Curriculum Framework - Education for Sustainable Development

Tuesday, September 22, 2020



 Education as Foundation for sustainable development


The Curriculum Framework for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) helps to im-plement the national strategy “from project to structure”. It is a contribution to the new UNESCO Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development following the UN ESD-decade and to the United Nation’s 2030-agenda with the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Its focus is on ensuring that – in times of rising global challenges – quality of school education becomes the foundation for sustainable development.

 A project of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs and of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development


The Curriculum Framework is the result of the joint initiative of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) and of the Federal Ministry for Eco-nomic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). On 04. 03. 2011, the KMK’s school board agreed to updating the Framework first published in 2007 and to the extension into further school subjects. The evaluation of the utilisation of the first edition and experiences gained from implementation projects were to be taken into account. As previously, the BMZ was in charge of financial support and the organisational implementation of this project by En-gagement Global (EG), under the guidance of the KMK ESD reporters. The working groups, composed of about 30 specialists in school subject didactics from universities as well as of teachers, was accompanied by a project group of representatives from the ministries of cul-tural affairs, from science and non-governmental organisations. The second edition of the Framework of Orientation is the result of a working process of approximately four years, including a multitude of suggestions in the course of a professional hearing on 03., 04. 09. 2014. On 11. 06. 2015, this new edition was adopted by the KMK plenum.

 Inclusion of all school subjects


Following KMK’s instructions, the extended new edition of the Framework refers to Prima-ry Level and Secondary Level I and provides basics for the extension into Secondary Lev-el II. This edition answers the quest for an extension of the learning area by the subjects German language, New foreign languages, Fine Arts, Music, History, Mathematics, Natural Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) and Sports. The chapter for primary education was updated as well. The chapters on the subjects Geography, Political Education, Religion/ Ethics and Economy as well as on Vocational Education have been taken from the first edi-tion without changes. In principal, all subjects until lower secondary school certification are now being included in the learning area of Global Development. An annotation and addi-tional bibliography in the chapter on Vocational Education refers to last years’ develop-ments and to the need for action.

 Tasks of the learning area Global Development 

By a stronger practical orientation, the target groups of the new edition are – more than before – stakeholders at schools and their cooperation partners. The objective is to link this learning area with the schools’ quality development in the context of self-reliant schools. Here, learning area does not refer to a specific group of school subjects with an allocated number of lessons. Instead, the didactical concepts of the subjects are to be re-oriented step by step, the coordination between subjects facilitated, inter-subject and project-based forms of education inspired and a relationship with out-of-school activities or with life at schools strengthened. The Curriculum Framework is meant to be an impulse generator for education and administration at all levels and for educational service institutions and part-ners of cooperation. It is a frame of reference for the development of teaching/educational plans and school curricula, for the design of school lessons and out-of-school activities, for area and subject specific requirements and their evaluation and – even more so in the new edition – for school administration and the education of teachers.

Being challenged in a dynamically changing globalising environment, children and youth are as learners at the centre. From the perspective of the existing subject structures, it is shown how an education based on context and Lebenswelten (lifeworlds) can be designed by inter-subject coordination and increasingly self-organised modes of learning – an educa-tion oriented towards the fundamental principle of sustainable development. The point is not to add more themes, but to strengthen the subjects’ contact to reality (and its perspec-tive for a sustainable future). Competency based sample lessons for the newly included subjects may show how these targets can be achieved without an unrealistic extension of requirements at school.

Orientation at the fundamental principle of sustainable development

The learning area Global Development is a substantial part of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD); it supports the integration of ESD into school education. The overall orientation at the fundamental principle of sustainable development is based on a global consensus existing for more than 20 years. Following the principle of perspective change, as many different perspectives as possible are being included in the shaping of a sustainable future. 

Unlike school subjects, the learning area Global Development is hardly based on empirically grounded concepts of reference sciences that have been differentiated over many years. Hence, it is mainly oriented at national and international resolutions on sustainable devel-opment and at a didactical concept of dimensions of development which is based on the principle of sustainable development that has been accepted and gradually extended by the community of states since the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development. On the background of different interests of actors and taking into account cultural diversity, the concept provides orientation for the analysis of decisions and processes on different levels as well as insight into their interconnectedness. It needs to be taken into account however that – unlike in politics – the central principle of sustainable development in education is not meant to be a primarily normative sustainability paradigm in terms of “guarding rails” and defined limits of planetary carrying capacity or even desirable patterns of behaviour but rather to provide orientation for analysis, evaluation and action in processes of learning. 

Education target, guiding principles, competencies and theme areas 

The superior education target in the learning area of Global Development is to acquire basic competencies for a sustainable design of private and professional life, for the participation in society and for shared responsibility in a global context. The Curriculum Framework de-fines eleven core competencies in the fields of Erkennen (Recognising) – Bewerten (Assess-ing) – Handeln (Acting), to which various competencies of school subjects refer, which are relevant for the learning area. Competencies are being acquired in dealing with themes in the process of learning. These are listed in a principally open catalogue of 21 theme areas that are relevant for Global Development Education. 

The didactical approach for reaching these targets is based on five guiding principles:


•\ Orientation at the fundamental principle of sustainable development

 •\ Analysis of development processes on different levels of action •\ Appreciation of diversity

 •\ Ability to change perspective

 •\ Context- or Lebenswelt (lifeworld)-orientation.

 Learning topic and basic assumptions 

A learning area with globalisation as topic that connects local with global processes and encompasses all subjects at school is permeated by terms and basic assumptions like the understanding of sustainable development – which cannot be explained in detail in each context. Seven thematic boxes are inserted to explain such terms, with basic definitions that are valid for the whole Framework:


1.\ Global change – a challenge for our capacity to learn

2.\ Buen Vivir and sustainable development 

3.\ National boards and resolutions on ESD 

4.\ Eurocentrism 

5.\ Global governance and the paradox of sovereignty 

6.\ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 

7.\ Inclusion

Sustainable development (as key term) is not equated with growth but needs to be compre-hended as sustainable development towards a quality of life for everyone, taking ecological conditions into account. The six chapters of the Framework deal with interconnected yet separate subjects and can also be approached separately for implementing the aims of the learning area: 

Chapter 1: Conceptual foundations of the Framework 

Based on national and international resolutions and on scientific knowledge regarding glob-al change, subjects and elements of the didactic concept are being shown. This concept is characterised by the coherent structure of the fundamental principle of sustainable devel-opment with its four dimensions economy – social affairs – environment – politics and re-spective target dimensions. It provides orientation for autonomous recognition, evaluation and action on all levels. There is reference to development politics and existing strategies of sustainability. 

Chapter 2: Basic conditions at schools and educational challenges 

Recent studies help to understand the change of Lebenswelten (lifeworlds) and the relation-ship of children and youth to globalisation and to values like sustainable development. Here, a focus lies on digital media and their utilisation which are particularly important for the learning area. Perception of the diverse conditions prevailing at schools is described as a precondition for mastering educational challenges of the learning area, e.g. for the forming of identities, for the development of value concepts and the ability to change perspective. 

Chapter 3: Competencies, themes, standards, design of lessons and curricula


Eleven core competencies in the areas Erkennen (recognising), Bewerten (assessing) and Handeln (acting) are being deduced from the general education target and from the guiding principles of the learning area, and criteria for their selection are listed. In a similar way, 21 relevant thematic areas are being defined. The connection of selected competencies with adequate context-themes relevant to the learners’ lives are in the focus of suggestions for the concrete design of lessons. In a sub-chapter, tools are offered for the construction of an internal school curriculum for Global Development Education. 

Chapter 4: Implementation in school subjects and on different education levels 

Here, apart from the unchanged texts of the first edition (Political Education, Geography, Religion/Ethics, Economy and Vocational Education) contributions for primary school level and on German language, New foreign languages, Creative Arts, Music, History, Mathemat-ics, Natural Sciences (Biology, Physics, Chemistry) and Sports are to be found. They all de-scribe the added value of the respective subject to the learning area, list subject-related competencies for the eleven core competencies, propose suitable topics and offer a compe-tency oriented sample lesson. 

Chapter 5: Sustainable Development as task for the whole school 

Apart from the content-related coordination of school subjects within the learning area of Global Development the institution school as a whole gains in quality and outreach by align-ing its profile with sustainability. This can encompass – as the situation may be – steering of the school development and school management, strengthening of the school boards and cooperation of actors, networking and partnerships as well as students’ companies and re-source management or the sustainable construction and furnishing of the school buildings. Inspiring examples from different parts of Germany as well as helpful contact information is given. 

Chapter 6: The learning area Global Development in teacher education 

For the generally recognised need to improve teachers’ education in its structures and con-tents in order to strengthen Education for Sustainable Development, approaches in the three stages of teachers’ education and training are presented. The requirements are being shown and proposals offered for handling the challenges in shared responsibility (universi-ties, public institutions, professional associations etc.) as well as examples from different federal states of successful steps for the inclusion of the learning area Global Development into the teachers’ education.plementation Concept


Implementation Concept 

Mainstreaming the Curriculum Framework into new learning concepts 

The 2nd edition of the Curriculum Framework: Education for sustainable development is now available in German and English, in printed and digital form1. A broad-based education-al implementation has started, supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), through information events, conferences, seminars and projects, in cooperation with the 16 German federal states and civil society. The Curriculum Frame-work is targeted at curriculum designers, planners and senior executives at different levels of the educational system, and also directly at schools and their partners. Its practical imple-mentation requires further support. Teachers and students need new project models, text-books and learning material. In order to produce them, the close cooperation between sub-ject didactics, teaching practice and textbook publishers is needed. Cross-curricular topics (e.g. diversity of values, cultures and living conditions; globalisation of economy and la-bour; peace and conflict; global environmental changes, cf. the 21 thematic areas of the Curriculum Framework) can be the focus, just as specific school subjects or the cooperation of subjects (see e.g. Meyer, C. (Ed. 2016): Diercke Geographie und Musik. Zugänge zu Mensch, Kultur und Raum, Braunschweig). 

In any case, the didactical concept outlined in chapter 1 of the Curriculum Framework, and the competency based approach of chapter 3 should be addressed and implemented with the recommended student-oriented approaches. A particularly important contribution to educational transformation is a common agreement on values and objectives. Such an agree-ment can be seen in the global community’s resolution on sustainable development goals (SDGs) and in the UNESCO impulses for the implementation of the Agenda 2030 in educa-tion. This basic understanding is integral to the Curriculum Framework and can also be found in the international and German efforts to implement the UNESCO Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development. In an increasingly globalised world, the principles of sustainable development have become the central values of a vulnerable and extremely endangered environment and humanity. The Agenda 2030 has declared sustainable development to be the joint objective of the 17 SDGs. The Agenda links this fundamental principle to the universal human rights and to the learning objective of global citizenship. The significance of education for the achievement of the SDGs is emphasised and determined by target 4.7. Here, Education for Sustainable De-velopment (ESD) is mentioned as a key instrument for achieving these goals.2


It is a concern of the Curriculum Framework to connect different educational traditions like Environmental Education and Global Learning within ESD. In the desired transformation process the comprehensive sustainable development principle will be the value centre and common starting point of all school subjects and school activities (see graph).

According to the Curriculum Framework learning processes at schools are not only based on common values, they also share common objectives: “Following the guiding principle of sustainable development, [they] aim at developing basic competencies for shaping one’s personal and professional life, for active involvement in the transformation of society and for accepting shared responsibility on a global level.”(chapter 3, p. 87). Moreover, relevant educational topics need to be related to the students’ lifeworlds (Lebenswelten) and can usually not be taught meaningfully from the exclusive perspective of one school subject. Appropriate didactical and organisational forms of cross-curricular and subject-linking learning need to be developed and enhanced. Even where the chance is limited to implement these forms, the principle of sustainable development will be the foundation of all subjects and supplementary educational activities as well as of school management within a whole school approach. 

To achieve these goals, the German BMZ and Engagement Global cooperate with the Mahat-ma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP), a ­UNESCO category 1 institute. MGIEP commits itself to a better integration and structural embedding of Education for Peace, Sustainable Development und Global Citizenship (EPSG). Even if this approach may seem unique and bold, it seems to be existential and has many features in common with the concept and impulses of the Curriculum Framework. The strong focus on peace can also be found in the Curriculum Framework, namely in thematic area 16 Peace and conflict. The goal-perspective “Good Governance” of the sustainable develop-ment principle embeds this focus into a larger context.

Conceptual foundations of the Curriculum Framework

Dieter Appelt (until 2013), Hannes Siege

 .1 \      Tasks and target of the Curriculum Framework 

Severe environmental changes like the hazards of global warming, the shortage of natural resources and the loss of biodiversity as well as the dimension of global poverty, an increas-ing restriction of political rights and civil liberties in many parts of the world, wars and the threat by terrorism as well as the risks and crises of the financial systems are political, eco-nomic, social and ecological challenges. They intensify the awareness that a sustainable globalisation can only be designed with the objectives of sustainable development and new understanding of growth (see BOX 1 Global change - a challenge for our capacity to learn). The advancement of the Rio process for sustainable development after 2015 in connection with the follow-up programmes of major UN projects like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) put increasing emphasis on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Within this context, the UNESCO points out that it is in everyone’s interest to make sure that the quality of education is in the centre of a development agenda “Post-2015” because it is the most important transformative force for sustainable development.3


At the same time, doubts arise regarding the possibility to control social change towards sustainable development within the present general framework. There is an increase in un-derstanding that climate change cannot be totally avoided any more, that an effective delink of economic growth from the consumption of resources is not in sight, that several plane-tary limits have already been transgressed and that we hence also need to focus on devel-oping strategies to adapt to the inevitable facts.4 

The Earth Summit of Rio in 1992 was the starting point for the international acceptance of the guiding principle of sustainable development and for the necessity to attune social, economic and ecological objectives. In Germany, notably the BMZ and non-governmental development organisations (VENRO) emphasised – quite in line with the resolutions of the UN-steered follow-up process – the political perspective of “good governance” as addition-al important goal which got into focus during the follow-up conference in Johannesburg 2002. Since the 1990s, the guiding principle of sustainable development has been increas-ingly acknowledged by German politics and civil society.

Since the end of the Cold War four mutually reinforcing waves of global change create a new reality­ of the international system:

 1.\ networked global economy: the accelerating economic globalisation which creates manifold chances but at the same time global vulnerabilities and risks;

 2.\ diffuse power structures: The tectonic shifts of power towards the emerging countries, most of all China, India, Brazil, which undermine the Western dominance and create polycentric power constellations and blockages;

 3.\ Anthropocene – the geological epoch of mankind: the realisation that mankind has become the driving force in the earth system, and that it is likely that within this century there will be a change in the earth system with incalculable effects for nine Billion people, if the global econ-omy will go ahead on the mainstream growth path producing greenhouse gases and consuming natural resources;

 4.\ Communication infrastructures for the global society: For the first time in the history of mankind the new communication technologies make a global exchange of information, knowl-edge and news possible in real-time. New, virtual, cross-border cooperation areas are thus created and at the same time hitherto unknown modes of data control and supervision.

In the new international system of an extremely cross-linked world, we have not yet found or invented a political order that could provide security, prosperity and democracy for as many global citizens as possible. 

The 21st century is marked by an emerging global society with a so far unknown density of global cultural, economic and political networks. A global market economy is arising which can be beneficial also for non-Western societies, but which is impending to transgress the limits of the earth system. Global systemic risks are challenging a political world order which is diffuse at the beginning of the 21st century and doesn’t have a clear centre. The problem solving strategies of this world order may take very different forms like juridification (e.g. the establishment of the IPCC), in-formal networks of coordination (like G 7, G 20, BRICS) or relapses to sometimes anachronistic power politics (like currently in the Ukrainian crisis). We are living in a ”time between” – between the era of the nation states with most people‘s lives basically depending on the dynamics within their own nations, as long as “external peace” was assured, and the era of an extremely cross-linked global society, which the nation states have but limited chances to “steer”. But at the same time we are living in a transition period. This period is crucial for the question whether humanity will learn to accept responsibility for the stability of the earth system and hence for the livelihood of many future generations.


The creation of a global culture of cooperation is the precondition for peacefully designing the global interdependencies of the 21st century. It is the precondition for checking the global sys-temic risks and for stabilising the global common goods (most of all the earth system, but also the international financial markets) and to use them on the basis of generally accepted criteria of fairness.


Dirk Messner, Director of the German Development Institute (DIE), co-chairman of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU)

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