and edited from a Masters thesis entitled Curriculum Development
for Sustainability: The Prospects of Implementing Education for
Sustainable Development (ESD) for Undergraduate Education in a
Public University in Malaysia.
Zeeda Fatimah Mohamad
for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a recent innovation in educational
reform that has evolved from the better-known environmental education
(EE) movement. This research aims to use the conceptual approach
of ESD for the planning and design of curricula to ensure that
educational opportunities in sustainable development are holistically
and effectively provided to university undergraduates. It addresses
how the internal and external environments could influence the
prospects of a university to address curriculum development and
an implementation process in ESD. In addition, due to concerns
of many researchers that any strategies pertaining to sustainable
development should consider the surrounding environment and geographical
location, this study addresses what such a localisation
process would mean in practice through a case study of University
of Malaya in Malaysia.
article will focus primarily on the researchers approach
and methodology, with brief references to the University of Malaya
case study and some recommendations for incorporating ESD.
Working from stated definitions of Sustainable Development
and Education for Sustainable Development, the author
developed a theoretical process for achieving curricular reform
in higher education, which was then applied to a university in
defining sustainable development, the author decided to use both
the general framework of UNESCO (2001) and the localised framework1
of Malaysias Federal Department of Town and Country Planning
(Jabatan Perancang Bandar dan Desa - JPBD -1997). The combined
framework assumes that a sustainable future depends upon people
living according to the values and principles of sustainability,
as illustrated in Figure 1. Here the author attempted to reflect
a dynamic balance among the five dimensions and principles that
underlie a sustainable future for Malaysia.
researcher used the definition for Education for Sustainable
Development provided by the Sustainable Development Education
Panel of the United Kingdom (September 1998), which states: Education
for sustainable development enables people to develop the knowledge,
values and skills to participate in decisions about the way we
do things individually and collectively, both locally and globally,
that will improve the quality of life now without damaging the
planet for the future.
study was based upon the following fundamental premises regarding
education for sustainable development:
ESD should be integrated into university curricula.
Debates surrounding ESDs acceptance, feasibility and interpretation,
although relevant, are not within the scope of this study.
Education is an essential tool for achieving sustainability,
recognizing that public awareness, education, and training
are important elements for moving society toward sustainable development.
Universities have a crucial role in helping their societies
undertake the challenge of promoting sustainable development,
as they are the cultivators and generators of knowledge with a
special mission of educating the leaders and decision-makers of
as agreed upon by many researchers, progressing from the
global concepts of ESD to locally relevant curricula, although
difficult, is an essential process. In a multiracial country
like Malaysia, specific strategies to approach this issue are
pertinent, considering the complex nature of its community, economy,
institutions and culture, and even more so in the realm of university
Each university has its own unique internal and external
environment, organisational culture, ethos and image, which
affects how it responds to the challenge of sustainable development
and its ability to implement ESD.
building on these premises, this researcher was overwhelmed by
the complexities surrounding ESD and the challenge of incorporating
it effectively into a universitys undergraduate curriculum.
It is indeed a crucial task to undertake, but where should one
begin? Should an institution start a new department for Cleaner
Production or Pollution Prevention? Should it establish a centre
to create new fields dedicated to sustainable development? Should
it encourage more lecturers to address Agenda 21? It is common
practice to start by asking these types of questions without taking
into consideration the fact that sustainability is a multifaceted
concept which influences every field in one way or another. By
using a strategy of simply adding new concepts or subjects to
the curriculum and establishing new centres on an ad hoc
basis, we may leave many problems and various fields in the university
in order to form a holistic and localised strategy for a university,
we must start by understanding the overall vision and mission
of the institution (including each of its faculties and institutions
that are involved in undergraduate education) and the extent to
which it is already addressing ESD. With this perspective, universities
can map out and prioritise critical areas of need in order to
effectively plan and implement ESD throughout the undergraduate
curriculum. To address this strategic challenge, the researcher
developed a theoretical Curriculum Development for ESD Framework
(Figure 2) for guidance in analysing opportunities for incorporating
ESD into the curriculum development process.
framework uses the Deming Wheel Concept2 of Plan, Do, Check,
Act. By implementing this concept in the planning and design
of the proposed curriculum, a dynamic process of continuous
improvement can be ensured. An extended theoretical analysis
and clarification of each area of this framework is discussed
field study was conducted at the University of Malaya to assess
how ESD could be incorporated into the curriculum, with consideration
given to the barriers and drivers of this particular institution.
The investigator met with students and educators, looking at their
mind sets in relation to sustainable development.
Questionnaires and interviews were used as research tools. Investigations
on the current course outline and teaching materials were also
PLAN (Planning and Design of Curriculum)
In the first stage of the curriculum development process, a comprehensive
assessment must be conducted based on the external environment
(e.g., national/international needs, interest and opportunities
for co-operation & networking) and the internal environment
(e.g., corporate objectives, level of interest and teaching capacity).
External Needs and Interest: The extent to which ESD is in
line with or against current local, national and international
needs, visions and interests must be considered. This will direct
what priority areas need to be addressed, which external opportunities
should be utilized and what external barriers should be strategically
External Cooperation and Networking Opportunities: Cooperation
and networking with the external stakeholders of a university
can be very helpful in carrying out a universitys ESD efforts.
By establishing links and partnerships with appropriate community
groups, public agencies, industries and NGOs, universities can
expand their fields of action by sharing knowledge, skills and
experiences, supporting student internships, etc.
survey of lecturers at the University of Malaya revealed that
engaging in relationships with external stakeholders is mostly
done on an ad-hoc basis, without a systematic process
of cooperation within the faculty. For the needs of ESD, this
situation should be improved, since interviews revealed that several
NGOs and local community services (e.g. local agenda 21 initiative)
are interested in encouraging more student participation in their
activities. They are also interested in making direct contributions
to enhance the universitys ESD related curriculum by providing
relevant materials and even sharing experiences through lectures
and discussions with students.
Institutional Commitment: The most important starting point
is to ensure institutional commitment for the proposed ESD effort
by looking at the current policies, visions and ethos of the university.
However, formal policy development alone is not the only pathway
to ensuring commitment. The commitment could also be informal,
without any written statement, probably expressed through undocumented
vision and trends of leadership. Thus, the policies can either
directly or indirectly address ESD.
the University of Malaya, a university level policy emphasising
issues related to sustainable development does not exist. However,
it was observed that many indirect aspects of ESD are being addressed
in the current policy objectives, both at the university and faculty
levels. Emphases within the faculties relate primarily to the
nature and interest of their academic areas. Many stated commitments
within university and faculty policy could be strategically interpreted
to promote ESD further, such as the phrase, addressing the
needs of the country and global challenges.
Objectives and Outcomes: Once a commitment is ensured, a few
basic objectives should guide the work in selecting suitable strategic
approaches. In order to identify a knowledge base that will support
sustainability, a university, particularly the faculties, should
choose culturally appropriate and locally relevant sustainability
goals and issues that reflect the countrys current and future
life conditions and needs.
Course Contents: In order to create an ESD curriculum, educational
communities will need to identify the course content that addresses
the knowledge, issues, perspectives, skills, and values central
to sustainable development from each of the sustainability components,
the University of Malaya case study, the researcher analysed the
2000/2001 semester lists of courses, where each course was evaluated
for its relevance to sustainable development and ESD. The short
descriptions on these courses (provided in the facultys
guidebook) were used to assist the selection. These courses (under
each faculty) were then compiled and labelled on how they address
the main elements of sustainable development. In addition, courses
that taught key qualifications relevant for effective learning
of sustainable development were also labelled in order to identify
the relevant courses, expertise and faculties that could help
strengthen the ESD related courses. At the University of Malaya,
sustainability issues are being addressed differently by different
faculties and departments. Some departments are exhaustively addressing
sustainability issues in their fields and some are not.
Strategic Approaches: The interdisciplinary scope of ESD cannot
be squeezed into one conventional university department. The researcher
has identified three possible approaches to curriculum development
designed to tackle the interdisciplinary nature of issues, problems
and practices3 in ESD. The sequence of approaches follows a logical
progression from the relatively simple addition
of sustainability topics, through incorporation and
limited engagement to full engagement.
Addition: The additive approach is based on the assumption
that sustainable development issues have little relevance to the
existing concerns of the host discipline. ESD is therefore dealt
with in a way that keeps it separate from what is perceived
to be the real learning agenda. This enables the disciplines to
be untouched by the challenges which sustainable development poses
to their existing shape (e.g. a special guest lecture;
a special external course or seminar).
Incorporation: The incorporation approach is based on the
assumption that sustainable development has some relevance to
the dis cipline. The common practice is to add the prefix Environmental
or Sustainable to a whole range of disciplinary courses.
Incorporation contributes to the environmental knowledge
base but may resist a deeper commitment to sustainability within
the whole discipline (e.g. Environmental chemistry in the Chemistry
Engagement: The engagement approach represents a departure
from the academic norm of detached neutrality and recommends that
institutions provide students with the opportunity to develop
the knowledge, skills and commitments to become environmentally
responsible citizens. This is divided into limited
and full engagement. The limited engagement approach
is based on the assumption that all disciplines have something
to offer the environment and society by providing solutions to
the challenges of sustainable development (e.g., considering various
opportunities for encountering environmental issues in all courses,
full engagement approach is based on the assumption that all disciplines
have much to offer the environment and society. The starting point
is the positive goal of a sustainable future, a goal to which
disciplinary contributions are actively sought. The shift from
a limited engagement approach is a shift from a problem-centered
to a vision-directed approach, from a short-term to a long-term
time frame (e.g., using visionary sustainability concepts such
as the Natural Step4 to guide curriculum develoment in all fields).
the University of Malaya, the researcher reviewed current fields
addressing specific sustainability issues (e.g. Environmental
Science and Management); various courses indirectly addressing
sustainability issues (e.g. Community Dentistry); the establishment
of a centre dedicated to environmental issues; general education
available for all undergraduates; and elective courses. Based
on this information and on lecturers views of appropriate
strategies, possible plans included incorporating sustainable
development issues into current courses, or adding new elective
courses for undergraduates. This was essentially an incorporation
DO (Curriculum Implementation)
The second part of the curriculum development process focuses
on how it can be implemented within an existing undergraduate
curriculum. Implementation requires basic conditions such as infrastructure,
teaching resources and tools, and education and training of staff
before effective teaching of sustainable development can begin.
Staff Expertise and Capacity Development: The specific skills
and knowledge required for staff to effectively play their role
in delivering the curriculum should be identified. Thus it is
important to assess the current status of skills and knowledge
within the teaching staff, where these skills can be immediately
utilized and where capacity building needs to be addressed.
survey conducted of lecturers at the University of Malaya revealed
that many felt the most important barrier to teaching sustainable
development was lack of expertise, followed by a lack of resources
and teaching materials, followed by academic and administrative
structure. This kind of knowledge is helpful in determining how
to build capacity for ESD.
Learning Trends and Pedagogy: A commitment to sustainable
development must include well-embedded values, interest and understanding.
Hence, it is important to identify the status of undergraduate
learning trends and what factors encourage deep learning
as opposed to strategic learning and surface
learning. Furthermore, pedagogies that ensure the five components
of effective ESD (see Figure 1) should be identified. Several
pedagogical techniques have proven to be effective in encouraging
deep learning and the effective teaching of sustainable
development. These approaches usually call for a shift away from
conventional teaching toward a learning paradigm in which students
take more responsibility for their own learning; where they are
able to make sense of, rather than reproduce, information and
thus are able to identify for themselves what they need to know
and do to achieve sustainable development in their work and lifestyles.
Delivery Methods and Tools: ESD can be delivered in different
ways with various materials and tools (e.g. case studies, reports,
articles, books, journals, monographs, students assignments, videos,
posters, PowerPoint presentation, CD-ROMs, internet materials,
music, etc.). Availability of such tools should be assessed and
the University of Malaya, many appropriate teaching materials,
particularly in the faculties, are available but not systematized.
The organization and promotion o f these materials is one of the
most important ways to carry ESD forward. An important issue in
Malaysia is that sustainability is still primarily expressed in
English (whether in books, journals, research, newspapers or magazines),
even when writings are locally produced. More readings in Bahasa
Malaysia would encourage greater interest in the subject. At the
same time, there should be more efforts to improve student proficiency
in English, as this would expose them to issues on a global scale.
CHECK (Evaluating the Curriculum)
In the third stage of curriculum development for ESD, the planning
and implementation process should be assessed.
Assessment and Evaluation: Assessment and evaluation help
educators understand degrees of achievement and performance, and
it often forms the core body of data upon which teachers report
on students achievement to the wider community (UNESCO,
2000). Since ESD is an evolving concept, it is important for educators
not to lock the definition, content, scope, and methodology into
a static time frame. Due to the evolving nature of sustainability
issues, those educating for sustainability should be prepared
to adapt continually within geographic and temporal contexts (McKeown,
2001). Thus, a curriculum for ESD also requires an assessment
of the relevance of subject content given the ongoing evolution
of sustainable development in theory and practice.
ACT (Changes in the Curriculum)
In the fourth phase, the curriculum should be reviewed based on
assessment and evaluation.
Improvement: Based upon the principle of continuous
improvement, the curriculum for ESD should be revised (with
changes in pedagogy, teaching materials and tools and re-examination
of the strategies used) based upon the quality of the learning
experiences as determined through assessment and evaluation. This
constant adaptation will require flexibility on the part of both
the educators and the administration.
this study used a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,
and Threats) analysis to assess the extent to which the University
of Malayas level of competencies (based on an internal and
external analysis) represents strategic strengths and weaknesses.
The external analysis consisted of examining university, local,
national and global sustainability goals and issues; the general
mentality toward SD in Malaysia; the Malaysian higher educational
system and its own challenges; relevant legislation; government,
non-governmental organizations, other universities and the media.
Once a SWOT analysis is done, the university can consider strategic
alternatives to achieve its goals.
Based on this framework and the analyses conducted, three main
conclusions were reached:
a university needs to undertake a Phased Strategy
in order to systematically and holistically develop a curriculum
in ESD for its undergraduates. This involves three different levels
Umbrella planning, to be undertaken by the university
at the general strategic level of the ESD curriculum development
and implementation process;
Common planning, to be undertaken by all faculties
in related areas where they can work together to achieve similar
goals for their ESD curriculum development and implementation
Differentiated planning, to be undertaken by
each faculty to address specific areas and issues in their ESD
curriculum development and implementation process.
there is a critical need for a localisation strategy
for a university ESD curriculum development process. This has
been shown by the case study, in which several important issues
that are unique to the University of Malaya have been identified,
such as its institutional culture and levels of expertise in sustainable
the localisation strategy must include a consideration
of national conditions. In the context of Malaysia, socio-economic
and environmental conditions, policies and educational direction
can support or impede the implementation of ESD at the university.
this author concludes that implementing an overall ESD curriculum
development process for undergraduates in a university is possible
if one begins with understanding the whole problem and then moves
to specific solutions. There are a huge variety of attitudes,
practices, strengths and weaknesses within any university, field
and faculty. Thus, if we do not start to tackle the challenge
systematically, we can never reach a strategy for ESD that touches
every undergraduate and provides strong justification by showing
that future graduates will contribute significantly toward national
and international efforts in sustainability. Furthermore, fundamental
change in curriculum is not feasible if it does not consider local
issues and concerns.
1 - In a Malaysian context, the concept of ethical sustainability
needs to be included in accordance with the sustainable development
guidelines issued by the Federal Department of Town and Country
Planning. The guidelines were designed to combine both the declared
Principles of Sustainable Development by WCED and relevant universal
Islamic values. The JPBD guidelines also emphasized connecting the
evolution of national policies with sustainable development, and
- The Deming Wheel Concept was developed by W. Edward
Deming. It is a systematic strategic approach leading to continuous
improvement. For more information see the W. Edward Deming Institute
- Most of the ideas were derived from Khan (1995) and experiences
from other universities.
- The Natural Step, founded by Dr Karl Henrik Robert and jointly
developed by 50 Swedish scientists, is a science based, systems
framework to guide organisations and communities to understanding
and moving toward sustainability. See the Natural Step Website:
1. Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR)
(2001). Sustainable Development Education Panel Interim Report.
Published 25 September 1998. United Kingdom.
Jabatan Perancang Bandar dan Desa (JPBD) (1997). Garis Panduan
Perancangan dan Pembangunan Sejagat. Kuala Lumpur
Khan, A. Shirley (1995). Overview: The Environmental Agenda Series,
Taking Responsibility Promoting Sustainable Practices through
Higher Education Curricula. Council for Environmental Education
Programme. London: Pluto Press.
Mc Keown, Rosalyn (2001). Education for Sustainable Development
Toolkit. Tennessee: Waste Management Research and Education Institution
UNESCO, Teaching and Learning for A Sustainable Future: A Multimedia
Professional Development Programme (Last Updated: 2001). Available
Mohamad is a tutor with the Department of Science and Technology
Studies (STS), Faculty of Science, at the University of Malaya
(50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Email: Tel: 603 - 7967 4166; Fax:
603 - 7967 4396). She is planning to undertake her PhD in Science
and Technology Policy, with a focus on the environment. For more
detail on this research, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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