Student well-being and learning for sustainability: Synergies and shared challenges

Antje Disterheft
NESET Ad Hoc Report 2023

Well-being (WB) and Learning for Sustainability (LfS) are two concepts and areas of concern for further action that are receiving increasing attention from policy makers, scholars, educators and many others, due to their relevance in developing of societies fit for the future.

In the time of writing of this ad hoc paper, two important reports have recently been published: The World Happiness Report 2023 (Helliwell et al., 2023b), with its focus on the state of people’s happiness and well-being around the globe, and the IPCC’s Synthesis Report for the Sixth Assessment Report on Climate Change (IPCC, 2023), underlining the urgency for societal transformations in order to achieve the Paris agreement and limit global warming to a maximum temperature rise of 1.5˚C. Both reports indirectly imply the importance of looking at interlinkages and synergies between well-being and LfS in maintaining Planet Earth as a liveable planet for human and non-human species. First, human well-being depends on the vitality of the planet’s ecosystems. Second, both reports are based on the view that anthropogenic environmental changes can be reversed by increasing awareness and enhancing human capacities for positive change towards a more sustainable future. Third, both reports also share the idea of empowerment and agency – i.e. becoming aware of what is, and being empowered to change it for the better. While the World Happiness Report demonstrates the current state of well-being around the globe, the IPCC Assessment Report provides us with current and future scenarios for human-made climate change, underlining the urgency and responsibility to take strong action to mitigate the consequences of global warming.

The first section of this ad hoc paper introduces the conceptualisation and agendas for well-being and LfS in order to provide the essentials of their theoretical (and political) contexts. The second section maps out four synergies between the two concepts, beginning by explaining how these synergies were identified and going on to elaborate each of them, namely:

  • Synergy I – Becoming aware of the mind-body connection.
  • Synergy II – Strengthening nature-connectedness.
  • Synergy III – Facing and dealing with (difficult) emotions.
  • Synergy IV – Fostering happiness and resilience.

The third section of the paper provides selected inspiring examples of schools, projects and learning environments in which (some of) these synergies have been put into place. The ad hoc paper concludes by pointing to future avenues for research, and listing some of the shortcomings and necessary cautions to consider when advancing policies in these fields.

In this ad hoc paper, LfS is used as an umbrella term for sustainability-related education, and is used interchangeably with Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Education for Sustainability (EfS). The term refers to all educational levels, from early childhood to lifelong learning; however, in this report the focus is placed on formal education – in particular, primary and secondary education.

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