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Education for sustainable development (ESD) piloted by schools in Japan, Thailand and Viet Nam

Education for sustainable development (ESD) piloted by schools in Japan, Thailand and Viet Nam

A report from the 2nd Regional Meeting of the UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet), 5 – 8 September 2022, Tokyo

Kohei Uno

Report and photos by Kohei Uno,

Intern, Executive Office,

UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education (UNESCO Bangkok)

The second ASPnet regional meeting of 2022, ‘UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet): Collaborative action research on the role of schools in achieving SDGs in Asia-Pacific’, was co-organised by UNESCO Bangkok and the Asia-Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU), and supported by the Japan Funds in Trust, and convened in Tokyo from 5 to 8 September 2022.  

The meeting’s thematic collaborative action research project aimed to address remaining gaps between policy and practice, with a focus on teachers and education for sustainable development (ESD) as a critical pillar of SDG 4, Target 4.7:  

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.  

Additionally, the Project aimed to engage regional teachers of lower secondary level schools in producing new knowledge expressly from the school perspective, and relating to three key components: curricula, pedagogy, and assessment of ESD competencies.  

Meeting of ASPnet in Tokyo

Over the 2021–22 academic year, the collaborative action research project reviewed in the 2nd Regional Meeting was conducted among a set of ASPnet schools in Japan, Thailand, and Viet Nam. Participants in the meeting to review this action research included schoolteachers and education administrators from Japan’s Omori 6th Lower Secondary School and Shotoku Gakuen Junior High School; Thailand’s Benchama Maharat School and Muangkrabi School; and Viet Nam’s Tay Son Lower Secondary School and Ngo Sy Lien Lower Secondary School. Among the participants were education academics, researchers, and other education stakeholders from Japan’s Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD); Miyagi University; Okayama University; Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT); the ACCU; Thailand Ministry of Education (MoE); UNESCO Bangkok; and the Viet Nam National Institute of Educational Sciences (VNIES).  

Participants of the meeting

The aim of the 2nd Regional Meeting was to share and discuss the results of the past academic year’s action research, namely by: 

  1. Sharing practices, activities and reflections from the school/country level activities 
  2. Visiting the schools in Tokyo for mutual learning and discussion 
  3. Gaining a better understanding of approaches to integrating ESD in lower secondary school education in Japan 

Practices, activities, and reflections from school- and country-level activities 


In Japan, the concept of ESD is integrated into the National Curriculum Standard, and schools can elect an original theme or integrate complementary ways to address ESD. For example, a school in a coastal village prone to tsunamis has incorporated disaster risk reduction (DRR) into the school curriculum as an overall, cross-cutting theme. 

Thailand’s secondary schools have embedded the Thai-specific concept of ‘Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP)’ into their curriculum. Indeed, SEP, which can be attributed to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX, r. 1946–2016), constitutes a uniquely Thai approach to development and sustainability that in some aspects approximates in spirit the underlying concepts of ESD. In Viet Nam, all secondary schools are required to follow the concept of SDGs as they are found embedded in the country’s National Curriculum.  

Meeting of ASPnet in Tokyo


Regarding pedagogy, Mr Kiichi Oyasu (ACCU) and Mr Hiroki Fuji (Okayama University) demonstrated how systems thinking is integrated into the inquiry-based learning process in Japan’s pilot schools’ science classes. Ms Duriya Amatavivat (Advisor, MoE, Thailand) described Thai teachers’ efforts to integrate ESD into subjects by employing an active learning method through a ‘One Classroom, One Learning Base’ (OCOLB) method. Additionally, as an innovative practice in Thailand pilot schools, teachers followed the seven steps of learning: 1) exploring issues; 2) understanding knowledge; 3) finding the relationship of different kinds of knowledge; 4) analysing situations and proposing solutions; 5) managing and planning; 6) field studying; and 7) sharing knowledge. Ms Bui Thi Duen (VNIES, Viet Nam) noted that collaboration/group work, project-based, and inquiry-based learning encourage students to interact with one another, in that these methods expressly promote ‘learning by doing’. 


As for the all-important aspect of assessment, Ms Tran Bich Ngan (VNIES) recounted how her team developed a ‘Transforming Assessment’, which entails qualitative and quantitative assessments, feedback, scoring, self-assessment and peer assessment (i.e. for students, parents and teachers). These various assessments helped teachers gain accurate and timely information for adjusting teaching activities and efforts to motivate students to study more effectively. Mr Tomonori Ichinose (Miyagi University) presented an evaluation model which identified transformative competencies. He also explained how lower secondary school teachers used the various assessment tools, including student self-evaluations and teachers’ teaching evaluations. The survey conducted by the Omori 6th Lower Secondary School shows that the students are now more aware of SDGs throughout their learning, and this leads to their taking actions directly related to the SDGs. Mr Pattadon Longpan (Programme Officer, MoE, Thailand) described indicators developed by the Thailand Ministry of Education, including three-phase assessment, and the MoE’s identifying key ESD competencies, among them application skills, communication skills, collaboration and teamwork, entrepreneurship, and organisational skills.   

School visits in Tokyo for mutual learning

Participants visited schools in Tokyo.

Participants visited the private junior high school, Shotoku Gakuen, where they observed classrooms equipped with ICT, and others designed for specific subjects, such as music, art, and science. They also had an opportunity to interact with various students. Participants also visited the public lower secondary school Omori 6th, where they observed how a public school can integrate the concept of ESD into a whole-school environment. For example, Omori 6th developed the SDGs calendar, and students created their own peace declaration, the ‘Peace Karuta’(card game), and created original SDGs. 

Participants visited schools in Tokyo.

Gaining a better understanding of various approaches to integrating ESD in Japan 

Mr Shun Shirai (MEXT, Japan) presented how the concept of ESD in Japan is mainstreamed in lower secondary education. In 2017–18, new National Curriculum standards were issued for Japan’s primary and secondary schools, which have been implemented since 2020. He also introduced good practices in Japan’s ASPnet schools (e.g. garbage collection activities along the seashore, learning how to support blind people, and Disaster Risk Reduction education). He additionally shared the results of the annual survey on ASPnet in Japan, and its indication that there has been an increase in general awareness among students of the relationship between ESD and the 17 SDGs.  

Ms Reina Okada (Researcher, BERD) provided information on Internet and Communication Technologies (ICT) in education. She noted that young Japanese students possess relatively high academic skills, namely in science and mathematics, but low intellectual interest in, and hope about, their future. She introduced the Benesse activities to promote inquiry-based learning, such as the Benesse STEAM Festival and the National High School Social Business Project. These projects have provided spaces where student participants can share their prototypes, ideas, models and product designs for changing society, and where they can benefit by feedback provided by business people and other community members. 

Next Steps

All country teams expressed a desire to see in-person and online international exchanges of students and teachers continue. In the short term, a Japanese team will translate the ASPnet evaluation and the ESD assessment into English for wider dissemination among other countries’ ASPnet schools. The Thailand team will organize the national ASPnet annual meeting and share their experiences of the 2nd Regional Meeting with colleagues. The Viet Nam team will put out a new ESD publication that will bring together various case studies of the participating schools. The Viet Nam team will also create a simple version of the ESD calendar.  

Looking ahead, the Thailand team plans to establish secretariats to coordinate the ASPnet schools at the provincial level, and invite universities to be partners of ASPnet schools, like a Japanese ASP UnivNet. Participants agreed that there is a need to provide more opportunities for students to present their research outputs. 

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