Study finds ‘universal’ challenges to sustainability education

A new paper on education for sustainable development and global citizenship education in six Gulf states has found “universal challenges” to implementing sustainability, and called for an overhaul of the “imported” Western educational system. “The time is ripe for frank discussions,” it argues.

The study comprises a literature review of education for sustainable development (ESD) and global citizenship education (GCED) – both of which to varying degrees are considered “a vital part of the shift to achieve post-carbon economies and economic diversification” in the Gulf.

It found that the key challenges, bottlenecks and recommendations for the implementation of ESD and GCED were strikingly similar to other regions, especially Europe.

“This indicates a deeper structural and foundational problem with the imported Western education system model in and of itself,” notes the study published in Globalisation, Societies and Education on 9 October.

The study was authored by Hira Amin, Alina Zaman and Evren Tok of the College of Public Policy at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, and covered the six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

Amin told University World News: “In terms of education, my conclusion is that education as a whole needs to be rethought and redesigned for our new world, which is volatile, complex and in a constant state of change.”

Amin admitted that while there had not been “major success stories” in any education systems around the world, as far as alternatives for education for sustainable development were concerned, there had been “small scale” successful projects. But she did not list them.

Beyond Western models

The study suggests that leaders “should enable regional discussions and key stakeholders’ meetings to create a new national framework for education” and that stakeholders should be “encouraged to think creatively and look for inspiration beyond the standard Western models”.

In practice, new models would be difficult to implement in the private sector “due to high numbers of transient international expatriates to the region who demand their national curricula”, the authors note.

“We suggest to either start within the public sector and grow from there or to focus on the non-formal education sector. Once a new vision is created, then an in-depth and detailed strategy as well as teacher training should be developed gradually, implemented and assessed.”

The study is titled “Education for sustainable development and global citizenship education in the GCC: A systematic literature review”.

The systematic literature review identified 52 articles published in journals, books and dissertations, 34 of which found that “new and effective pedagogy” is needed in teaching the skills required for sustainable development and global citizenship, while 15 stressed “the need for institutionalisation, effective policies and leadership”.

Universality of findings

The study indicated that the most striking feature of the findings is their universality.

At the pedagogical level, these included the need for a wider integrated ecosystem with multiple stakeholders, investment in school teacher and university faculty training, and curriculum development. Among the challenges to effective pedagogy, the study listed resistance to change by faculty and lack of collaboration with industrial partners.

According to the study, these and other findings correlate with findings in other regions, including Europe where a report titled Education for Environmental Sustainability was published in 2021.

Similar to Europe, the systematic literature review found that most GCC national visions and strategic documents contained the concepts of sustainability and global citizenship. Yet there was a misalignment between these grand visions and practice on the ground.

As in Europe, the systematic literature review indicated the need for creating a cross-cutting, transdisciplinary, student-centred educational system and curricula that were transformative and collaborative, and included institutions and organisations outside the traditional classroom boundaries.

As in Europe, the systematic literature review indicated the need for monitoring, assessment and ensuring that key sustainability competencies and learning outcomes are developed, aligned and coherent.

“This indicates that the challenges of effective ESD and GCED are more related to the structure and inherent values imbued in the modern educational system in a broader sense,” the study pointed out.


Among its recommendations, the study suggests “exploring alternative means for education and shaping people’s worldviews outside traditional educational settings, particularly social media as the region boasts some of the highest usages in the world”.

It also calls for incorporating the experiences of policy-makers and ministry officials, rather than only analysing official documents, “for a better understanding of the challenges top-down”.

Amin stressed to University World News the need for national sustainability goals and objectives to be “institutionalised” at the school and university level.

She said it was important for all university staff to be involved in developing strategic plans for their respective institutions and in the design of training programmes. She noted the need for a network or online forum for university staff, “where they can exchange ideas, discuss challenges and steps to overcome them”.

The establishment of an “interconnected sustainability ecosystem that connects higher educational institutes with local and regional industries, organisations and initiatives … would ensure sharing of knowledge and providing real-world, transdisciplinary experiences for students and university staff”, Amin told University World News.

The study notes: “The GCC context has undergone sweeping educational reforms and is still attempting to find a balance between localisation, preservation of tradition and language as well as being competitive in a globalised world.”

Thus, “the time is ripe for frank discussions over the overarching objectives of education and pedagogical practices.

“Redesigning education is no small feat, but our radical and mercurial world requires radical thinkers who can thrive in constant change,” says the study.