Resource Title

Education for Sustainable Development: A study of opportunities and linkages in the primary and post-primary curriculum


The purpose of this study is to realise recommendation 6 of the National Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development in Ireland, which is specific to priority action area 3: curriculum at pre-school, primary and post primary.

Resource Details


“This two-step approach facilitates an interrogation of curriculum frameworks and syllabus/specification documents to uncover what the NCCA has been doing well in relation to ESD and where it could do better or improve. It is intended that the resulting recommendations will help to ensure that good practice in relation to ESD opportunities and linkages be taken on board in ongoing and future curriculum reform and review, and in the development of a National Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development beyond 2020.”

The target audience for this study are stakeholders such as:

  • Department of Education and Skills
  • National Council for Curriculum and Assessment
  • Individuals and organisations engaged in curriculum resource development or curriculum support,
    such as additional government departments, civil society organisations/non-governmental
    organisations etc.

The study takes a two-step approach:

Step 1: This study maps high-level curriculum frameworks in Ireland from early childhood to post-primary to eight cross-cutting key competencies for sustainability, relevant to all the Sustainable Development Goals, as outlined in a UNESCO publication entitled Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives (UNESCO, 2017: 10).

The UNESCO key competencies ‘are necessary for all learners of all ages worldwide’ and are viewed as ‘transversal, multifunctional and context-dependent’ (UNESCO, 2017: 10). They represent internationally recognised standards in relation to learner acquisition of higher order skills, dispositions and values, and so provide a useful comparative tool for looking at the development of curriculum frameworks in the Irish context.

Step 2: inclusion of case studies of curricular components from primary, junior and senior cycle levels. These case studies identify the aspect of the rationale and aim/objectives of the specific subject or short course which are in keeping with the spirit and intent of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development).

Case studies also highlight sample learning objectives (primary) or outcomes (junior/senior cycle) which provide opportunities for teaching and learning about one or more Sustainable Development Goal.

  • Primary case studies: Language (infants-2nd class); SESE (History, Geography &
    Science); Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE)
  • Junior Cycle case studies: Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE); Business Studies; English; History; Science; Visual Art; Home Economics; Caring for Animals (level 2); CSI: Exploring forensic science (level 2)
  • Senior Cycle case studies: Agricultural Science; English; Politics and Society; Geography

The study ends with a series of ‘good practice’ conclusions arising from the research and a list of future curriculum development review recommendations regarding ESD.

Figure 4 NCCA’s approach to the ESD opportunities and linkages study, p.14, Education for Sustainable Development: A study of the opportunities and linkages in the primary and post-primary curriculum by the NCCA (2018)