Sustainability, Education, and Digitalization in Schools


This roundtable brings together eight experts to explore how learning in schools is shaped, especially at the interface of digital transformation and sustainability. The focus lies on potential scenarios for, challenges to, and drivers of organizational and systemic learning as well as ideas and projects that change learning and shape education in the digital world.



The participants are experts from diverse fields and communities including:

  • Political representatives (UNESCO).

  • Technological innovators.

  • Teaching innovators.

  • Practitioners in school.


Topics and Questions

This roundtable brings together eight experts to explore how learning in schools is shaped, especially at the interface of digital transformation and sustainability.

The focus of the discussion is on two main areas:

  • Potential scenarios, challenges, and drivers related to organizational and systemic learning.

  • Ideas and projects that can change learning and shape education in the digital world.

The conversation is guided by the following questions:

  • How is learning shaped through and impacted by digitalization?

  • How can we identify evidence-generating and evidence-supported learning processes that promote a sustainable, digitalized transformation of schools?

  • What are the necessary prerequisites, conditions, and frameworks needed for a transformation of schools?

  • What type of learning do we foresee in education for sustainable development?




Context and Challenges

Roundtable Context

  • Digitalization in schools can be perceived as a threat when schools are not well equipped for adoption.

  • Teachers may not feel well supported and may not have enough knowledge about digitalization challenges and potential.

  • Other stakeholders, including politicians, do see a greater potential of digitalization:

  • Digitalization can provide easier access to education and individualized learning.

  • This access can contribute to an inclusive society that makes it easier for people to develop their potential.

  • Sustainability requires new ways of teaching and learning and a strong focus on key competencies to encourage participation in creating a more sustainable future.

  • Any initiatives will need to take the opportunities and challenges of digitalization into account.

Roundtable Challenges

  • Sustainable development education requires that students and teachers are able to analyze, reflect, adopt new perspectives, and change behavior in a self-determined way.

  • Student development will need to take digital skills and future digitalization technologies and initiatives into account.

  • Social and cultural changes caused by digitalization and the demand for sustainable development must be reflected throughout the education system.

  • Schools will need to make fundamental changes to meet these challenges.


Roundtable Results

  • School education is at the interface of digital transformation and sustainability.

  • As professor and author Felicitas Macgilchrist stated, digitality and sustainability share several similarities: they are both megatrends, require urgent implementation, and deal with challenges of inequality and how they are embedded into people’s lives. 

  • Both approaches share the need for active, engaged learners and a renewed set of teaching competences.

  • Differences caused by challenges between a “growth” vs. “degrowth” approach, or a belief that technology can solve all problems (“solutionism”) need to be addressed.

  • Building student competency is critical to engagement. 

  • Sustainability does not come through “easy” knowledge. Education must embrace the complexity, challenges, and difficulty of teaching, studying, and understanding sustainability.

  • Sustainability schooling must look to the mid- and long-term future as digital, non-digital, and other formats and channels for learning become more mixed. 

Potential Pathways: Challenges, Drivers, and Conditions for Change

  • We must establish who is best served by sustainability education.

  • The focus of sustainability education should be a balance between ethics and philosophy on one side and technological development on the other.

  • How can we drive innovation in a system that is focused on global learning and education, rather than economic growth?

  • Teachers are central to influencing the system.

  • There are challenges to getting the right infrastructure in place and to providing the knowledge and skills required by educators.

Schools of the Future: Conditions for Change

  • Technology is essential to provide an educational environment for self-directed learning.

  • Lifelong education and developing learning skills are critical.

  • Education should not exclusively focus on knowledge gained.

  • Technology enhances group work and collaboration, both within and between organizations.

  • Technology allows for rapid knowledge exchange, both domestically and internationally.

  • School curricula must embrace sustainability, and teachers must find common touchpoints for education.

  • Learning should be expanded by inviting outside experts into the education process.

  • Learning environments must foster creativity and innovation.

  • Digital tools empower students to think for themselves, support lifelong learning, and take action on sustainability issues.

  • Multimedia has the potential to share lots of information but is currently underused in education.

  • Virtual reality has a huge potential for educators and students, but it is significantly underused in education in general and in education for sustainable development in particular.

  • Portfolios can be used for greater insight and self-analysis for learning.

Changing Curricula and Types of Learning

  • School curricula support teaching and learning through flexibility rather than a traditional, linear approach.

  • Teachers require time, support, and training to work on cross-curricular and interdisciplinary education.

  • Schools must promote a collaborative culture and offer continual professional development to teachers.

  • Students and parents should have opportunities to drive the conversation about change and sustainability.

  • An education that embraces digital transformation and sustainability will need to balance preparing students for employment, allowing for specialization, and providing a broad understanding.

  • Both academic learning and “learning-by-doing” should be used by teachers and students to create meaningful contexts and foundations for change.

  • We need to develop organizational structures that link schools and education with the environment.

  • Technology must be embedded in existing structures, for example by rapidly transforming text books and resources through multimedia experiences.

Key Messages

  • Sustainability must be understood as a standard concept in education.

  • Sustainability must provide a guide to how digitalization can support lifelong learning.

  • Digital tools provide a strong approach for understanding and creating solutions for long-term problems and challenges.

  • Digital tools support new ways of thinking and innovative opportunities for education in sustainable development (ESD).

  • The potential of digital tools should be embedded in the ESD for 2030 agenda.

Questions for Further Consideration

  • How do we further align sustainability principles and values with the usage of digital tools?