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Letters From ~ 5 

 Letter from Europe

 Bildung and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) 

Uwe Gartenschlaeger

I would like to dedicate my letter to a project ALE networks from eleven European countries have worked on during the last two years. Its main idea is to use the traditions of the Nordic Folkbildning and the European enlightenment for re-thinking the methods and values of current ALE in our challenging times of transition. The Danish Adult Educator and Philosopher Lena Rachel Andersen gave us the initial  inspiration to try this.  For me, it represents an attempt to contribute to a global discussion by offering some of our European experiences.

One issue we discussed was about enriching ESD with some Bildung ideas, here is what we suggest:

As the consequences of ignoring the natural boundaries of our planet become more and more obvious, the concept of “sustainability” gained momentum in the previous decades. In 2015, world leaders adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to respond to the challenges. Education has to play a central role in reaching these goals. Target 4.7 of SDG 4, which covers the education sector, underlines the importance of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). ESD focuses on a holistic and global view of our complex world with its interdependent ecological, economic, social and political dimensions, while valuing the importance of interventions at the local level. A social process of understanding and negotiation is needed on what the path to a sustainable society can look like.  With the background of urgency, adults have to be acknowledged as the main drivers for the changes needed.

The World Conferences for ALE, CONFINTEA VII in June 2022, claimed that “ALE must be part of this green transformation”. It gives youth and adults an understanding of the issue, raises their awareness and equips them with the knowledge and agency needed to adapt to and counter climate change, and develop resilience and agency for transformation.

The concept of Bildung can enrich the debates and the practices of ESD in several aspects:

The Bildung concept as it is reflected in the “Bildung Rose” reminds us to widen the existing ESD concepts by including more elements dealing with e.g., narratives, ethics and aesthetics, recognizing their potential in the change processes ahead.

The aspects of individual learning, with its emphasis on emotional depth and morality, are weakly reflected in the current ESD concepts. This has to be rectified.

ESD and the Bildung concept talk about the need to expand people’s sense of responsibility beyond the community and the nation-state, including the responsibility for the planet and humanity. We have to equip people with the skills and competencies needed, e.g., by promoting language learning and intercultural exchange.

Finally, the idea of empowering citizens to become “agents of change” is present in the Bildung concept, based especially on the experiences of the Nordic Folkbildning, underlining how adults can become active transformative forces as well.


Curious about it? I would like to invite you, Chris, and all readers to visit our webpage:


All the best!


Uwe Gartenschlaeger is the Director of DVV International and the President of the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA).

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