication called “The heart of the matter. Infusing sustainability values in education. Experiences of ESD with the Earth Charter”. This publication is a collection of nineteen case studies or stories that showcase efforts to bring ethics and values for sustainability into education at all levels.

The stories in this publication are framed as ESD, nonetheless, and as discussed by Toh and Cawagas (2010), peace education and ESD share many similarities, including key themes and pedagogical approaches. They identified four main pedagogical principles for peace education: Holistic understanding; Dialogue; Values formation and Critical empowerment. This article reflects on the main pedagogical lessons learned from seven experiences of “The heart of the matter” publication, using as a framework the above mentioned pedagogical approaches of peace education.

The pedagogical principle of holistic understanding is probably one of the most difficult for teachers to promote, considering the limitations of standard curricula that are quite fragmented. Many teachers have found the Earth Charter a good tool to overcome this problem, considering its integrated vision. Professor Nelly Kostoulas-Makrakis, from the University of Crete, Greece said about this problem: “I was searching for ways to overcome current tendencies toward compartmentalization of knowledge and neglect of ethics and values that are inherent in the concept of sustainable Development. Through my search, I identified the EC as a potential framework that could fulfill my critical pedagogy needs

In her university, Professor Kostoulas-Makrakis was able to integrate the Earth Charter in seven courses of the Department of Primary Education. Students learn about complex issues happening in the world, like climate change, analyze it using the Earth Charter lens, but also comparing it with their own context through group work. They also do future visioning related to those issues analyzed and make comparisons between the preferred world they envision and what they perceive in reality.

In the experience of Itaipu Hydroelectric Dam in Brazil, where the company is very interested in the protection of water, they created a program to help protect forests with the nearby communities. They decided not to impose restrictions over the use of forests, but to utilize education and community empowerment programs to work collaboratively with the community in water protection actions. They use the watershed concept as a way to help community members and students to understand in a holistic way their local context, where they don’t focus on environmental, or social, or economic issues, but they see all as interconnected. In addition, they analyze the watershed where they live in connection to other watershed systems, and to the Planet.

In an Eco schools program, implemented by the VUA Research Group of Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela, the way to promote a holistic understanding of sustainability and move to action was to share the values and principles of the Earth Charter in connection with the students’ local context. The facilitators of this program expressed that when they tried to promote and teach about sustainability without making links with the students daily life and context, they failed to generate awareness and bring about changes in students behavior.

Dialogue is an important principle to promote a more horizontal relationship between teacher and learner (Toh and Cawagas, 2010). At the National School in Minas Gerais, Brazil, they created an education program called Science and Citizenship that is taught in all subjects, with the aim to develop autonomy of individuals involved in the creation of knowledge and strengthening teacher-student relationship. Students are considered subjects of their learning, in this sense, students analyze and understand global challenges, propose solutions, point to alternatives, and comprehend limitations; all is done working in groups. Dialogue and unstructured sharing of opinions and ideas are promoted in this discipline, and facilitators always remind students to avoid judgments when listening to others, and to express all they think is important. 

Itaipu’s programs also promoted dialogue, calling it a “dialogue of knowledge”, which includes sharing of traditional, popular, indigenous and academic knowledge to better understand the situation at specific watersheds. The workshops they organize with communities are highly participatory, where community members participate in generating solutions for problems they have identified. This dialogue of knowledge was also promoted at the Environmental and Cultural Education Programme (PEACE), with Maya Q’eqchi communities in Guatemala, another case study in “The heart of the matter publication”. This program was created and facilitated by an NGO interested in biodiversity conservation. They came to realize that this could be done only by connecting local knowledge and values with the wider conservation objectives present in different global agendas and in ethical frameworks such as the Earth Charter.

ECConsidering that the Earth Charter is about values and ethics, all education experiences that use the Charter are working on values formation, another important pedagogical principle of peace education. It valuable to learn how different experiences approach this task. For example, professors of the Faculty of Education of the University of Granada firmly believe that teaching about ethics (of care) cannot be done using only cognitive approaches. When dealing with ethics, it’s important to experience it, to use different senses and connect with emotions. Since they focused on the Earth Charter, their question was not how to learn about the community of life, but, “what can we do to feel part of the community of life and act accordingly? How to experience interconnectedness?” One of the exercises used was sensory awareness of nature. Students are asked to spend a weekend outside the city and spend time in nature observin
g and writing about their experience. It’s not about focusing the mind on one thing, but rather an attention that excludes nothing. Attention on all senses and its internal effect on us. Also, they use a meditation exercise with their students to encounter with the archetype of Mother Nature, using relaxation and imagination. They always ask students to write and reflect about their experiences in a diary, where students reflect daily experiences with the principles of the Earth Charter.

The arts can also be used as a way to internalize and promote values, as the Center for the Study of Peace Onlus in Italy did in a project they implemented with several schools, where they asked students to express through music, writings, videos or any other form of art their understanding of a principle of the Earth Charter.

Finally, in terms of critical empowerment, it is important to move minds and hearts into personal and social action (Toh and Cawagas, 2010). This is what Itaipu’s education program does with their workshops; participants collectively identify problems, generate proposals and define a working plan with the viable proposals identified. A Water Pact is the culmination of the process, where the working plan is presented to the community and a celebration is held around it. As a result, more than 21,000 hectares of previously degraded agricultural soils have been recuperated, 1,400 kms of forest surrounding rivers have been protected, and traditional economic activities such as beekeeping have been restored, among other results.

The experiences mentioned in this article are just a few examples that show the interconnections between peace education and ESD, and how useful it could be to promote wider dialogue between practitioners and scholars of these education movements to learn and enrich each other.


  • Toh, Swee-hin and Cawagas, Virginia. 2010. “Peace Education, ESD and the Earth Charter: Interconnections and Synergies”. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development September 2010 4: 167-180
  • Web: www.earthcharter.org
  • Email: info@earthcharter.org

aliciaAbout Alicia Jiménez: Alicia has been working in conservation and sustainable development field since 1998, after she graduated as a biologist from the University of Costa Rica. She worked several years in IUCN Mesoamerica’s Regional Office and then started a professional services co-op called Coopesolidar, based in San Jose, Costa Rica. She also worked at the National University of Costa Rica. As part of these previous work experiences she did extensive field work in community-conservation projects, and environmental education processes, in Costa Rica and occasionally in other Central American countries. In 2006 she joined the ECI Secretariat, and is in charge of promoting as widely as possible the Earth Charter, especially in Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific. In addition, she is involved with the Secretariat’s projects on education for sustainable development. Currently, she is IUCN CEC national activator for Costa Rica. Alicia has an MSc in Resource Development from Michigan State University. She is from Costa Rica.